The saga of the breakup of the Big 12 conference is just beginning, with announcements about the departure of Nebraska to the Big 10 and Colorado to the Pac-10. No one really knows where this is all headed, speculation is running high, and the likely outcome is that five more Big-12 schools, all of the South division except for Baylor, will join Colorado in the Pac-10. Losing the prestige associated with being a member of a conference like the Big-12 may sting a bit at first, considering that Baylor athletics overall have been not only competetive, but in some cases dominant in Big-12 competition. However, in college athletics, in the Big 12 conference, and in Texas, football is king. It is the revenue engine that finances most scholarships and athletic operations at most schools, or at least, at larger universities in the NCAA. And in football terms in the Big 12 conference, Baylor has taken, pardon the pun, a beating.
For the Bears, the breakup of the Big 12 may actually be a silver lining in a dark cloud as far as their football program is concerned. Problems may be looming related to loss of some conference revenue sharing, and of course, without UT or A&M on the schedule, there’s no chance of selling out Floyd Casey Stadium, at least, not in the near future. But Baylor football is clearly entering a new era, and I think the breakup of the Big 12 will be a major advantage for the Bears.
Under Art Briles, the Bears have reached a level of performance exceeding anything they’ve brought to the table since Grant Teaff retired. There are a few scenarios which may actually bring them to new heights in football that could develop as a result of the shift in conference alignments. These are mere speculation, just for fun, but they do have a basis in reality, given the circumstances, and where Baylor winds up once everything shakes out, might help fill the seats in Floyd Casey, and raise the volume a bit. It is pretty clear that the legislative influence that Baylor sought to exhert to be included in the move to the Pac 10 is now moot. State Senator Leticia Van De Putte’s statement that “any threats would be empty threats,” was a clear indication that approach is dead in the water. So the door is open.
A lot of people are thinking that the Mountain West Conference would be the best option, especially if it picked up the Kansas schools and Iowa State. With the exception of the Aggies, and a near miss overtime at OU, Baylor’s football success in the Big 12 has come from games against teams from the North, particularly those who appear to be destined to get left behind in this shuffle. If the conference separated into an East and West, putting New Mexico, TCU and Wyoming in with the four former Big 12 schools, the football prospects of the Bears would include the word “bowl game” as a regular feature, and perhaps even “conference championship game” as a possibility. Of course, the MWC is not a BCS conference, but Baylor hasn’t had to worry about the ins and outs of BCS bowl selection, ever.
A second scenario suggests that whatever remains of the Big 12, most likely Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa State and Baylor, form a similar conference alignment to Conference USA by merging with the Big East. From the perspective of academic alignment, that would be a better deal than a merger with the Mountain West. From a football perspective, the going might be tougher, with West Virginia, Pitt, Louisville and Rutgers representing a more formidable lineup. Travel would also be an issue with a conference spanning the distance between Storrs, Connecticut and Waco, Texas.
A third scenario might be for the remnants of the Big 12 to use whatever influence they may have left, along with a connection to the BCS that’s still under contract for a while, anyway, to form a new conference of their own, picking and choosing from among a variety of Mountain West, WAC, MAC, CUSA and others to make the best of a bad situation. Being one of five schools to make the decisions as to who gets in and who doesn’t, Baylor could easily put itself at or near the top in a football alignment.
College sports are changing, and the bottom line is money. The SEC, considered by some to be the “best” football conference in the country (though I dispute that vehemently) has put together a television package worth over $1 billion to its member schools. The Pac 10, which sits on top of some of the most fertile and prosperous television markets in the country, is countering that with an offer that will bring in some schools which, combined with what they already have, will be even more lucrative in terms of television revenue. The results are predictable, and from a competition standpoint, boring. On the other side of the coin, the real essence of college football will be played in places like Waco, Texas; Ames, Iowa; Columbia, Missouri; Morgantown, West Virginia and Boise, Idaho. That’s where it will still be fun and unpredictable, for a while, until greed figures into the picture there, too, and someone figures out how to capitalize on the atmosphere.