If we learned anything from the shuffling between conferences in the last two seasons in college sports, it's that most of the talk that surfaces is just that, talk.
Conference commissioners, television executives and fans dream big. At the end of the day, though, evolution occurs gradually.
The latest rumor percolating in the blogosphere and the like has Clemson and Florida State mulling a move from the ACC to the Big 12. Naturally, the suggestion has been met with healthy skepticism – and that's putting it mildly. From a "stability" standpoint, the venerable Atlantic Coast Conference looks like the pope to the Big 12's Gary Busey. The ACC's academic reputation blows the Big 12 out of the water. And if that's not enough for you, Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips has denied there's anything to the scuttlebutt.
So, let's all agree that the odds are stacked against something like this ever coming to fruition. But how about we approach this from a different direction: What could the Big 12 realistically do to improve the chances of luring FSU and Clemson from the esteemed ACC for the circus of the Big 12?
As has been the case in nearly every move made in conference realignment, the Big 12 could offer its two targets more money.
Although the existence of the Longhorn Network makes a full-fledged Big 12 TV network unrealistic, the conference already stands to make a killing in the upcoming negotiations on its tier-one television rights. Adding FSU and Clemson to the Big 12's current membership could juice the pot significantly.
As such the money won't be an issue. That precious stability is a different story.
The perception of instability in the Big 12 generally lies with the conference's two premier programs, Texas and Oklahoma. OU president David Boren's play for the Pac-12 last fall has garnered the Sooners a reputation as having itchy feet. On the other hand, after that blew up in the school's face, the Sooners really don't have anywhere to go, especially given that they appear to be tied at the hip to Oklahoma State.
Texas brings a completely separate series of issues.
Texas AD DeLoss Dodds has said it over and over again: The Longhorns don't want to go independent. Fair enough, but while Texas may vow that it is committed to the Big 12, the school certainly prefers acting like an independent. Considering that ESPN is essentially backing the school's athletic department, the possibility that UT would take its football program independent is at least a possibility.
Put yourself in the shoes of FSU's administration. The shifting landscape of college sports may suggest that independence won't fly, but that doesn't rule out the possibility that Texas would give it a go. Moving to the Big 12 would mean that you're betting that the Longhorns truly have ruled independence out. With that huge shoe waiting to drop, the incentives for other power programs to join the conference don't really exist.
A year ago, a so-called grant of rights kept the Big 12 functional. With Texas' media rights held by the conference for six years, the 'Horns aren't going anywhere until that is up. Therein lies the key to enhancing the conference's attractiveness.
Extending the Big 12's grant of rights significantly would represent more than just a commitment to the conference. The new agreement would put the tightest handcuffs possible on the league members. With the long-term grant of rights in place, potential new members would receive strong assurances that the 'Horns will be in the Big 12 for the foreseeable future. For schools like FSU and Clemson, I image that would be a must.
If Texas really doesn't intend to go independent, incorporating an extension into an expansion agreement with the two schools shouldn't be a problem.