In what is becoming a somewhat entertaining pattern, everytime any news comes out about the Big 10 and its potential expansion, another round of breathless speculation is touched off in the blogosphere. For a sampling, head over to the other half of the Unholy Alliance, as Bill C. has a great roundup of the posts.
From the beginning, Missouri was one of the schools rumored as a potential addition to the Big 10, even if only because they apparently were considered in the 1990s and their administration fell all over themselves to make it obvious they would consider an invite. Later, of course, there was rampant speculation that Texas was, or should be, the Big 10's target, fueled mostly by an Illinois blogger whose posts went viral on Longhorn message boards filled with UT fans somehow unhappy about being the undisputed God of the Big 12. With this recent round of discussion, I've seen Nebraska and KU mentioned frequently, which I can't fully understand. Nebraska brings the football (tradition, at least) but nothing in the way of TV sets*, and KU brings the wrong sport for this expansion.
Yesterday, Colin Cowherd claimed on his radio show that he had confirmation Colorado and Utah were going to the Pac-10. I'll wait for more credible journalistic sources to confirm this, but it's at least a shot across the bow to the Big 12 regarding schools that may leave. From the Big 12's standpoint, I think we have to almost consider Colorado gone anyway, because they consider themselves a West Coast school despite the large mountain range and vast desert that stand between them and the actual Pacific Ocean.
So, let's assume just Colorado is gone. Does that inevitably spell the end of the Big 12, at least in the eyes of UT's administration? I doubt it. The Buffaloes have been pitiful in both basketball and football for the last four or five years, and while they ostensibly bring in one of the Big 12's best TV markets in Denver, their actual ability to pull ratings there is debatable. Of course, they have to be considered in terms of who their replacement would be. If we look west, the replacements are a little thin, limited to BYU and New Mexico, as I don't consider Colorado State a viable replacement. For the reason that they don't bring in new TV markets, I don't consider TCU, Houston or Tulsa viable replacements. If we start thinking east, I suppose we're looking at Memphis or, if UT can be really persuasive and they suddenly don't care as much about money, Arkansas.
Anyway, that's not where the dominoes are expected to stop, as we haven't yet even discussed the Big 10. A lot of the discussion this time around has the Big 10 looking east, to the Pitts, Rutgerses, Syracuses and UConns of the world, to say nothing of Notre Dame. Another wildcard is that we have no idea how many teams the Big 10 is considering adding. If it's just one, then the Big 12 is probably OK. But it probably isn't just one, because the Big 10's goal is to expand the Big 10 Network, and adding just one school doesn't do a lot of that.
So does the Big 10 add three teams to get to 14, or go superconference all over our faces and add five to get to 16? If they add three, my speculation is they would take one to the west (or Notre Dame) and two from the Big East or ACC. But if they add five, then things get tricky. Do they then add three eastern teams and two western teams? Four and one? I have to believe that if they're going east, they're going to add multiple teams in a play to get the Big 10 Network on in New York City.
No matter what, if the Big 10 looks west, they are almost certain to take a Big 12 team. Despite what some think, I still believe Missouri is at the top of the list, as they command the greatest TV presence in football between St. Louis and Kansas City. Nebraska has the tradition, but no matter what its fans think, it doesn't have the national following it once had, and I doubt its national following now makes up for the fact that its biggest home market is...Omaha. KU commands the biggest share of Kansas City, but its ability to sustain a football following is questionable at best, and despite being a national name in basketball, I doubt the Big 10 is looking to add basketball when it's football TV that brings in the bacon. Maybe Nebraska and KU are good second or third options after Missouri, but I still think that's what they are.
Now, circling back to the question. Assume Colorado is gone. If the Big 10 contacts the Big 12 about discussing expansion with one of its members, as it claims it will do, and Texas doesn't get a call from the Big 10, do the Horns start to get proactive? In other words, if Missouri (or Nebraska or KU) is the Big 10's choice because the Big 10 thinks Texas isn't interested in making the first move, then does Texas consider "Big 12 - Colorado - Missouri = Fail"? If they do, then what is their course of action? Do they contact the Big 10 and make a play there, or do they call their best buddies in College Station and tell them to pack their bags for the West Coast, then cause a Pac-10 wet dream by bringing the two biggest TV draws in the nation's second-most-populous state to now-Pac-14?
I'm asking a lot of questions, but I'm asking them because I haven't seen them presented to John Currie, Kirk Schulz, and Dan Beebe. Of course, they probably wouldn't answer these specific questions anyway, but from what I've seen, nobody has really even asked them about conference realignment (Beebe notwithstanding). In my opinion, losing Colorado doesn't kill the Big 12, but losing Colorado and Missouri might. And if we lose CU, MU, and some combination of Nebraska and KU, then the handwriting is on the wall, and Texas, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma will be looking for new homes.
Let's assume the disaster scenario does come into play. Does K-State have a plan? I hope the legislators in Topeka with K-State interests have been considering this. I hope they've been keeping tabs on what KU is thinking. Is it possible that KU goes to the Big 10, leaving us twisting in the wind with Iowa State, Texas Tech, Baylor, and maybe Oklahoma State? If so, then our legislators need to know how disastrous that scenario is, not only for K-State athletics, but for K-State academics, as well. In Texas, it's a given that UT won't make any moves unless A&M is either involved or provided for in some other way. Hell, when the Big 12 was formed, Texas Tech and Baylor were able to force accomodations. I've seen no such commentary regarding Kansas. Are the people in Topeka that represent K-State's interests prepared to go to bat for those interests?
From the athletics standpoint, what is John Currie thinking? I assume he's been in contact with other Big 12 ADs, because from what I've seen he's doing an excellent job as our AD. We need to be considering our options. Rehashing the Big 12's true disaster scenario from above:
--Colorado to the Pac-10
--Missouri and/or Nebraska/KU to the Big 10
--Texas and Texas A&M to the Pac-10
At that point, with two superconferences (the Big 10-now-Big 16 and the Pac-10-now-Pac-14), the SEC may consider expanding to keep pace, although its long-term TV deal would take a hit. Presumably, that would mean adding Oklahoma. Maybe Oklahoma State has to be taken for political reasons, which brings the SEC to 14. Is there any way we could forge our way into an expanded SEC? Maybe not, but we'd have to try. If we assume that Nebraska would be the Big 10's second option, we may still have KU sitting around with nowhere else to go. Could we convince the SEC to take us and KU to get to 16 teams?
And we'd have to try because the rest of the options are more than a little disconcerting. If the music stops and we don't have a home in the Big 12 (because it's dead), the Pac-10 or Big 10 (because we don't have the TV presence), or the SEC (because they don't want to expand), we are left with trying to forge a BCS-level conference with K-State, KU, Texas Tech, Baylor, Iowa State, maybe Oklahoma State and some combination of MWC, C-USA or WAC teams. There's no guarantee that would even occur, and stepping down among the non-automatic-qualifier schools is a dangerous step, because they're already seen as the have-nots that are trying to take money away from the automatic qualifier-conference schools.
Again, it's not that I would expect K-State's administrators or legislators to come out and lay out the scenarios they are considering. But I haven't even seen an article where they were asked about it, and given the chance to say "we're monitoring the situation and are considering all options that are in K-State's best interest." At the risk of sounding all Chicken Little here, this is a big issue that could affect K-State, academically and athletically, for decades to come. It could be one of those events that permanently alters the course of an institution.
Or maybe it won't be. But I hope our administrators are considering the possibility that it will, and planning accordingly.