Our writers go around the country to answer some of the biggest questions surrounding a possible realignment in college sports.
1. If the move goes through, how do you see Texas A&M basketball fitting into the SEC?
Eamonn Brennan: It's funny, because you can pretty much guarantee that at no point in this process has anyone at Texas A&M sat back and seriously considered whether Aggies hoops is a good "fit" in the SEC. Basketball just isn't on the radar at all in this move. In any case, it's a fine fit. The SEC can be a bit more forgiving than the Big 12, especially in the lower portions of the conference, and A&M has never needed elite recruiting to consistently compete in its conference. I doubt that changes as a result of the move.
Andy Katz: The Aggies fit actually more with Billy Kennedy as head coach than they would've with Mark Turgeon. Kennedy has strong Southern ties with his recruiting stops in Louisiana and throughout the Southeast. Kennedy's teams also play more of an up-tempo than a grind-it-out style, so the question remains: How would their style fare in the SEC? I would expect this program to be somewhere in the upper half, but not in the upper crust where programs like Kentucky and Florida (and perhaps Vanderbilt this season) reside. A&M falls into a group with Mississippi State, Georgia, Alabama and now rebuilding Tennessee.
Diamond Leung: Texas A&M basketball might be escaping the shadow of Texas and Kansas only to join a conference where Kentucky and Florida have been the standard-bearers. But given the ability of New Orleans native Billy Kennedy to recruit both within and outside of the SEC's geographic footprint, the Aggies can expect to receive a shot in the arm following the move. The SEC from top to bottom has been down of late, presenting Texas A&M with an opportunity to continue capturing NCAA tournament bids and competing for titles.
Dana O'Neil: Texas A&M will add instant meat to the usually light fare menu of the group formerly known as the SEC West, but this won't be easy sledding for the Aggies. A&M may be tired of the shadow cast by Texas, but it hasn't caught a glimpse of the cloud Kentucky basketball can create. Plus by joining the SEC, A&M basically is throwing open wide the doors of the Texas borders, inviting programs already well-schooled in the art of national recruiting into the Longhorn state to nab top talent. The Big 12, of course, is no slouch when it comes to basketball, but the SEC will be a whole new ballgame.
2. What's your level of worry for college basketball if realignment explodes and "super conferences" are formed?
Brennan: On a scale of one to 10, I'd put myself at about a four. Maybe a five. In other words, the worry is there, even if I don't think it's time to freak out just yet. The nightmare scenario -- four high-major super conferences breaking off from the NCAA tournament and forming their own underdog-free competition -- is a long way off. The more immediate concern is the level of power those super conferences can wield -- and what that power would mean for the mid-major Cinderellas that define what we love about college basketball itself.
Katz: I still don't buy this theory that four leagues will grow to four 16-team conferences. Managing these super conferences would be a nightmare -- it's hard enough to placate 12 interests. There also will be no sense of familiarity with the 16 since they won't all play each other. Look, in some way this doesn't really work for the Big East, either. The 16 coaches constantly gripe about how the schedule is unbalanced and how difficult the league is for two months. The scheduling inequities would continue in four 16-team conferences. Can you imagine the complaining of the schools that are in the Duke-UNC grouping in an expanded ACC? Or how about in the Pac-16 for the schools that don't get to play in L.A.?
I'm not a firm believer the Big Ten wants to grow beyond 12. The Big Ten likes its status and doesn't want to be just like everyone else. But if this huge shakeup were to occur, it would drastically affect college basketball. The nonconference opportunities for the rest of the leagues would be very difficult to schedule. The super conference teams would shy away from playing the Gonzagas and the Butlers, saying their conference is already too difficult. The effect on the rest of the sport would be dramatic. The 16-team super conferences would likely try to bully the rest of the leagues into getting two automatic bids to the NCAA tournament. Can we all agree the NCAA tournament doesn't need any more tinkering? It's one of the few things left that shouldn't be reformed, expanded or diluted.
Leung: The formation of super conferences stands to dramatically change college basketball, and change can be scary. The rise of the mid-majors that has helped the game's appeal could be halted as the gap between the small schools and those with super conference affiliation would presumably increase. The desire for power-conference teams to schedule rising mid-majors might further decrease given the agreements that would be in place. And league titles would carry less meaning. Because it is football driving realignment, change might not be the best thing for basketball.
O'Neil: If the Doomsday scenario comes through -- and that, I believe, remains a fairly big if -- I would be extremely concerned about college basketball as we currently know it. The single greatest thing in college hoops, the NCAA tournament, is all about inclusivity. The SWAC deserves a bid just as much as the SEC. On the other hand, the entire conference realignment process has been all about exclusivity, about protecting the rights of the few at the expense of tradition and collegiality. The notion of NCAA secession, the ultimate death knell for the NCAA tourney, seems farfetched and crazy. Then again, so did the Pac-16 two weeks ago.
3. Prediction time: Are we headed for a gigantic shakeup in college sports in the near future or minimal changes similar to last summer?
Brennan: In the near term, I think minimal changes are on the way. The Big Ten has openly stated it is not interested in expanding the conference again anytime soon, and if the richest conference in the country is sitting on the sidelines, it's hard to see how the entire landscape could be radically altered. But the marketplace velocity is obviously there. Conferences want more lucrative programs, and programs want more lucrative conferences. If I had to guess, I'd say the shift will happen gradually. But whether it takes one year, five years or 10, college sports is going to change in massive and unexpected ways. This is only just the beginning.
Katz: If this gigantic shakeup occurs, it's likely not going to be for 2012. The timetable is getting too late for scheduling to make this happen for next fall. I hope -- and I predict -- this turns out more like last summer. Texas A&M moves to the SEC. Someone replaces the Aggies in the Big 12. And then we exhale. I've talked to countless schools and league commissioners and haven't found a single one that really wants to go to a 16-team conference. They only look at it in the prism of, "Well, if it has to happen, then we might as well join or get left behind." But no one really wants to be in such a mess.
Texas would rather not have to share all of its revenue. Oklahoma doesn't really want to be playing schools in the Northwest instead of nearby rivals. The Sooners were already upset about losing Nebraska. If they lose every other rival save Oklahoma State, then what's the point? Big East schools like Pitt, Syracuse and UConn would rather stay put. If they have to leave to the Big Ten or ACC, they will. But that's not their preference. The Big East needs to increase its football presence and losing, say, West Virginia to the SEC would be a damaging blow. But does putting Band-Aids on the football scar really make sense? The Big East simply isn't in the same league as a few other BCS conferences in football. That's OK. That's the reality of the sport. If there are four super-16 conferences, the Big East won't be one of them.
Let's hope it doesn't get to that point since it would be changing college sports for no reason other than greed and ego. None of these moves has to happen. If they do, all of the problems that occur will be no one's fault but the presidents who force them upon their fans, coaches and, to use their term, student-athletes.
Leung: If Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott believes the era of super conferences is eventually coming, then it wouldn't be a surprise if indeed it begins in the near future. With Texas A&M about to join the SEC, Oklahoma could very well be the next domino to fall. The one thing that does appear for sure is that Scott won't sit idly by in the event that other conferences continue to add teams from the Big 12. My guess is that we'll see this happen shortly.
O'Neil: I lean toward believing that this, once again, will be more of a blip on the radar than the whole Richter scale disaster. I don't doubt for a second there are plenty of uneasy administrators making frantic phone calls to protect their best interests and those worries are spawning the endless stream of rumors and reports. But if Texas A&M's attempt to join the SEC has proven anything, it is that realignment is hardly as easy as a whimsical, 'I want in.' The ACC is currently working to make leaving its league more difficult and more expensive and Baylor and a few others show no sign of removing their roadblock for the Aggies. That, I would think, would give most schools pause and perhaps (hopefully) force them to work as hard at figuring out how to stay in a league as to bolt for a new one.