Most direct path to a national championship, traditional rivalries, affiliations with powerful research institutions. All are factors in conference realiagnment, but the deciding factor between moving forward with a 10-team Big 12 or a 16-team Pac-10 comes down to Texas and how badly it wants its own television network.
The network can only come to life in the 10-team Big 12. A 16-team Pac-10 will have designs on its own conference network and won't allow individual networks. Texas has the Big 12's blessing.
ESPN.com's Joe Schad cites four Big 12 sources that Texas' move to the Pac-10 is imminent. Chip Brown at Orangebloods.com reports (and was on the air with ESPN 103.3 FM's Ben & Skin Show) that Texas would be committed to a 10-team Big 12.
While Texas A&M can seemingly break up the 10-team Big 12 model by accepting an invite to the SEC, I still think ultimately the Aggies will stick with their Texas brethren, at least in a revamped Big 12.
Now, if the 10-team Big 12 moves forward and Texas creates its own network, what would prevent a move to the Pac-10 in three years or five years? And what would stop Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State from following, with A&M then moving on to the SEC (and what would stop Missouri from bolting to a 14-team or bigger Big Ten or elsewhere)? Would the Pac-10 block Texas' entrance until it pulled the plug on its lucrative network?
Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe has provided evidence of big TV dollars to entice Texas to stay where it is. If Beebe's last-ditch plan is going to work, it's not because Texas can reap comparable dollars to the SEC with a new TV contract for the Big 12, but because Texas will be able to launch its own television network.
TV money will only grow in the Big Ten and in the SEC, keeping the revamped Big 12 playing catch-up. The superconference model will remain in play and will remain enticing. A a 10-team Big 12 has little appeal nationally and it goes against the grain of inevitable expansion. Outside of Texas and Oklahoma (and A&M, if it can restore its football prowess; and Kansas in basketball, but this is all about football) it sorely lacks the star power of the Big Ten and SEC.
(A 10-team Big 12 would also likely cause howls around the SEC and Big Ten in regards to the seemingly easy path Texas and Oklahoma would have to the national championship considering the league would not stage a championship game with just 10 teams. The Big Ten, now with Nebraska as its 12th member, finally would play a championship game. In the new Big 12, each team would play everyone else in the regular season, in Texas' case that would be: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Missouri and Baylor -- not exactly Murderer's Row.)
But, if a 10-team Big 12 emerges from all of this, Texas will ultimately get its coveted network, yet even then the clock just might again start ticking on the lifespan of the Big 12.