While the Big 12 has been busy this week trying to convince the rest of the country that no, really, everything is just fine over here, Pac-10 higher-ups have been quietly planning for a meeting this weekend that, according to UC Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau, could "revolutionize college football."
If a new report Thursday by the Texas-based site Orangebloods.com is accurate, revolutionize may be a bit of an understatement: According to "multiple sources close to the situation," the Pac-10 plans to offer conference membership to six Big 12 teams at its conference meeting in San Francisco, forming a 16-team behemoth that spans the entire Western half of the country and encompasses seven of the nation's top-20 television markets.
Those six teams: Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado. Let the denials begin.
The vastly restructured league will reportedly feature two eight-team divisions with an East-West divide: The new newcomers will join Arizona and Arizona State in the "Inland" division, with the original "Pac-8" schools – California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, USC, UCLA, Washington and Washington State – holding in the "Pacific" division.
Obviously, new commissioner Larry Scott is not playing around. As noted elsewhere in the hype over a massively inflated Big Ten, a 16-team conference isn't really a single conference. (At least not as conferences have traditionally existed in college football, the short-lived 16-team WAC notwithstanding.) It's more like two conferences with scheduling and revenue-sharing agreements. Even if the proposed "Big 16" retains its current nine-game conference season, a seven-game divisional schedule in football means teams in opposite divisions would probably only see each other a couple times per decade. That's not a great formula for building cohesive rivalries, but it does head off potential travel burdens. The Big 12 refugees would only be looking at one or two West Coast trips per year in football, and vice versa.
Of course, the motivation for a sprawling mega-conference has nothing to do with building rivalries or drawing up nice, neat schedules. It's about money, specifically money generated via the richest possible television contract. Big 12 and Pac-10 officials have already been in serious talks about forming a TV partnership, possibly even a Big Ten-style network that could find a lucrative home on cable tiers across the country. With its smashing success as a minority partner in the Big Ten version, Fox is reportedly ready to give the conference network another go:
Fox Cable Networks (a division of News Corporation), which serves as the chief operating partner of the successful Big Ten Network, appears ready to make the Big 16 Network happen.
Fox is the chief television partner of the Pac-10 currently, and its subsidiary Fox Sports Net currently holds the rights to the Big 12 cable package, which comes up for bid in the spring of 2011. The Pac-10 also has television deals with Fox up for re-bid at the same time.
A network that spans the entire Western half of the country would include interested markets in Los Angeles, Dallas, San Francisco, Houston, Phoenix, Seattle and Sacramento, and almost certainly be able to demand premium rates from cable companies in all of them. For Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado – all of which brought in less than $10 million from the Big 12's unequal TV split in 2007, the last year the numbers were published – it would also almost certainly mean a far more attractive payout than they're earning in their current situations.
If there's a holdout in that group, according to Orangebloods, it seems to be Texas A&M, which may have a serious interest in joining the SEC instead, if the Big 12 is ripped asunder. But none of the alleged invitees, not even mighty Texas, has the muscle to hold the Big 12 together if the majority of the proposed candidates bolt for the Pac-10. With the Big Ten's apparent interest in Nebraska and Missouri from the Big 12 North – interest that, so far, seems to be generally reciprocated – the forecast for the Big 12 is looking grimmer by the day. If it's going to survive a gambit of this magnitude, it will only by a determined, united stand, and a plan to drum up substantially more revenue than it does right now.
- - -
* - I have been personally reassured about the validity of the sources from within the Rivals network, of which Orangebloods is a flagship with a track record of original reporting.
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.