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The Big XII on Life Support (Updated: Texas Staying in Big XII?)

The latest news in the seemingly never-ending conference expansion melodrama is that Big XII commissioner Dan Beebe is making one last-ditch effort to save the Big XII. His plan can be roughly outlined as followed:

  • The Big XII would move forward as a ten team conference.
  • The Big XII Championship Game would be eliminated. Every member would play the other nine members every year, in a format much like the Pac-10 has now.
  • With a new television deal in 2011, each school would receive roughly seventeen million dollars per year (i.e. SEC-type money)
  • Schools such as Texas could form their own television networks

For now, that plan is seemingly getting serious consideration by the major powers of the Big XII. It is considered by most to be a long shot, and the odds are still likely that Texas and company decide to go to the Pac-10 while leaving Texas A&M as the uncertainty, but it's at least possible right now that the Big XII could survive in some limited form moving forward, which is more than most have envisioned in recent days.

So, why the skepticism regarding Beebe's plan?

The main problem is obvious for even the casual observer. Put simply, the seventeen million dollar figure is almost undoubtedly a hope and a dream. It does not take a leading authority on economic forecasting to see the absurdity reflected by that number. There is simply no way that the Big XII will legitimately be able to lose two members -- one a traditional powerhouse and the other, while less successful on the field, in the backyard of a major media market (Denver) -- eliminate the conference championship game, and still dramatically increase payouts.

I don't think anyone with the capacity for intelligent thought believes that number to be credible. The truth of the matter is that the key to this proposal is the independent school-owned television networks.

Now, with that established, keep in mind that the key players here are Texas and Texas A&M. In the ultimate power trip, it will unquestionably be the powers that be in Austin and College Station that decide whether or not the Big XII dies. Rest assured, wherever Texas goes, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech will follow, and regardless of whether or not those four schools choose to remain in the Big XII, the Big XII is still not viable as a conference without Texas A&M on board. Again, it is up to the Longhorns and the Aggies.

And with that in mind, I think the real key here with Beebe's plan will be to sell Texas and Texas A&M on the following three things: One, that those two schools will have more power in a hypothetical Big X than they will in a Pac-16, which is almost certainly the case. Two, that by staying in the hypothetical Big X the coaches don't have to deal with a conference championship game that they do not want, which would almost certainly be a feature of a Pac-16. And finally, three, by convincing the Longhorns and Aggies --particularly the former -- that they can ultimately make more money by staying in the hypothetical Big X and creating their own independent school-owned television networks. That final point is almost certainly the most important consideration in play. Whether or not Beebe can ultimately convince them of all that and keep the Big X intact remains to be seen, but that is clearly his basic case for having Texas and Texas A&M remain at home.

Now, nothing shows that Texas has any real interest in the SEC. Thus, the real question here for the SEC is Texas A&M.

Yesterday afternoon Chip Brown reported that the Aggies had turned down an offer to join the Pac-10, though that was later officially denied by a Texas A&M spokesman. The denial is likely not particularly telling of anything one way or the other because no one is likely going to confirm or deny anything at this stage. However, what could be telling is the following statement released by Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin:

As [athletic director] Bill Byrne and I have said on several occasions, our desire is for the Big 12 conference to continue. With the departure of two universities from the conference last week, the Big 12 is certainly not what it was. We are aggressively exploring our options, one of which is for the Big 12 to continue in some form.

That's far from a ringing endorsement for what Beebe is trying to sell. At the very least, A&M does not seem to be seriously considering the possibility of joining the Pac-10 at the moment -- though I'm sure that could quickly change moving forward -- so for now it seems that they will likely either join the SEC or choose to stay at home in a Big XII conference that even they admit will be dramatically weaker than it previously was.

Meanwhile, politics are starting to enter the fray. Per Andy Staples:

College football -- and college athletics in general -- will get the full attention of the higher education committee of the state's House of Representatives on Wednesday morning. That meeting, thanks to a five-day public-notice law, will come a day after the Texas and Texas Tech boards of regents meet to discuss whether their respective schools should stay in the Big 12 or leave for the Pac-10. While some believe the regents will vote on moves Tuesday, Branch, the chair of the higher education committee, believes the schools will wait until after Wednesday's hearing.

"To make a final decision before Wednesday," Branch said, "would not be wise."

"Branch" is Dan Branch, a Republican state representative from Dallas who was first elected to the Texas House in 2002. A lawyer before entering the political game, Branch's political specialty is in education, where he is chairman of the Higher Education Committee. I don't proclaim to have any great insight into Texas politics, but Branch does seem to wield at least a fairly impressive amount of power in this area.

In any event, Branch is not an alum of any of the schools involved, and at the moment he seemingly just wants the players involved to think over a bit and wait until after his hearing on Wednesday before making any final decisions:

"I think it's great the different conference commissioners are going around and being vigilant about what the market economies are," Branch told Sunday night.

"I applaud the universities for being nimble and acting quickly and looking at everything. But I think the leadership would be wise to give their principal officers authority but not to act.

"They need to make sure the people of Texas and their elected representatives have a chance to get their questions asked and answered. There will be time to act after that."

Now, again, I'm not an expert on Texas politics, but based on the information we have so far I really do not see anything that would lead me to believe that this hearing will have an overly interventionist tone. Far from it, I tend to get the intuitive feeling that the pols are just looking to put on a high-profile political dog-and-pony show to convey to the electorate that they are well-informed on the matter and that they are using their powers to police the situation appropriately. I don't see anything based on what we know so far that indicates the pols will try to directly influence the decisions of those involved on Wednesday.

And quite honestly, speaking of politics, I still remained shocked at the seeming absence of political intervention in this ordeal. Even now I have not seen one statement from any Texas politician openly discussing the notion of using their political power to keep Texas and Texas A&M together or to otherwise influence their decisions. I'm sure some pressure is being applied behind-the-scenes, but even so I find that lack of publicized intervention as very strange.

Regardless, back to the committee hearing on Wednesday, I imagine the substantive decisions themselves -- for better or for worse -- will likely be made either today or tomorrow. Official announcements may, and probably will, wait until after the congressional hearing on Wednesday, but the actual decisions will probably be made behind-the-scenes before then.

For now, things still look pretty optimistic for the SEC on the Aggie front. Hat tip to Stuck in the Plains, who provides the following from the Houston Chronicle this morning:

Texas A&M has grown starry-eyed for the Southeastern Conference, an Aggies insider said Sunday, and A&M considers its overall athletic endeavors grander than the death of a conference rivalry game on Thanksgiving.

A&M’s board of regents likely will meet late this week — perhaps as soon as Thursday — to decide the Aggies’ sporting future, a person with knowledge of the situation said. And that future appears to be the SEC, as the powerful league to the east is prepared to lure A&M away from the clinging-to-hope Big 12, a proposed Pacific-10 affiliation and its storied league rivalry with Texas.

In taking all things into consideration, A&M’s leadership is intrigued by playing in the nation’s premier football conference, drawing big crowds to Kyle Field from SEC fan bases that tend to travel well, and a much bigger annual payout from the league, the insider said. The primary downside, of course, is breaking off of a nearly 100-year league affiliation with rival UT that features a nationally showcased football game every Thanksgiving.

The Aggies are prepared for a rough go early in the tough league, the insider said, but A&M hasn’t been challenging for Big 12 titles anyway.

So far so good, right? Again, I imagine this entire thing could change at the drop of a hat, but for now it seems like the powers that be in College Station have taken a very hard look at all of the positives and negatives regarding joining the SEC, and have -- for now anyway, on a tentative basis -- decided that joining the SEC is the best course of action moving forward. Hopefully that does not change.

In the end, I'm not going to feign knowledge one way or the other on how this one will work out, and frankly I could see it going a variety of ways. If I really knew how this would play out, I would be heading to Vegas right now instead of writing this. I remain hopeful that we can get the Aggies in the SEC, but that hope is tempered by a heavy dose of the reality of the obstacles that remain. For better or for worse, though, expect one of the three following scenarios to play out:

Scenario #1: Texas and Texas A&M, in some order, decide to remain in the hypothetical Big X. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech remain as well, and the likes of Kansas and Missouri see a miracle save them from the abyss of the Mountain West. The Pac-10 only expands to twelve teams -- likely by adding Utah -- and the Big Ten goes on and does whatever in the hell they want to do by raiding the Big East. The SEC, facing a twelve team Pac-10 and a ten-team Big XII, probably does not expand.

Scenario #2: Texas continues to beat the Pac-10 drum, and goes west by taking Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech with them. The Big XII implodes, and remaining strong in their opposition to the Pac-10 the Aggies decide to head to the SEC. The Pac-10 expands to sixteen teams -- by taking the aforementioned four and then by adding either Kansas or Utah -- the Big Ten does whatever it wants, and the SEC expands to fourteen teams by adding A&M and a school from the east coast (thereby maintaining divisional balance and not requiring any current member to switch divisions).

Scenario #3: Texas A&M gets on board with the Longhorns regarding the Pac-10, and Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech join the Pac-10. The Pac-10 moves to sixteen teams, which likely drives the Big Ten to at least fourteen teams and perhaps sixteen as well (depending on how they view Notre Dame). The SEC is then forced to reconsider its position and take one more long look at expansion with an eye to the likes of Florida State, Miami, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Maryland, and others.

Hope for the best.

Update: 8:53 a.m.

Well, well, look back at scenario #1. The latest from Chip Brown has the Longhorns as the ultimate tease:

In a bombshell development that could bring a halt to seismic changes in college realignment, sources tell Texas has been convinced by a plan presented by commissioner Dan Beebe to stay in a 10-member Big 12.

UT officials are expected to announce their decision to remain in the Big 12 as early as Monday.

If that holds true, then it is all up to A&M. As mentioned earlier, regardless of whether or not Texas decides to stay in the Big XII, Texas A&M must stay at home as well for that to be a viable possibility. The Aggies could still blow the whole thing up and go to the SEC, but I imagine this would only significantly increase the pressure on them to remain in the Big XII, and thus would probably significantly increase the chances that they act accordingly as well. Either way, stay tuned because this thing seemingly changes by the minute.

Update II: 9:30

In a nice way of saying it, Joe Schad effectively says that Chip Brown is full of shit:

The departure of Texas, Texas Tech, OU and OSU to Pac-10 is imminent, four Big 12 sources say

That update is as of four minutes ago. For what it's worth, I cannot find any other sources confirming Brown's report, which has been published for about 80 minutes now. Schad was the first to officially respond, even if indirectly, and his report is a denial. Andy Staples and Pete Thamel have yet to report anything on the subject one way or the other.