For most of the past decade, it has felt as if the Big 12 conference was on ground so shaky that it would make the San Andreas fault appear stable. So it is rather fitting that the Texas Tech football program’s best hope for sustainability in the midst of what appears to be impending conference realignment comes from the area of the country where the ground is known to rattle and roll from time to time.
First of all, let’s be clear. This conference realignment chaos is a Texas Tech football problem above all else. It is football that is driving the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners to the SEC and it is football that generates the lion’s share of the revenue for almost every athletic department in the nation.
Sure, Tech is in great shape in basketball and baseball but those sports, along with all the others on campus that are not played with an oblong ball, will have no bearing on what happens to Texas Tech when the Big 12 as we know it ceases to exist. What’s more, in all of the non-football sports, the setup of the NCAA tournaments makes conference affiliation far less important.
Because of the number of teams selected for each tournament, programs like Gonzaga basketball can become a national power despite playing in a mid-major conference. Likewise, as recently as 2016, we’ve seen Coastal Carolina win the College World Series despite coming from the Sun Belt Conference.
But no team from outside of the five major conferences, other than Notre Dame, has appeared in the four-team College Football Playoff. And annually, the national champion in that sport comes from only a select group of programs, all of which have the financial support of a major conference helping to fund their massive football budgets.
So while Mark Adams and Tim Tadlock are going to be watching what happens with the latest reshuffling of the NCAA deck, their respective programs should be fine regardless of what happens. But for Tech football, there is only one hope for remaining at the adult table and that is for the PAC 12 to throw the Red Raiders a lifeline.
Many around the nation assume that the PAC 12 will be quick in its attempts to mirror the SEC and expand to 16 teams. That would only further the theory that college football is headed towards a landscape that includes four major conferences, each with 16 members.
Fortunately, Tech brings quite a bit to the table in negotiations with the PAC 12 despite over a decade of on-field woes. The fact is that if the PAC 12 wants to expand, it will do so only if an expansion were to make financial sense. In other words, the television contracts it has with its media partners would have to be more lucrative thus ensuring a greater payday for each member institution. That’s where Tech might have the inside edge.
The only place for the PAC 12 to expand would be in the central time zone. Already having the Pacific and Mountain time zones monopolized, the PAC 12 could see the central time zone, and specifically Texas, as a worthy area in which to try to establish a foothold.
With Texas A&M and Texas (assumedly) in the SEC, the biggest television draw in Texas would be Texas Tech due especially to the massive number of Red Raiders in the Dallas metroplex. Sure, other programs like TCU and Baylor could play the Texas card as well but the alumni and fan bases of those small private schools are minuscule compared to Texas Tech’s.
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That’s why many are predicting that any PAC 12 expansion would include the Red Raiders while few (if any) are including the Bears or the Horned Frogs in any PAC 16 projections. Also fueling the rumors of Texas Tech landing in the PAC 12 is the fact that that scenario came within an eyelash of playing out the last time conference realignment shook the college football world at its core just over a decade ago. In fact, then PAC 12 commissioner Larry Scott even came to Lubbock for a clandestine meeting with Texas Tech officials. Thus, there is reason to believe that Tech and the PAC 12 could rekindle their flirtations with one another and that this time, it could result in a marriage rather than a one-night stand.
But what if the PAC 12 decides, as it did a decade ago, to stand pat? That would be the worst-case scenario for Texas Tech football. In such a doomsday situation, Tech and Oklahoma State would likely join up with TCU and Baylor in trying to keep the Big 12 viable.
However, what if West Virginia finds refuge in the ACC and Kansas and Iowa State find safe harbor in the Big 10? That would Leave the remnants of the Big 12 looking to add five teams just to get back to ten. And what four interested teams would move the television needle? In a word…none.
A big fish like Notre Dame isn’t coming to the Big 12. The Irish are already contractually affiliated with the ACC and they even played last season in that league on a one-time COVID-19 induced basis. So make no mistake, if Norte Dame joins any league, it will be the ACC.
Additionally, no university in its right mind would leave the safety of another power five conferences to join a Big 12 that is taking on water at Titanic rates. That would leave the conference to pick from the top options in conferences such as the Mountain West, AAC, and other less-than-sexy conferences. No, replacing Texas and OU with Houston and SMU certainly wouldn’t be enough to save the Big 12 from falling into the realm of second-class citizenry but that would be the league’s only option for “survival”.
Even worse, what if the merry-go-round stops and Iowa State, Kansas, and WVU have all found comfy new homes in a major conference while the Texas schools are left on the outside looking in? That worst-case scenario, one in which there is no Big 12 and no PAC 16, would decimate the Red Raider football program and send Tech scrambling for a place in a mid-major conference. That would set the program back over sixty years to the days of the Border Conference and that’s a nightmare no Red Raider wants to face.
So through all of the madness that is certain to come about in the next few days, weeks, and months, there is one point of light on the horizon that Tech and its fans must look toward for hope. And it emanates from the West Coast.