The Omaha World Herald made waves this week by reporting that Iowa State, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M flirted with the B1G during a round of conference realignment activity 5 years ago. Now, obviously Nebraska took the bait and bolted to the B1G while other BigXII school at the time (Colorado, A&M) went elsewhere.
The news wasn't all that shocking, as schools of all shapes and sizes have shown significant interest in jumping ship to other conferences at various points in time. More striking was that the BigXII was able to keep Oklahoma, Kansas, and Iowa State in house while the others left for greener pastures.
Each move in conference realignment, be it A&M to the SEC or Nebraska and Maryland to the B1G, is a result of converging motivations of both the school and the conference. The school, looking for increased revenue through whatever new services the conference has to offer; the conference, looking to add more bullets to the gun while reaching previously uninterested viewership.
As a consequence, what we have are two individual games of musical chairs, the first being played by the conferences looking to usurp as much of America as possible before their counterparts do, the second by athletic departments hoping to not be the last school standing without a hand in national television revenue, 'Power conference' prestige and profile, and the assured bowl shares awarded to the most elite conferences.
We refer to the collective major college football conferences as the "Power 5." Yet, given the trend of realignment to date and the success of those leading the pack, it makes sense that soon one of those five conferences will be usurped by the others, creating a "Power 4."
The SEC, B1G, and PAC12 have their own television networks and have solidified their relationships with ESPN, CBS, or FOX for the foreseeable future. Each of the three conferences has 12+ members. Their reach captures the majority of America's major media markets. On the field, they have assembled top to bottom consistently competitive leagues.
The frontrunner for the fourth seat at the table is clearly the ACC. With the exception of an independent network, which is allegedly in the works, the ACC offers the various pillars of power that the SEC, B1G, and PAC12 do.
The BigXII has fallen behind. The Longhorn Network has done nothing to increase the profile of the conference as a whole.With the way the network deal is structured, even if Texas had been a nationally relevant program over the past half decade, the network would have done little to improve the bottom line of conference rivals.
"Consider that Texas makes $15 million from the LHN, while Iowa State's 2013 third-tier deal with the state's largest media provider, Mediacom, reportedly nets the school somewhere in the six figures. By comparison, Illinois pulls in $7.6 million per year from the Big Ten Network."- Burnt Orange Nation
Of course Iowa State would be intrigued by the prospect of joining the B1G. As Texas goes, so goes the BigXII. Texas has no incentive to rethink the cash cow they have in the LHN, nor are they incentivized to push for a BigXII network.
Adding Memphis or Houston or UCF or all of the above to the conference won't change the bottom line. Discussions of expansion are last ditch efforts to bring the BigXII up to speed with the rest of the Power 5.
So what should we expect to happen in the near future? Those with the power will continue to grow their power, and those without will continue to be diminished.
The ACC, B1G, PAC12, and SEC will each reach their 16 team total. The BigXII as we know it will fold. Texas will go independent so that they can keep their prestige and LHN revenue stream.
As we move towards this scenario, we can identify 10 open seats at the table in the second round of musical chairs, four available in the PAC12 and two available in the ACC, B1G and SEC respectively.
Given this landscape, it is downright critical that no Group of 5 school jumps at an offer to join the BigXII should they come calling.
UCF, Cincinnati, Boise State, BYU, and Memphis have all been thrown around as potential candidates for the BigXII expansion. Geographic location has little if anything to do with these schools being rumored as candidates. It is merely that these are the best football programs playing in the G5, period.
Just as it's wise not to marry the first girl who has a crush on you in high school, it would be wise for these schools to rethink joining the BigXII should it be the first Power 5 conference that makes an offer. Would six figures annually be a nice addition at UC? Sure. But the $7.6 million annual share from the Big Ten Network would be a whole lot nicer.
When the remaining Power 5 conferences choose to expand again, which they will, their options will be either the BigXII or the best of the G5.
Given the option between Fiesta Bowl winning programs such as UCF or Boise State compared to 6-win Iowa State, it stands to reason that the G5 powers will at minimum be given serious consideration.
BigXII commissioner Bob Bowlsby believes that right now a ten team conference is "fine" in terms of revenue sharing and competitive balance. The only way Bowlsby would expand is if it served the best interest of the conference on both fronts.
Perhaps adding Boise State and UCF would serve the conference well. However, the expansion would prove a disservice to the joining programs. They would be jumping to a sinking ship while more lucrative, well run, and forward thinking ships would be passing by.
So please, G5 powers, hold out. Keep winning games and upsetting Power 5 schools in BCS bowl games, then sit tight as the dominos fall so that you can reap the benefits of the mega-conferences of the future.