I have always been fascinated by conference realignment. I find the chessboard, the cloak-and-dagger, the multiple variables influencing these decisions bewitching. Closely observing this landscape for more than a decade, it’s obvious to me that the winds of change are blowing again and about to howl.
The epicenter for what I expect to be coming change lies in Norman, Okla.
Despite the NCAA approving legislation allowing the Big 12 to hold a conference championship game with only 10 members, University of Oklahoma president David Boren continues to believe the league is “disadvantaged” compared to its Power 5 peers.
— OU Daily Sports (@OUDailySports) January 14, 2016
This stunningly candid Q’n’A with Boren from the Tulsa World minces no words. Boren wants 12 members in the Big 12, he wants them sooner rather than later, he has multiple targets in mind and he has support within the league from other presidents for his position.
No less an authority than outgoing College Football Playoff chairman Jeff Long, the athletic director at Arkansas, also anticipates change.
Jeff Long on Sirius/XM: it would be unfair to call the current landscape re Conf realignment stable.
— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) January 14, 2016
Boren’s Q’n’A flatly states that while media grant-of-rights agreements may not be iron-clad, he does not expect the Big 12 to pursue schools that currently operate under one. That takes away Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC schools, which were unlikely to leave anyway. The candidates for invitation to an expanding Big 12 will come from the list of usual suspects (in no particular order): Cincinnati, Houston, BYU, Connecticut, UCF, USF and Memphis.
So what does this mean to an SEC fan?
Not much unless Boren is hell-bent on a 12-team Big 12, which he is, and his efforts are stonewalled. At that point, I think Boren actively begins shopping his school to another conference.
I believe Boren would favor membership in the Big Ten because of the league’s greater academic reputation. This is a common opinion. You can rest assured, though, that the SEC wouldn’t idly watch an athletic powerhouse at a state flagship university contiguous to the existing conference footprint join the Big Ten.
The SEC and the Big Ten are the two most powerful forces in college sports – more powerful than the NCAA, more powerful than even ESPN. With one of college athletics’ crown jewels potentially up for grabs, you can bet your last dollar both leagues would pull out all the stops in recruiting OU to join their side.
If Oklahoma hits the conference realignment market, the tug-of-war over the Sooners behind-the-scenes between the SEC and Big Ten could be ferocious. The winner would tip the balance of power decidedly in its favor and need to add another school for scheduling balance. The loser would not stand pat and likely raid the Big 12 or ACC for two more members to keep pace.
The trickle-down effect would be reminiscent of the massive upheaval experienced during the first half of this decade, which saw the Big East die, the SEC, ACC and Big Ten expand to 14 teams, the Pac-10 become the Pac-12 and the Big 12 shrink to 10.
If these scenarios intrigue you the way they do me, keep your eye on Boren. If he has his way, we might see a 12-team Big 12 as soon as 2017. If he doesn’t get his way, the fallout again may shake the very foundation of college athletics, including the SEC.
(You can follow Chadd Scott on Twitter @ChaddScott)
(Feature photo of David Boren COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA)
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