Well, I haven't gotten any hate mail from Texas fans in about a week, so I feel like I'm slacking. So let's dive right back into realignment, which I know has cooled off as a topic since Miami was found in the closet with a hooker and a pound of blow.*
*Very quick take - I happen to agree with the standard line coming out of Miami: they are being singled out by a system that's hopelessly corrupt. What's wrong about a guy giving people money if it's his to give? These players are the labor in a multi-million dollar industry, just look at the figures thrown around in the realignment discussion, yet we're not supposed to give the players any money because that would be wrong? Why is that?
Still. The secret abortion and hookers are pretty bad. And I'm willing to turn my head for the $100 handshake, but this was potentially millions of dollars of wrongfully acquired money funneled to the program. There's breaking morally wrong rules and then there's absolutely flouting them in a way that defies almost any sense of common decency. Let's just say Miami's a bad test case for striking down NCAA's rulemaking authority.
Anyway, back to realignment.
Texas' most consistent rationalization for their behavior has been that a school should only look out for their own interests. Every decision Texas has made has been what's best for Texas, and that is the criteria by which their AD should be should. This is just the free market at work.
Now, I think that's how a sociopath thinks and there needs to be some measure of long-term thinking, and concern for you business partners. But let's just skip right over that and accept the Texas argument at face value.
Well, by that standard, it's pretty hard to argue with them. No matter what happens, Texas makes out like a bandit. Say what you will about the Longhorns, they have some pretty damn smart people guiding that ship. Whenever and however the realignment landscape has shifted, the Horns have almost always come out on top. That's a remarkable track record, and speaks highly to the guys in charge.
There's a reason I think Texas is like the Gordon Gecko of college athletics - Gecko usually won the deal, too. Let's look at Texas' current situation after the jump.
Right now, Texas is in a weak BCS conference, but it's not as weak as the Big East. And if the BCS hasn't kicked the Big East out of their party, they are certainly not going to kick out the conference with both Texas and Oklahoma, no matter how weak the rest of the programs are.
Texas gets a larger share of the Big XII TV revenues and on top of that, Texas has a $300 million deal with ESPN over the next 20 years for the LHN. That's good from both a revenue standpoint and a branding standpoint. ESPN now has a vested interest in the success of Texas. ESPN is the 800-pound gorilla of sport media, and they are a pretty good ally to have. I have plenty of issues with ESPN, but it's impossible to deny their influence and the way they control the sports conversation.
Texas doesn't just get a larger share of the pie of its conference mates, it gets an overwhelmingly larger share. Not even the seemingly endless pockets of Pickens at Okie State can keep up with Texas. The Big XII is a lot like Major League Baseball - there isn't a problem of large markets and small markets, but of the Yankees vs. everyone else. The Horns are the Yankees of the Big XII. The systemic advantages are staggering. I've only mentioned TV and money, but Texas also has the top merchandising sales and by far the best recruiting base.
One of the arguments Texas has used against A&M has been that the Aggies are going to get killed in the SEC. The SEC has won five national titles in five years by four different schools. If you look at the history of every school currently in the Big XII dating back to the invention of football, only three of them have won a national title. And one of those is Texas A&M.
The SEC has had more schools win the national title in five years than the schools in the Big XII have had in over 100 years of football. Going by the 100 year standard, eight of the twelve schools in the SEC have won a recognized consensus national title (it pains me to include Ole Miss in the group).
CFB Data Warehouse maintains a ranking of football programs all-time. Now, there are 67 schools in BCS conference plus Notre Dame, so anything below #50 is a bottom tier BCS program and anything below #67 is pretty awful - it means you rank behind non-BCS programs. Let's look at the Big XII's rankings by program:
#20 Texas A&M
#63 Texas Tech
#65 Oklahoma St.
#69 Iowa St.
#70 Kansas St.
By contrast, here's the SEC:
#26 Ole Miss
#48 Mississippi St.
#64 South Carolina
I think the first thing to point out is that BAYLOR ranks in the top half of the Big XII in all-time program rank. Four schools in the Big XII rank below that #50 line, and two are below the BCS line. That's a fairly weak conference, especially once you get past those top two.
Texas, as the situation stands right now, is in a weak conference that is full of schools that can't leave because they lack options. They make a ton of money, have a great recruiting base, and a dominant national brand. Texas plays a fairly weak conference schedule, and rarely schedules a tough OOC schedule (though they did have that home-and-home with Ohio St in 2005 and 2006).
Quite frankly, given their advantages, there's almost no excuse not to win 10 games every year. Texas has to beat Oklahoma then not get upset, and they will go undefeated. There's no such thing as smooth sailing to the national title game, but that's about as easy a trip as you'll find. Every year, the winner of the Red River Rivalry should be in the national title conversation. That's a good gig if you can get it.
Now, there are two things which can happen to A&M from Texas' perspective: A&M either leaves the conference or they don't.
If A&M stays, the status quo is maintained and if anything, the Big XII is strengthened. A&M can't threaten the nuclear option again with any sort of credibility. Texas has held the conference together - again - and things will pretty much continue as they have continued. Well, with the added bonus of the Aggies been absolutely humiliated. Texas probably prefers this option just to reduce the risk of the unknown (and the humiliation part), but it's not like Texas hasn't proven adaptable. Let's look at what happens if A&M leaves.
First, it's pretty critical that Texas sells us on the notion A&M isn't very good. They've been largely successful at that, and the dominant storyline has been one of A&M, the little brother. The reason Texas needs us to all buy that A&M sucks is that the Big XII will have lost their third best program, historically speaking. And looking at the preseason polls, the second or third best program in the conference right now. Texas wants to sell us that the quality of their conference has been completely unaffected.
Once that hurdle is cleared, it's pretty much smooth sailing. Texas A&M also gets a disproportionate share of the TV money, and I'm sure Texas will take a cut of A&M's share. That's more money in Texas' pocket.
Given that Oklahoma has shown no interest in exploring its options, Texas can hold together the Big XII with just about anyone. They've already explored adding BYU or maybe they add a former SWC team like Houston or Rice. It honestly doesn't matter. What matters is that Texas has shown they can hold this conference together, and they will keep cashing checks.
And as an added bonus, they lose the second toughest game on their schedule! I honestly see no reason why A&M-Texas can't continue as an out-of-conference game if A&M leaves the conference, but it seems that the game would be a casualty of an A&M move to the SEC.
An Aggie-less Big XII would be a weaker conference, but not so weak that Texas has to worry about BCS implications. They still have the Oklahoma game, a credible slate of games against the rest of the conference (and certainly tougher than a Big East schedule), and the occasional big OOC game. The other systemic advantages, like recruiting and money, actually increase.
A&M bolting to the SEC might elevate Texas to an even higher level than they are at now. There will be virtually no barrier to winning 10 games every year and being in the national title discussion consistently.
Of course, many of us thought something similar about Florida St. in the ACC, and look how that turned out.
Then, there's one last fly in the ointment: Oklahoma. Oklahoma has quietly sat this whole mess out, alienating absolutely no one. They've proven loyal to the Big XII yet it's pretty clear that other conferences desire them. OU has also shown a commitment to their "little brother", Oklahoma St, maneuvering to make sure the Cowboys are taken care of.
And why not stay? Most of these advantages which apply to Texas also apply to Oklahoma. OU benefits just as much from a weakened Big XII, but without any of the taint of villainy Texas may acquire. Oklahoma has also positioned itself into being a perennial 10-win program propped up in a conference with systemic inequity - but they've been much nicer about it. Let Texas do the dirty work and then happily cash your checks and win your conference titles.
Oklahoma gets all of the good stuff while also being able to sell themselves as the good guys. Not only that, people will probably buy it. When we look around for the winners in possible realignment, Texas is certainly on the list regardless of what happens. But so is Oklahoma, the new champion of integrity.
How times change.