Conference Realignment

J: Not all things political are on "Face the Nation". It looks like there's going to be a major shakeup in NCAA athletics, and it's most likely going to happen soon.

The word on the street is that the Pac-10 has offered membership to Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and Colorado. Since that would obviously mean the end of the Big XII, Missouri and Nebraska are rumored to be in discussions with the Big 10.

And that's where the politics start. Texas is apparently trying to get their own TV network out of the deal, and Texas A&M isn't too happy about that- especially since Texas already gets an unequal share of the Big XII TV revenue. So, apparently A&M has approached the SEC about potential membership. As an added bonus, they claim they'd bring one more Big XII school with them- not Texas, but Oklahoma. That move makes a hell of a lot of sense on some levels. The Sooners would feel much more at home in Athens, GA or Gainesville, FL than they would in Palo Alto, CA. Same with the Aggies, who would be much more comfortable in Tuscaloosa, AL than Eugene, OR.

This also makes a ton of sense for the SEC. Any talk of realignment hinges on football, and adding two traditional powerhouses would be good. Expanding the conference footprint into Texas would be even better. Plus, two western teams makes it far more likely that the SEC could then snag two teams from the ACC or Big East- Virginia Tech, Virginia, Clemson, Georgia Tech, West Virginia, Louisville, Miami... offer them all, and let them know that the first two to say "yes" make the cut. The two Virginia schools make the most sense for the conference in terms of expanding its footprint, GA Tech and Clemson make the most sense from a football standpoint.

There are some potential problems with that move, though. First off, having Texas and Texas A&M in different conferences could be a tough sell for the Tejas legislature. A&M has one big political ally in their corner, though. Rick Perry is an A&M grad, and by all indications, he would not object to the Aggies heading east. The tougher battle will be in Oklahoma City. Say what you will about T. Boone Pickens, but I don't think anyone can argue that he has a lot of money. He may insist that his beloved Okie State Cowboys stay tied at the hip to Boomer Sooner, which could complicate things.

The school that's really left out in the cold here is Kansas. Rock, Chalk, out there flapping. From all accounts, the Big 10 would love to have the Jayhawks. The problem is that Kansas and Kansas State ARE a package deal, period, and while the Big 10 would like Lawrence, they have no interest in Manhattan. If the Big XII North loses Colorado to the Pac-10 (which seems like a done deal by all accounts), and Missouri and Nebraska head to the Big 10 (which makes a hell of a lot of sense), Kansas and K-State are left in the lurch. So is Iowa State, but nobody really cares about the Cyclones. Kansas would be left in the unenviable position of trying to scratch out an existence somewhere like the Mountain West, which would immediately hurt their football, and eventually hurt one of the most storied basketball programs in the nation.

But the potential payoff is huge, which is why Kansas doesn't really matter. A Pac-10 championship game between USC and Texas? Epic. Texas A&M vs. Alabama every year? Must-watch. Nebraska heading into the Big House to face Michigan? Incredible. (Bonus points to that one if it's snowing.) This entire deal is going to be driven by money, and there are going to be more back-room deals cut than any of us can possibly imagine.

Not all politics takes place on the hill, and this particular type of politics is going to involve rivalries, age-old disputes, gladhanding, backstabbing, and realpolitik. It would be one thing if money was involved, but this isn't about money. It's about a hell of a lot of money, which is different. It's going to be interesting. By all accounts, it's going to get interesting really soon. Crack open a beer and start tailgating while there's still time.

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