By David K.
Last week, dissatisfaction with a plan to air high school games on the Longhorn Network led to reports that Texas A&M and Oklahoma were pondering moves to the SEC. That talk has died down for the moment. But if such moves ever do happen, they would certainly doom the Big 12, and likely lead to further shifts. The Pac-12 would be left in a bit of a bind under such circumstances, however, assuming the creation of an SEC-16 makes expansion to 16-team superconferences feel like an imperative for everyone. Larry Scott’s grand gamble of last summer to expand to 16 schools involved both Oklahoma and Texas A&M. Without both schools, the options for Pac-12 expansion are more limited. Even more so if Oklahoma State is taken along with Oklahoma.
Texas is the obvious target for any expansion scenario, but the Longhorns might be just as willing to strike out on their own. Texas Tech is also an option, and the last remaining of the three major Texas schools. Baylor is less likely given its religious affiliation, something that was presumed to be a large part of the reason BYU wasn’t offered a spot in the Pac-12.
The next likely set of schools would be the remaining members of the Big 12: Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Iowa State. All four schools are research universities like the rest of the Pac-12, ranked in the highest category of the Carnegie Classification system, and ranked at the same level as many of the existing Pac-12 schools by US News and World. Kansas and Missouri are also members of the Association of American Universities, a prestigious collection of major research universities which 8 of the 12 current Pac members also belong to.
What would the downside of such additions be? The obvious one would be the lack of presence in Texas, a major television market with a huge recruiting base to draw from. But outside of the Big 12 Texas schools, what other options are there? SMU and TCU both have the same problem Baylor and BYU have, they are both religious schools. UTEP, North Texas and Houston aren’t even close to academically or athletically on par with even the lower end of the Pac 12. Rice perhaps is an option, as an academically highly ranked, non religious school. Perhaps, despite their lack of prowess in athletics, they could be worth considering for academic and media-market reasons. But I think it’s unlikely.
Who else is there? The WAC schools are certainly out–neither academically or athletically appealing and largely overlapping with existing Pac-12 media markets. Outside of Colorado State and Hawaii, none of the Mountain West schools are academically strong either. Obvious football powers like Boise State and Fresno State aren’t even research universities.
If Larry Scott is unable to convince Texas or Oklahoma to join the Pac-12, I think the likely alternatives would involve the Kansas schools, Texas Tech, and one other. Perhaps Baylor or Rice for a second Texas school, Perhaps Missouri if they don’t go to the SEC. Certainly the Pac-12 won’t be without options for further expansion, but it won’t be the home run that many of us expected last summer.