In the last two years, we've learned that while conference realignment produces juicy rumors by the bucketload, there's a whole lot talk and not nearly as much action. One day, the Pac-10 is destined to become college football's first superconference, the next it's, well, not. The Big 12 is supposedly dead, and then hours later, David Boren is bragging about the "handcuffs' tying the league together.
The current rumor du jour has the Big 12 trying to pluck Florida St. and Clemson away from the ACC. The theory goes that the Seminoles and Tigers have tired of the league's basketball focus and conference leadership kowtowing to the North Carolina schools, with the additions of Pittsburgh and Syracuse breaking the camel's back. As the Big 12 prepares to cash in on a new TV deal, FSU and CU can supposedly earn a far sweeter payout by hopping conferences. Likewise, the impending bonanza to come from college football's new playoff adds another dimension from both a financial and competitive standpoint.
Although this rumor just got some national attention in the last few days, there have been similar whispers floating around message boards for nearly a year. West Virginia fan site Eer Insider, which on Friday helped touch off the latest expansion speculation, claimed back in January that the Big 12's raid on the ACC was already in the works.
If you want to put your faith in Hornlover69 and anonymous bloggers with unnamed sources, be my guest, this being the Internet and all. In reality, we've seen throughout this realignment process that even well-sourced information is often wrong and predictions about what will happen tend to suck, no matter where they're coming from.
(Personally, I look at it all as something like playing a sports geek board game.)
Whatever you choose to believe, here are a few factors to consider about the Big 12 as these rumors continue to circulate.
Ah, the Big 12's arch nemesis.
The last two rounds of expansion have made the league look about as stable as Sarah Phillips' latest business venture. There is more than enough blame to go around in that respect for both the dearly departed and the conference's remaining members.
In an odd way, though, you could argue that OU president David Boren going rogue last fall actually worked in terms of solidifying the conference. The league lost a valuable program in Missouri, but whereas the Tigers had their eyes on other leagues, the Big 12 picked up two members in TCU and West Virginia that really do want to be there. Also, the "handcuffs" imposed by a six-year grant of rights are likely to be extended through the duration of the next television contract. That would tie all of the conference's members down for the next 13 years.
Is the Big 12 in its current form a better league than it was before all of the defections? No. On the other hand, no one is going anywhere.
Fair or not, the Longhorns have been painted as the primary driver of the Big 12's dysfunction essentially since the conference was formed in the 1990s. Dealing with UT came up almost immediately at newly appointed commissioner Bob Bowlsby's introductory press conference, and he didn't exactly shy away from the characterization of Texas as the "800-pound gorilla" in college athletics.
However, as much as the folks in Austin may relish the perception that they call the shots, the new realities of the league put a damper on their leverage. Extending the grant of rights for 13 years essentially negates Texas' trump card: the threat of going independent. As such, mollifying UT becomes less important to the Iowa States and Kansases of the conference.
On the whole, Dan Beebe probably took way too much blame for the general dysfunction within the conference. The Big 12 member schools weren't looking for a strong commissioner when Beebe was installed. The problems arose, of course, when the conference actually needed a commissioner who could take charge and Beebe carried himself with as much authority as a substitute teacher.
Bowlsby could turn out to be Beebe 2.0, but the signs point to him being a more effective CEO than Beebs. Although he made sure to kiss Texas' ring at his introduction, Bowlsby is a true outsider to the league, which should allay fears that he's nothing more than a Burnt Orange puppet. Additionally, he has a reputation as one of the country's best athletic administrators, which can only help the Big 12's appeal to potential expansion targets.
*Consensus (or lack thereof)
Although the Big 12 may be more settled now than it was a year ago, that doesn't mean fissures no longer exist within the framework of the conference. Rumor has it there's not even strong agreement on whether the league should expand or not.
Given that we've already witnessed conference expansion yield bizarre geographical pairings like Boise St. and the Big East, the idea of FSU and Clemson in the Big 12 doesn't sound that far-fetched.
Even so, it's one thing to talk yourself into believing that traveling from South Carolina to Waco and Ames on the regular for track meets and swimming competitions wouldn't be so bad. Actually doing it is another.
Adding a few more teams east of the Mississippi River would likely help ease the travel burdens, but this still poses a problem.
Football clearly reigns over all other sports in the Big 12. We know that's not the case in the ACC.
Which one sounds more Clemson than the other?
The Big 12 may no longer be the shitshow Big 12 of old, but it's still the Big 12, if you know what I mean.
The conference doesn't have a particularly strong academic reputation. It lacks the deep roots and history of a league like the Big Ten. It's still seen as a marriage of convenience, and the prison-yard picture of the conference that has been painted in the last two years hasn't helped.
The ACC may suck at football, but it absolutely dominates the Big 12 in terms of brand and prestige. Ultimately, that's why I still have trouble believing this kind of move would ever happen.
The fan in me would love to see the Big 12 add Clemson and Florida St. As a football conference, the league would almost rival the SEC. I'm sure there are fairly large constituencies within both of those fan bases who would like to switch conference affiliations, too.
But college presidents don't think like fans, and to them, prestige matters.