The biggest catalyst for September's rabid phase of conference realignment was the Big 12's instability. Sure, other conferences have played a part -- most notably the SEC, which openly welcomed Texas A&M when the Aggies decided to pull an Eric Cartman on Texas and the rest of their former conference foes. Suddenly, without Texas A&M, a league that had 12 members last summer now had nine, and was ripe to be picked over by the Pac-12. Then, the Big East lost two of its most important members to the ACC -- if the Pac-12 can go to 16 teams, we need to start expanding, too! -- and, for a while there, the Big 12 and Big East both looked doomed.
There's no resolution yet. Far from it. Connecticut is still working every angle to get into the ACC; Missouri may still try to follow A&M to the SEC.
But the Pac-12's decision to pass on the Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State -- and Dan Beebe's ouster as conference commissioner, a move OU forced on its way back to the league -- means the Big 12 still exists. And, as of last night, it sounds like the conference is finally chilling out a little bit. From the Associated Press:
Big 12 athletic directors discussed ways during their meeting Tuesday to stabilize their league before they can determine if and how much they might expand.
"I think what we're more focused on is doing what we all believe is right for the membership of the Big 12 and the most important piece right now is the solidarity among the nine and finding a way to make sure that we provide that solidarity so that we can be stabilized before we entertain whether that should be nine, 10, 12, 16."
Hey, good for you, Big 12! This is great news. But what does it actually mean? Please, Iowa State AD Jamie Pollard, continue ...
Pollard, who spoke on behalf of the league, said there is a process for stabilization. He wouldn't go into specifics, but said there was a clear consensus among the nine schools on the items discussed.
"Ultimately we have to prove it because there will always be doubters," he said. "All I can say is the people we were locking arms with in that room feel pretty committed to me. I take people on their word. I'm not worried about it at all."
This is sure to be a tricky process. For one, it's especially important to keep Texas -- the big, hulking monolith with its own TV network and the annual revenue to make a small third-world country blush -- feeling satisfied. Without Texas, the Big 12 doesn't exist. But keeping Texas happy can also mean alienating, say, Missouri, a school with smaller revenues that likely sees the SEC (or even the Big Ten, not that the Big Ten is interested) as the route to a more "fair" TV revenue split. Last year, the league could afford to lose Nebraska and Colorado. (Leave then! We'll be just fine without you!) It could arguably even afford to lose Texas A&M. On sheer strength of numbers alone, it can't afford to lose another team, whether or not that team is Missouri. T. Boone Pickens agrees.
Still, it's good to see some form of solidarity emanating from the Big 12. It doesn't solve the realignment woes, but it could be the next step toward some measure of long-term national conference stability. It may not last long; after all, the Big 12 wants to go from picked-over to picker. But if the conference can stabilize somewhat, realignment could mercifully cool down once more. Let's hope so, anyway.