Remember when the Pac-16 almost happened?
Conference realignment has been going crazy lately, first with Texas and Oklahoma announcing their intention to bolt for the SEC, then the ensuing moves that came as a result. We don’t know exactly when all of these changes will take effect, but we do know they’re coming, and the clock is ticking on when the latest huge shift in the sport takes shape in reality.
But what if things had gone differently? Way back in the before times in the ancient year of 2010, Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M, and Missouri were all Big 12 members, the Pac-12 was the Pac-10, and the Big Ten still didn’t have 10 teams. That all changed in starting in June 2010 when the Cornhuskers announced their plans to join the Big Ten and the Buffaloes made it known they’d be leaving for the Pac-10. But that wasn’t the only Big 12 member the Pac-10 was eyeing.
We were very, very close to a Pac-16 with new members Colorado, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State aiding in the formation of the first “super conference,” as the term was coined at the time. But those talks broke down, the Longhorns opted to remain in the Big 12, as did most of their counterparts. However, the instability meant Missouri and A&M jumped ship for the SEC, TCU and West Virginia found homes in the Big 12, Utah grabbed the 12th Pac-12 spot, and 43 of 128 FBS teams competed in a different conference in 2015 than in 2009.
But what if most of the Big 12 South had ditched the conference to head west more than 10 years ago? There’s no way of knowing for sure what the landscape of college sports would be now, but I’ll take a stab at it anyway. That’s just the kind of fearless guy I am.
What If the Big 12 South Made the Pac-16?
First, let’s discuss A&M. When the Pac-10 came calling, it did want Texas A&M in the mix, but rumors of the Aggies to the SEC began at the same time. It was the opportunity for Texas A&M to divorce from its long-hated adversary in Texas and try to separate itself as more than a second fiddle to the Longhorns. Accepting a bid to the SEC would have done exactly that, and I think A&M ends up in the SEC regardless of what Texas, Texas Tech, and the Oklahoma schools do.
This means that will the additions of Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado, the Pac-10 needed one more to become the Pac-16. That’s where Utah comes in.
Now, let’s go over what the Pac-16 could have looked like, assuming pods would have been used in football to execute scheduling formats as opposed to two eight-team divisions.
Pod 1 (North)
Washington – Washington State – Oregon – Oregon State
Pod 2 (Pacific)
USC – UCLA – Stanford – California
Pod 3 (Rockies)
Colorado – Utah – Arizona – Arizona State
Pod 4 (East)
Texas – Texas Tech – Oklahoma – Oklahoma State
There would have to be ways to guarantee teams not in California and Texas could play in at least one of those states every season for recruiting purposes. This is a good explanation of how this could have worked. This move would have likely brought about nine-game conference schedules sooner than it happened in the reality we’ve lived through, too. It would have also revolutionized how conferences with 16 teams did their scheduling and divisions.
After the Pac-16 was formed and the Big 12 was properly raided, the SEC and Big Ten would have to make their moves.
The SEC would have already added Texas A&M to get to 13, and 14 would be the next logical step. The fight for Missouri would have begun between the Big Ten and SEC, but the Big Ten was the most proactive conference aiming to expand at the time, already courting Nebraska to its side. The Big Ten would have invited Mizzou first, and given the death spiral of the Big 12, the Tigers wouldn’t have had much time to waste taking the first quality life raft available. That puts the Big Ten at 13 teams.
Still needing another team to reach 14, Rutgers would have probably been the 14th team. The Big Ten was obviously keen on the NYC market Rutgers could deliver, and the Scarlet Knights would be a much easier poach than Maryland.
That leaves the SEC still searching for a 14th member. At the time, the SEC seemed intent on adding teams in states it wasn’t currently in, which makes options like Clemson and Florida State untenable. There are some other ACC schools that could have made sense, but I think the climate at the time would have led to West Virginia getting that invitation.
Now stuck at 12 with much less stability than before, the ACC has to act. It adds Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Louisville, and Cincinnati to bring itself up to 16. The league and Notre Dame still come to the same agreement they did in reality, making the Irish a partial conference member. Hello, 17-team basketball conference!
Decimated by realignment, the Big 12 would have been on the verge of folding. But with no one wanting the four remaining teams, they band together and decide to add to their league rather than jump ship for the Mountain West or the like. TCU, Houston, Boise State, BYU, Memphis, South Florida, UCF, and SMU are added, and the Big 12 recovers back to 12, unable to sit at 10 and still remotely compete with the 14 and 16-team leagues. It becomes the worst of the best conferences and lives in a weird limbo as a power conference that no one takes all that seriously, like the Big East of old.
The Big East is dead, just like in real life. The basketball schools break off to stay as the Big East in that sport, and UConn is forced to find a new home, likely in C-USA or as an independent with basketball and other sports competing in the Big East still.
The American does not form, because most of the teams that created it found homes in the Big 12 or elsewhere.
The Mountain West is forced to forage for replacements for its losses, now left with just six members. Nevada, Hawaii, Fresno State, Utah State, San Jose State, and Idaho are invited to round out the numbers to 12. New Mexico blocks the addition of New Mexico State, and Louisiana Tech is too far for the Mountain West to seriously consider it, so the Aggies and Bulldogs are left for the Sun Belt and C-USA, respectively.
C-USA would have experienced some big shakeups, while the MAC just adds UMass and doesn’t lose any members (with no American formed, Temple doesn’t have anywhere else to go). The Sun Belt has some losses as C-USA reloads, but it finds new members from FBS newcomers.
Let’s get a look at how the conferences would have looked at the time after these moves:
NORTH/MID-ATLANTIC – Boston College, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Syracuse / Louisville, Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech
CAROLINA/SOUTH – Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Wake Forest / Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Miami (FL)
Big 12 (12)
NORTH – Boise State, BYU, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Memphis
SOUTH – Baylor, Houston, SMU, South Florida, TCU, UCF
Big Ten (14)
EAST – Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers
WEST – Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Northwestern, Wisconsin
NORTH/PACIFIC – Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State / California, Stanford, UCLA, USC
ROCKIES/EAST – Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Utah / Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech
EAST – Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, Vanderbilt
WEST – Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Texas A&M
NORTH/EAST – Marshall, Middle Tennessee Old Dominion, Western Kentucky / East Carolina, FAU, FIU, UAB
WEST/SOUTH – North Texas, Rice, UTEP, UTSA / Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, Tulane, Tulsa
Notre Dame (kind of), Army, Navy
EAST – Akron, Buffalo, Kent State, Massachusetts, Miami (OH), Ohio, Temple
WEST – Ball State, Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Northern Illinois, Toledo, Western Michigan
Mountain West (12)
MOUNTAIN – Air Force, Colorado State, Idaho, New Mexico, Utah State, Wyoming
WEST – Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, San Diego State, San Jose State, UNLV
Sun Belt (10)
Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Charlotte, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Louisiana, South Alabama, Texas State, Troy, UL-Monroe
Would this have been the end of conference realignment? Absolutely not. The SEC and Big Ten reaching 16 teams each would have been (and in our current reality is) inevitable. The Big 12 in this state probably wouldn’t have lasted forever, at least not as a power conference. And one has to worry for the ACC, because the SEC and Big Ten would have become hungry for more members at some point, and the ACC would have been ripe for the picking.
But instead, Texas and Oklahoma will be in the SEC, Maryland is in the Big Ten, the ACC has 14 full members, the American happened, and the Big Ten, ACC, and Pac-12 fear the SEC so much that they felt compelled to form The Alliance.
Oh, what could have been…