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SLATE: Here we go again

Someone decided it was time to give the realignment machine a test start to see if it’s still working.

This is how it’s all going to end up.
This is how it’s all going to end up.
Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There’s really only one piece of new business from yesterday, but it’s kind of a big one: in a paywalled story, Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle reported that Texas and Oklahoma have been sniffing around to see if they can get into the SEC.

The internet is now, naturally, full of hot takes. It’s honestly too early to start trying to analyze this from a factual perspective, as it’s nothing more than a reported rumor at this point — reported by the Texas A&M beat writer. That casts some doubt on the planting of the leak, as A&M has a lot more to gain in terms of public relations from Oklahoma and Texas getting publicly rejected.

Indeed, A&M itself wants nothing to do with this. Athletic director Ross Bjork made it clear that the Aggies would oppose any invitation to their Most Hated Rival, and they’re not exactly big fans of Oklahoma either.

For Texas, this is all about money, but any such move would require the Longhorns to divest the Longhorn Network. There’s a reason the only conference left to whom the words “tier three” has any meaning is the Big 12. The SEC has no problem giving Vanderbilt 1/14 of every penny the conference brings in via media contracts, and that’s a mindset that certain people in Austin and Norman can’t grasp. Worse, rejoining A&M even in the face of A&M’s direct opposition would be used by the Aggies as “see, they needed us” ammunition forever.

As for Oklahoma, money is also a relevant issue but perhaps more important is anger — both institutionally and amongst the fan base — over repeatedly having to play games at 11:00 am. They actually feel disrespected by this even though under the current contract with FOX the 11am slot is the ultimate sign of respect. Yet in the SEC the Sooners would still probably end up with more 11am games than they like; when’s the last time you saw Alabama playing in the morning?

So there are actually reasons why this can be considered a Not Great Idea even for the Longhorns and Sooners, and that perhaps it’s all a ploy by one party or another to turn up the heat on contract negotiations. That said, a statement by Nick Saban yesterday regarding the high six-figure payday presumptive starting quarterback Bryce Young has already racked up for use of his name, image, and likeness may be a telling sign.

We’ve had about three weeks to let some of the NIL fallout start to filter through the rumor mills. It’s not Alabama’s fault that Alabama’s starting quarterback — who has thrown 22 passes for one touchdown in his entire career — can make over half a million dollars in endorsements just because he’s going to be Alabama’s starting quarterback. It’s also not the end of the world for the non-elite portion of the college football landscape; nobody’s paying Young’s backup half a million dollars, after all. This sort of deal is only going to happen for players who are either truly and provably elite regardless of where they play or who are expected to be and have a massive brand attached to them.

That’s something all schools which have the muscle to make potential conference moves on their own are now going to have to consider: what portion of a school’s brand which is transferable to a player when that player is angling for endorsement deals is attributable solely to the school, and what portion is actually an effect of the conference in which that school plays? Are players at Vanderbilt going to see more money coming into their pockets than players at Baylor? If so, then it’s imperative for schools to be in the conference which provides the greatest positive value to endorsement deals because otherwise they’ll be at a recruiting disadvantage.

On the other hand, if players at Oklahoma and Texas have the same NIL opportunities as players at Alabama, then everything devolves back to media rights and cash money in the hands of the institution. Indeed, Sooner and/or Longhorn players might be better positioned than those at Alabama. But we just don’t know what that NIL landscape is truly going to look like yet, and we won’t for at least a couple of years at best.

Ultimately, though, the question most of you have isn’t about Oklahoma and Texas. It’s about Kansas State. Obviously, this rumor has triggered the angst process among fans of the other eight Big 12 teams as everyone starts wondering where they’re going to end up.

At this stage, I don’t think it matters. Or, rather, it matters but there’s really nothing we can do about it. K-State will either find a Power 5 landing spot, or will end up in the AAC or Mountain West. But here’s the thing: that’s not the death knell it would have been even four months ago, and that’s because of the new playoff proposal. If we do have realignment set off by the folks in Norman and Austin, it’s going to set off a chain reaction. That sixth guaranteed playoff spot? The one that goes to the best Group of Five conference?

That conference is going to form itself out of the next realignment. Any leftover Big 12 teams are going to find their way into it. And it may very well be a super-conference formed from those Big 12 teams plus the cream of the rest of the Group of Five. Imagine a league with K-State, Baylor, Iowa State, TCU, Oklahoma State, Boise State, BYU, Cincinnati, Memphis, San Diego State, Houston... you get the idea. That conference champion is always going to get a playoff spot, and if you pause to look at that list it’s probably getting five bids to the NCAA basketball tournament too.

So our advice on this stressful Realignmentpalooza Day Two: relax. Have a drink. Accept that you cannot change those things which lie outside your power and hope for the best.