It took about a year longer than originally expected, but all signs Sunday night pointed to the same reality: Larry Scott‘s vision of a 16-team super conference spanning the entire Western half of the continent is back on the table. No, this is not a repeat.
Despite his insistence to the contrary, officials from both the Big 12 and Pac-12 told the New York Times that the Pac-12 commissioner took advantage of Saturday’s Texas-UCLA game in Los Angeles to meet with UT president Bill Powers and athletic director DeLoss Dodds over the weekend, informally reviving the audacious plan that appeared set to bring the Longhorns and the rest of the then-extant Big 12 South under the Pac-[X] umbrella last summer. That deal fell apart at the last second for reasons no one quite understood, leaving the Big 12 shaken and vulnerable following the losses of Colorado and Nebraska.
Now, with Texas A&M on the verge of a defection to the SEC and regents from both Oklahoma and Texas expected to set the gears into official motion this afternoon — and with Oklahoma State and Texas Tech prepared to follow the Sooners’ and Longhorns’ lead — the Big 12 finds itself on the gallows again, with no escape route in sight.
A few points, based on what we know (or think we know) so far:
Texas isn’t going to the ACC. The unexpected “Longhorns to ACC?” meme picked up steam over the weekend, when the ACC officially added Pittsburgh and Syracuse to swell its ranks to 14 schools, possibly on the way to sixteen. Per the New York Times, however, “those conversations appear to be over.”
This is going to take awhile. Whatever the regents do at today’s board meeting, Texas isn’t going to run a Pac-16 flag up the pole this afternoon. The NYT reports the process is “expected to play out over the next 7 to 10 days”; the San Jose Mercury News says “It could be a week, or weeks.” Both list three specific hurdles before the deal is done: a) Ironing out a divisional structure to accommodate the unwieldy geography of a conference that extends from Seattle to Austin, b) Integrating Texas’ fledgling Longhorn Network into the forthcoming Pac-12 Network, and c) Getting a seal of approval from the Pac-12′s university presidents, some of whom apparently have some qualms about the academic reputations of prospective newcomers Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. (As opposed to, say, Arizona State.) In the wake of the colossal television deal the conference just signed, at least one may also pose the question, “Um, why do we really need to expand, again?”
A 16-team Pac-[X] would be organized into regional “pods.” Instead of the familiar two-division format, everyone reports the discussion is trending toward creating four “pods” to reduce long road trips. As explained by Chip Brown of Orangebloods.com:
The Pac-16 would most likely be divided into four-team pods with Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech in one pod; Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah in another pod; Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State in another pod; and USC, UCLA, Cal and Stanford in the other pod, the sources said.
The sources said the schools would play every other school in their pod and then face two other schools from the other pods (with those two teams from the other pod rotating every two years, so there would be home and away games) to form a 9-game conference schedule.
Other than the term “pod,” this seems like a workable solution, although every school — particularly Colorado and the Oregon-Washington quartet — will be adamant about playing at UCLA and USC as often as possible, for recruiting purposes.
The Pac-[X] Network and the Longhorn Network cannot co-exist. At least, not in their current (proposed) formats. Everyone agrees the LHN will have to be “modified”; they do not agree how. The Austin American-Statesman’s Kirk Bohls offers the scenario most favorable to Texas:
The Longhorns would be able to keep all of their revenue from the network if that amount is greater than one-sixteenth of what the entire Pac-12 receives for its third-tier rights. However, if one-sixteenth of the money the Pac-12 receives from third-tier rights ends up being a larger amount, the schools would divide the revenue evenly and everybody would receive the same amount, the source said.
“Nothing has been definitively confirmed. But that’s in the zip code,” a source very familiar with the realignment discussions said Sunday. “This is not yet a done deal. It appears that (Pac-12 commissioner) Larry Scott is going to be able to work some magic and help Texas keep the Longhorn Network and their revenue stream.”
The San Jose Mercury News’ Jon Wilner specifically disputes that as “misleading,” at best:
For one thing, the Longhorn Network would have to be folded into the Pac-12 regional model — it wouldn’t exist as a separate entity.
What’s more, there is no chance that any school will have more than 1/16th of the revenue that comes from the conference’s first, second or third-tier rights. NO CHANCE.
We’re more likely to see USC give up football and join the Big West.
If the negotiations fall through, the Television Problem is the most likely deal-breaker — just as it reportedly was last year.
The Pac-[X] is not desperate for Texas. Unlike last year, when the entire deal seemed to live and die — and ultimately did die — with the whims of Bill Powers and DeLoss Dodds in Austin, the delegation from the Big 12 isn’t moving in lockstep: Scott and Co. appear prepared to add Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to move to 14 members, with or without Texas. In which case, let a whole new round of bidding for the Longhorns begin.