Links at the bottom, as always.
So A&M is open to flirt with whomever it wants, and everybody assumes they are gone (odds are, to say the least, good at this point ... though, as always, it's never a done deal until the contracts are signed). Got it. So what happens next?
I've mentioned before that if the SEC truly is going to look outside of its current states for a 14th team, then clearly Mizzou is in a pretty good position. As is Virginia Tech, obviously. But I do want to prepare people for the possibility of Mizzou higher-ups, and higher-ups from all the other remaining schools, fighting as hard as they can to keep the conference together, even if that means ignoring the possibility of moving to another conference. Not saying I would be okay with that or not, just that it is a distinct possibility, especially if there is a $30 million fee associated with changing conferences.
Kansas State, Mizzou and others are starting their own 'networks' (even if they're just online ventures and not slated to earn $15 million/year like, um, other schools in the conference). Brady Deaton is for all intents and purposes the chairman of the Big 12 board. The Texas Tech and Kansas State presidents are talking about being super-aggressive in replacing A&M. Dan Beebe is yelling at Mike Slive. Signs point to the Big 12 not dying with a quiet whimper. (We should have seen this coming, of course: if it were going to die quietly, it would have died last summer.)
Team No. 10
So if the Big 12 does respond aggressively to A&M's secession, what exactly does that mean? Well, it means DeLoss Dodds making an almost certainly unsuccessful call to Notre Dame, for starters. But after that? At this exact moment (and lord knows this will probably change within seconds of my hitting Publish on this post), I'm thinking the Big 12 goes in one of two directions in looking for Team No. 10: BYU or Houston.
Houston comes into play if the Big 12 gets assurance from its TV partners that the value of its contracts won't change if they add a smaller team; the addition of UH (or, technically, TCU or SMU) would, in theory, placate Texas legislators wanting to make sure the Big 12 still has a strong Texas presence (though, as long as UT is involved, the Big 12 has a strong Texas presence). But it would do very little to the quality of the product on the field (or court), of course. Houston is an exciting, sometimes solid football program, but their attendance is lackluster (to put it kindly), and their men's basketball program is currently atrocious. With more revenue, they could potentially build their athletic program up, but this would not exactly be a homerun of a get. It might not even be a single. (Though it would certainly result in some fun football games.)
BYU, on the other hand, is a rock solid athletic program. They are currently good at both football and basketball, they have a strong, passionate fanbase, and, perhaps most excitingly, they could be enjoyable hate-able. If I'm calling the shots (and thank goodness I'm not), I go with BYU first. After Notre Dame laughs and turns me down, anyway.
But what happens after that? Is the conference serious about aggressively courting more programs? If they are, then here's the list of even remotely interesting programs: TCU, Air Force, Louisville, Cincinnati, Memphis and SMU.
TCU would obviously be seen as a big get nationally, even though a) they're really only good at football and baseball, b) the size of their fanbase is middling at best and c) they add nothing to conference's footprint. I wouldn't complain about this, simply because I worship the ground TCU grad Dan Jenkins walks on, and this would potentially make him very happy.
Air Force is another program that would be well-received nationally, but it, too, would add very little to the conference's overall athletic resume. Plus, with their Flexbone and 3-4 defense, they would be really annoying to have to play every year.
Louisville would be, to me, a wonderful addition to the club, but I'm not sure they're interested. If the Big East locks down as strong a TV deal as it thinks it can, then the motivation to leave is not high, especially considering a) it is a basketball-first school in the country's best basketball conference, and b) if Mizzou is no longer on the SEC's table, and Virginia Tech is not actually interested, then suddenly Louisville's name might end up on the table for becoming the SEC's 14th team. It's not likely, but it's possible. This would be my No. 1 choice after BYU, but I doubt they would agree to move.
Cincinnati has succeeded at a high level, in both basketball and football, in recent decades, and there is some potential here. Really, I get the impression that they are just a bigger, better Houston in that they are a bit of a commuter school and don't have the world's largest fanbase, but this would certainly be worth a look. They're in the same boat as Louisville to a degree: they're in a semi-stable conference and might be about to make a lot more money, so why would they leave to come to a crazy-unstable conference?
Memphis would agree to come in a heartbeat. They would add to the conference's basketball profile, and the program as a whole seems to have a decent amount of potential. Plus, Mr. FedEx would likely add to the Big 12's coffers in one way or another, which is nice. Never count out a conference that has Jerry Jones money and FedEx money rolling in. But ... oh, that football program. So, so bad. I would love this get simply because it would give me an excuse to go to Memphis a lot more frequently (it's been too long...), but I cannot see this being a legitimate option as long as they have one of the three or four worst football teams in the country. We already have Kansas. We can't afford another awful team.
Just for the quality of the redemption tale, I wouldn't be against adding SMU, I guess, but like most of the other programs on this list, they don't really add much.
But if the Big 12 really wants to think outside the box, I have another proposal, something I'm pretty sure I brought up last summer at some point: add a couple of strong basketball-only programs. Despite the defections, the conference still has BCS heavyweights in Oklahoma and Texas, plus Oklahoma State, Missouri and Texas Tech, which have all shown high ceilings in recent years. If they really want to make some waves and improve their overall profile ... call Xavier, then call Butler.
The Big 12 is potentially at death's door right now, but guess what: it has been for a long time, and it just keeps ticking. I realize a majority of Mizzou fans -- including myself, really -- sees the conference dying eventually and just wants to get it over with. And I realize, therefore, that the thought of a patched-together Big 12 is not incredibly appealing. But it's also still the most likely option on the table, so we should at least begin the process of figuring out how we want this conference to look if it does stick around.
Since I don't think Louisville is a realistic option, I can't really favor the thought of going past 10 teams right now, though I guess I don't hate the thought of adding TCU (who probably wouldn't break their Big East arrangement), Houston or SMU, just for the sake of playing that many more games in the state of Texas each year (a boon for recruiting). I respect that the conference wants to be aggressive, but without Notre Dame, there just aren't that many options right now. And Notre Dame's not coming.
Dr. Saturday: Patience, Aggies: Texas A&M's Big 12 defection may take longer than we thought
Dawg Sports: SEC Expandageddon: Bernie Machen Is Down With Other People's Athletic Properties
Solid Verbal: PODCAST: A&Mayhem
SI.com (Andy Staples): Messy Big 12 divorce appears inevitable for Texas A&M
Time to Flirt
CBS Sports: Texas A&M Regents authorize realignment action
College Football Talk: A&M board gives OK to explore conference affiliation
Houston Chronicle: Texas A&M facing 'lengthy' realignment process
Team Speed Kills: Texas A&M Authorizes President Bowen Loftin to Negotiate Conference Alignment
Post-Dispatch: Regents pave way for Texas A&M to move
Post-Dispatch (Bryan Burwell): Texas A&M talks out of both sides of its mouth
ESPN.com: College Station overtaken with SEC mania
EDSBS: TEXAS A&M OPENS COURTIN' SEASON
No Texas Leg Meeting Today
Burnt Orange Nation: Texas House Committee on Higher Education Postpones Tuesday Hearing on Texas A&M
College Football Talk: Texas Higher Ed Committee cancels meeting
Orangebloods: A&M hearing postponed, but process rolls on
"That is the clear direction that the board of directors wants to move in," Schulz said. "The chances of seeing a nine-member Big 12 for any length of time are pretty small."
Schulz said there have been no "significant" talks about who those additional schools could be, but the Big 12 does have a plan in place to evaluate potential new members.
"You don't want to just add a school to be simply adding somebody. It needs to be somebody who fits academically and athletically into the conference," Schulz said. "Some of the discussion has been really focused on, 'Let's look at candidate schools and evaluate candidate schools.' After evaluating candidate schools, then we decide do we add one? Do we add two? Or do we add three?