TBT: Conference Realignment Rumors and Rhetoric

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Big 12 Conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Wednesday that the league will not start a new round of conference realignment, despite carrying just 10 members. The last era of conference realignment threatened the Big 12’s very existence, with members departing for the Big Ten and SEC, and Texas leveraging its clout to ostensibly take the league by hostage.

For programs like BYU (more on the Cougars in a bit), Boise State, Cincinnati and others, disappointment settles in. For everyone else forced to closely monitor conference realignments over the course of three years, breathe a sigh of relief.

Conference realignment dominated the college football landscape from the summer of 2010 through the fall of 2012, and gave birth to some of the most ridiculous rumors and realities in the sport.

Pac-16 Becomes the Longhorn Network

Remember when Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Baylor Colorado were all joining the Pac-10 to form a 16-team super-conference? That was a fun rumor that sparked much of the conference realignment of 2010.

pac-16-helmets

The Pac-16 was a pipe dream (or pipe nightmare, depending on your perspective) that Larry Scott says was never all that close to reality. Texas officials leaking information to the media certainly made it seem like a done deal, however. With the Big 12 losing Colorado to the Pac-12 and Nebraska to the Big Ten, the conference was in dire straits.

Desperation often leads to some rash decisions, and the birth of the Longhorn Network, fueled by the drummed-up rumors of Texas leaving for the Pac-16, qualifies as rash.

The Longhorn Network’s existence is absurd. From its launch into thousands of hundreds of a few dozen homes near Austin a couple million homes, LHN has been a failed experiment. One athletic department cannot carry an entire sports network, but that’s no sweat off Texas’ brow.

ESPN Longhorn Network – Launch Montage from loyalkaspar on Vimeo.

ESPN paid up front, giving Texas the most lucrative Tier 3 deal in football. As a result, Texas tops Forbes‘ list of the most profitable college football programs in the nation.

Texas managed to bully the remaining members of the Big 12 into kowtowing to its demands, which led to Texas A&M bolting for the SEC. The two are now college football’s version of Chandler and Janice, and yes that was a Friends reference. Shut up.

The Mountain West Becomes A Power Conference…Then Un-Becomes A Power Conference

For a brief period in June 2010, the Mountain West — which helped launch the push for a playoff after Utah’s 2008 snub — had BYU, Boise State, TCU and Utah all among its ranks. Boise State and TCU were fresh off appearances in the Fiesta Bowl, which for BSU was its second time crashing the BCS. Utah was a season removed from dominating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to complete its second perfect season since 2004. BYU was good for some top 25 finishes in the seasons leading up to conference realignment.

With those four in the fold, the Mountain West could very well have made a compelling case for power-conference designation. Alas, it never came to fruition.

The Pac-10 almost immediately snapped up Utah, and disagreements with BYU over television revenue forced the Cougars to blaze their own trail. Boise State made it over, just in time to say farewell to say farewell to a fledgling rivalry with Big 12-bound TCU.

Viva La Independencia!

BYU’s move to independence has had its highs: marquee games against high-profile programs, a television contract with ESPN that the university does not need to share; and its lows: consistently weak late-season scheduling, 2-for-1 trade-offs to broker series, a more difficult road to the Group of Five access bid.

It’s become apparent that BYU’s long-term outlook is better with conference affiliation. To wit, head coach Bronco Mendenhall offered some not-so-subtle overtures to the Big 12 last summer, and again this spring with the far more dire proclamation BYU needs Power Five status within three years.

With the Big 12 ending this round of conference realignment, it’s not likely to happen. And the truth is, BYU hasn’t really proven it would be anything more than a middle-of-the-road member in any Power Five conference.

How can I write that the same week SB Nation published a column titled, “STOP INVITING BYU OVER FOR DINNER,” you might ask? I’m glad you did!

It’s not as if Brigham Young is some pushover opponent you schedule to puff up your resume. Since 2000, the Cougars have beaten the following teams:

– Notre Dame
– Georgia Tech
– Washington
– Arizona
– Cal
– UVA
– Texas
– Oregon State
– UCLA
– Mississippi State
– Syracuse
– Oregon
– Oklahoma
– Ole Miss
– Washington State

The first part is true: BYU isn’t a pushover. That’s why the ACC and SEC granted it power-conference recognition for the purpose of nonconference scheduling, to a certain extent. But as impressive as that resume is without context, below is each team’s final record the season BYU beat it:

– Notre Dame, 2004: 6-6*
– Georgia Tech, 2012 & 2013: 7-7, 7-6
– Washington, 2008 & 2012: 0-12*, 7-6
– Arizona, 2007: 5-7
– Cal, 2014: 5-7
– Virginia, 2014: 5-7
– Texas, 2013* & 2014: 8-5, 6-7
– Oregon State, 2009 & 2011: 8-5, 3-9
– UCLA, 2007 & 2008: 6-7*, 4-8
– Mississippi State, 2001: 3-8
– Syracuse, 2002: 4-8
– Oregon, 2006: 7-6
– Oklahoma, 2009: 8-5
– Ole Miss, 2011: 2-10*
– Washington State, 2012: 3-9

* denotes head coach fired in the following offseason.

The most impressive of BYU’s Power Five wins in the arbitrary date chosen are over Oregon State and Oklahoma in 2009, arguably the Cougars’ best season of the BCS era along with 2011, and its penultimate campaign in the Mountain West. Since going independent, BYU has two wins over Power Five teams with records above .500: Georgia Tech in 2013, which went 7-6; and Texas the same season. Texas fired its defensive coordinator after losing to BYU, and head coach Mack Brown was removed the following offseason.

BYU gambled in conference realignment. The ESPN deal made the gamble worth it, but the Cougars are as far from the brass ring of a national championship they began chasing in 2011 as they were in the Mountain West. In some ways, they’re further.

Membership in the American might be BYU’s best course of action for reaching the Group of Five access bid. The Cougars already played four games against American opponents in 2014, and face another three in 2015. But with the American sitting at 12 members, that opportunity might no longer be there.

The Rise and Fall of the Big East

Much like the Mountain West, the Big East flirted with greatness amid conference realignment, which never manifested on the field. Using its automatic BCS bid as incentive, the Big East lured TCU away from the Mountain West in late 2010.

The conference later added Boise State and the sleeping giant San Diego State, a program that, despite its so-so track record, would have given the Big East a pipeline into the talent-rich Southern California recruiting pool. The Big East also had talks with BYU, though those ultimately went nowhere.

But the Big East’s TV negotiations with ESPN got ugly, and the conference was killed for football purposes quicker than anyone could have imagined.

Not only did Boise State, San Diego State and TCU never join, the Big East lost West Virginia, Syracuse, Rutgers, Pittsburgh and Louisville over the course of two years. An influx of newcomers from Conference USA, and with the addition of Navy from the independent ranks this year, prompted a name change to the American Athletic Conference and loss of power-conference designation.

The American is the most negatively affected of all the leagues with the move away from the BCS. Kristi Dosh reports that the conference lost 45 percent of its revenue share in the first season of the College Football Playoff.

The Death of the WAC

I have fond memories of watching WAC football in syndication as a child. The WAC of the late 1980s and first half of the 1990s was a tremendous conference, featuring multiple Top 25 teams. It even produced a Heisman Trophy winner in that time, BYU quarterback Ty Detmer.

WAC football was a notable casualty of conference realignment, shutting its door on football altogether after the 2012 season, but the league’s death knell was long and drawn out. Expanding to 16 teams in the late 1990s was what doomed the conference, stuffing together a mish-mash of the original members like Utah, BYU, Wyoming and Air Force — which became founding members of the Mountain West — with various future C-USA teams.

The WAC certainly had high points: Boise State’s rise shortly after moving over from the Big West, Hawaii reaching the Sugar Bowl, Colin Kaepernick’s record-setting campaign at Nevada. Recreating the conference’s magic of the past was never quite in the cards and commissioner Karl Benson found a life preserver on the sinking ship, in the form of the Sun Belt Conference.

The Sideshow

The original round of conference realignment rumors and action propelled reporters into the national spotlight like Chip Brown. Brown garnered his share of detractors, but one cannot question that he was on the front lines doing genuine work.

To demonstrate how ridiculous conference realignment became, we went from having names like Chip Brown report rumors, to “The Dude” and “Tuxedo Yoda.”

The former roommate of a cousin of a friend of an ex-girlfriend is a janitor at Florida State and found documents in the trash proving the Seminoles are joining the Big 12! It’s happening! And Clemson’s coming, too!

CONNECT THE DOTS, SHEEPLE. THE ACC IS DEAD!

Nothing crystallizes the absurdity of conference realignment quite like professional journalists having to ask administrators from Clemson and Florida State if their programs were entertaining offers from the Big 12, because The Dude and Tuxedo Yoda were reporting that the deals were as good as done.

And, since college athletic administrators are second only to politicians in public forthrightness, the responses were predictable tap-dancing.

A summer of non-answers in 2012 certainly didn’t validate the unsubstantiated musings of overzealous West Virginia bloggers, but it did nothing to squash the rumors running wild.

Of course, the ACC isn’t dead: It added Louisville, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, while brokering the most extensive partnership with Notre Dame any conference has ever had. Florida State remains, and is the conference’s three-time champion since the Inspector Clouseaus of college football jumped on the case. And the Big 12 remains at 10 teams.

Thank you, Bob Bowlsby, for not starting this carousel again.

  • TX Ponder

    After reading this and your past post “A Radical (and Unrealistic) Plan for A 16-Team Big 12 Conference, as well as all the other conference needs of the Big 12, here is a dream plan for the Big 12.  It does many of the same things discussed in the “Radical” plan and adds a few twist.  It was developed after looking at all the possible non-P5 options.  It takes into consideration:  TV markets, football rankings and records, fan base sizes, value the school brings to the conference, and how it does in the other sports (mainly basketball and baseball).  This conference would consist of three divisions – cuts down on travel cost.  The conference would impact all time zones and all P5 conference.  The conference is designed to make the Big 12 name relevant again by incorporating 12 States instead of just 12 teams.  Here it is:

    Red Division:  TCU, Iowa State, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Memphis, and East Carolina
    White Division:  Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas, UCF, USF
    Blue Division:  Kansas, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Air Force, BYU, and San Diego State

    I aware that Air Force has declined or stated that they would not join the Big 12, so Colorado State would be substituted for them.  Argument can be made and certainly has been to include Boise State – San Diego State gets the nod here due to TV market and recruiting potential.