Last summer, when Big XII instability seemed ready to wreak havoc on that conference, the schools worked out their differences, realized their collective value, and moved on as a 10-school group, seemingly stronger than ever. During the period before last summer's reconciliation, Texas A&M took part in some very preliminary discussions with officials from the SEC about breaking away and joining their conference. When they ultimately opted to stay on board the Big XII, they walked away from those discussions.
A few weeks ago, they apparently decided to walk back.
Strife over the University of Texas' new Longhorn Network, a joint venture with ESPN, is the source of the newfound desire of the Aggies to get out from under the thumb of their neighbors in Austin. The school-specific TV network not only gives the Longhorns an even bigger financial advantage over their in-state rivals, but the plan to air high school games – including ones that feature top recruits – was the final straw.
According to Texas Governor (and Presidential candidate) Rick Perry, a Texas A&M alumnus, "conversations have been had" about a potential TAMU move to the SEC.
For the SEC an expansion beyond 12 teams makes sense for two reasons. The first is simple, Texas A&M is a pretty big fish, they are one of two schools have have really captured the hearts and minds of the second-largest state, which also happens to be a football-crazed area that produces some of the sport's best talent. Even though you're splitting the pie another way or two, the pie stands to become significantly larger with TAMU on board.
The second reason is a little less obvious, but some have suggested that the SEC will be able to renegotiate it's TV contract before it expires by adding a school or two. The SEC was one of the first conferences to negotiate in the current round of TV deals. It's deal set the market for the megadeals being done by the likes of the Pac-12, but because of that it was likely under-valued in today's market.
Being the last major conference to do a new TV deal in any cycle is potentially a great advantage. The last mover can see how things shake out for the others, and there is no plan-B left on the table if a bidder loses out.
The Texas A&M Board of Regents , a 9-member panel, has a meeting scheduled to discuss athletics issues on Monday. It is widely assumed that they will discuss and vote on a possible move to the SEC at that time. The SEC, meanwhile, will reportedly discuss and vote on an official invite for the Aggies via conference call later today.
If things go down the way that most now expect, the A&M board could approve the move before Texas legislators have an opportunity to get involved. The soonest the House Higher Education Committee was able to schedule a hearing the issue was 2 p.m. on Tuesday.
Texas Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds said on Friday afternoon that he hasn't heard final word on A&M's future, but he and the other Big 12 schools are weighing all options.
"At this point we do not know if Texas A&M is leaving the Big 12," Dodds said in a statement. "All we know is what we read and hear in the media. We are actively looking at every possible option we have and have been talking to other Big 12 schools. We are strong supporters and members of the Big 12. We'd be disappointed if Texas A&M leaves but, if they do, we wish them well."
If Texas A&M is really going to join the SEC in the next few days, the next questions are: Which other school, if any, will the SEC add to balance it's divisions? And what will happen to the 9 remaining Big XII schools?
Who is the 14th SEC school?
Honestly, nobody knows, and it's not clear that the SEC has had advanced discussions with any other schools at this point. It clearly isn't worth it for the SEC to talk to or extend an offer to another school unless they know that a major addition like Texas A&M is on-board.
Once the Aggies are locked down, however, the SEC is expected to add at least one more team, and their targets would likely come from either the Big XII or ACC.
Among the schools that have been discussed are Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Missouri, Florida State, Clemson and even Louisville. Both Florida State and Virginia Tech were reportedly in discussions with the SEC about the move, but on Friday, Florida State denied that they had any discussions and Virginia Tech had assured ACC commissioner Jack Swofford that they had no interest in making that move.
Some school will be interested in making that move, however, it just might drag on a bit longer than we all think. The best case scenario for the rest of college football is that they will limit the damage to the Big XII rather than raiding two different conferences.
... and the Big XII?
The Big XII might just live on. Kansas Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger told the Kansas City Star that he had been assured that the nine other schools "remain firmly committed" to the Big XII. While they might prefer to be a 10-team conference (to allow them to keep their 9-game schedule), they claim to be both capable and willing to proceed as a 9-team conference.
"I think nine’s an option," Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds told the Austin American-Statesman. "I think nine are solid. I’ve always liked 10. In my mind, we’d try to stay at 10. If we had to we’d go to 12."
Last summer the Big XII negotiated a 13-year contract with Fox Sports for the rights to air their football games on cable. They also agreed to a new revenue-sharing system that was designed to spread the league's wealth beyond Austin city limits. The motivation to remain together for the non-Texas schools is clearly found somewhere in a bank vault — and the departure of A&M likely makes everyone's cut just a little larger for now.
If the conference were to add a member, they would likely target Notre Dame (who are still very much not interested in joining any conference), Brigham Young, TCU, Houston, Louisville and Memphis. Former Southwest Conference member, and current SEC school, Arkansas is another possibility, but it is unlikely that the Razorbacks would be interested in rejoining Texas and Oklahoma or in leaving a relatively strong SEC.
Of the names thrown about, Houston and Memphis seem the most likely schools to have mutual interest. Louisville and TCU might be darkhorse candidates to make that jump, but notice requirements, exit fees, and public relations nightmares might stop TCU, while Louisville would likely view the Big XII as a downgrade for it's golden goose basketball program.
On the other hand, the Big XII schools may further split up, redistributing members to different conferences. Mizzou could end up just about anywhere, Kansas and Kansas State would receive interest from the Big East, and the SEC might just want Oklahoma as well. The Pac 12 might still be interested in Texas, and if they are, they might be willing to take the Oklahoma schools and Texas Tech as well.
Baylor and Iowa State, however, might have a tougher time finding a soft landing.
Big East scenarios
There are so many ways this can play out for the Big East. The simplest is that nothing happens. It could all be an elaborate hoax, or an attempt by Texas A&M to gain some bargaining power over Texas and the Big XII. In that event, the Big East moves on as if nothing happened and works out expansion of it's own some time in the spring.
The next-best thing for the Big East is for the SEC to take two schools from the Big XII. In that case the Big XII likely splits up and goes it's separate ways.
If the SEC were to raid Oklahoma along with Texas A&M, the Big East would be interested in Mizzou, Kansas and maybe Kansas State. When the Big XII looked doomed over a year ago, the Big East presidents had approved a plan to invite those schools and Iowa State to join a 12-football member conference with 20-teams in basketball, according to Brett McMurphy's source. Kansas State is the risky proposition in that group but gets included because they may be legislatively-glued to Kansas.
In that scenario, Villanova is not likely invited to join the football conference.
If the SEC were to take Mizzou along with Texas A&M, however, the Big East would still be interested in adding Kansas and Kansas State. It is unknown (and doubtful) whether the Big East would look to add Baylor to the mix as a 12th member in that scenario, or if the addition of Villanova, UCF, ECU or another non-BCS school would be preferred. The door to admitting Villanova at least seems open in that scenario.
If the SEC were to balance it's conference membership by adding a current ACC member, however, the Big East could end up in a difficult position. A 9-team Big XII might just stay together, and an 11-team ACC is likely to go shopping in the Big East. Syracuse was in the ACC's sights the last time they expanded and now a mature UConn football program is likely attractive as well.
If the Big East is raided, it could do serious damage to the conference in both football and basketball. However, Villanova's chances of gaining an invitation in football would be much higher, assuming the Big East would stay together – there is also a chance that another raid could cause the remaining football schools to split and expand to 12 members by adding schools from Conference-USA or other mid-major conferences.
There is also a chance that the SEC decides to expand beyond 14 schools and grabs multiple members from the ACC – making the Big East more attractive to Boston College and Maryland . . .
It is possible to keep going with these scenarios, but the more conferences that become involved, the more chaotic and unpredictable the college sports landscape will become. Pending expansion moves could benefit Villanova football's FBS aspirations or kill them off for good.