Conference realignment talk is alive and well, could it leave Texas Tech looking for a new home?
News first broke by Brent Zwerneman with the Houston Chronicle smack dab in the middle of SEC media days on Wednesday that the two flagship programs of the Big 12, Texas and Oklahoma, have inquired about joining the SEC. While there was no confirmation from Texas, Oklahoma, or the SEC, there was no denial. There certainly appears to be more fire with this smoke as there are reports that something official could be announced as soon as next week. This could be the metaphorical first domino in a conference realignment reshuffle that college athletics haven’t seen since 2010-2011.
Could the Big 12 Survive?
Not likely. Back in 2016, the Big 12 explored having 2 new schools join the conference. They included UCF, Cincinnati, UConn, Houston, South Florida, SMU, Temple, Tulane, Air Force, Colorado State, Rice, BYU (and that was after one round of “first cuts” that resulted in the Big 12 telling 8 other schools, “Thanks, but you just aren’t the right fit”). Many of these names have circulated as potential candidates in this renewed conference realignment period, assuming that Texas and Oklahoma would leave the Big 12 with only 8 teams.
However, what the Big 12 realized 5 years ago after getting in-person presentations from all of these programs was the value that each program brought would not justify splitting the Big 12 revenue pot for two more mouths to feed. Their respective values did not grow the size of the pot to maintain the current levels Big 12 members were receiving. There also isn’t a program left in the Big 12 that would be considered a national-level brand that could keep the Big 12 afloat.
Where Does Texas Tech Go?
If everything plays out, and the Big 12 ends up going the way of the dinosaur, Texas Tech will need to quickly find a new home before the conference realignment leaves them behind. From a geographical perspective, there are 4 potential options. The American Athletic Conference (AAC), The Big 10, The Mountain West Conference (MWC), or The PAC 12. Let’s explore how Texas Tech would fit in each conference.
Conference realignment could very well spring the conference formerly known at the Power 6 into a position to absorb some of the Big 12 teams. When conference realignment was at its last peak back in 2010-2011, the term “super/mega-conferences” was thrown around a lot. The number of conference members that kept getting mentioned when discussing super conferences was 16. The AAC currently has 11 football teams in its footprint, including programs in both Oklahoma and Texas.
The AAC making a push to add Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Baylor, and TCU could be the transformation the conference is looking for when it comes to being recognized as a Power-5 conference, aka its football teams will be taken under serious consideration for the playoff. Under that proposed conference realignment, Texas Tech now would be playing games in Louisiana, Florida, Maryland, Tennessee, and Ohio and still have games in Texas and Oklahoma. There is another conference that Texas Tech has been connected to in previous conference realignment talks; more on that later. But if the AAC were to add the Red Raiders and the additional Big 12 schools, there is a good case that this would be the best fit.
The Big 10 has already had a former Big 12 member join its ranks, so it possibly exists. However, chances would be minimal. First off, Nebraska has provided zero and arguably negative return to the conference for what they are paid by the Big 10. The Big 10 is just as rich, if not richer, than the SEC. A team would have to bring tremendous value to the 14-member conference for them to be considered. Texas Tech simply is not going to bring that type of value to the Big 10. Also, from a geographical fit, Texas Tech would be on an “island” compared to the other league members, much like how West Virginia is viewed in the current makeup of the Big 12.
Just like the AAC, the MWC has only 11 members. They certainly would not want to be left behind if conference realignment does take off as it is projected to. Its current flagship program, Boise State, hasn’t exactly had the best relationship with the conference recently. However, with conference realignment chess pieces starting to move, could they be the aggressive player to absorb much of the Big 12? Would they be interested in the Kansas schools over other programs? Geographically, it’s not terribly different from a conference Texas Tech almost became a member with. But would Texas Tech want to join a conference that would certainly be viewed as a step down from the Big 12? Depending on how the chips fall, they might not have a choice.
Could the PAC 16 finally come into existence? If it weren’t for some Longhorn selfishness back in 2011, this would have already been in place for a decade now. The conference realignment news found its way quickly to the new PAC 12 commissioner George Kliavkoff. He would be in a great position to make his mark on the conference immediately if it can add current Power 5 members to its conference.
The current 12-member conference appears to be the best fit for Texas Tech. While it would mean many more games played in the Pacific time zone, this would be the best-case scenario for Texas Tech. It would join “The Conference of Champions,” so it wouldn’t be stepping “down” in terms of the national perspective of a conference. One would also have to imagine that Texas Tech would not be stepping down financially with a move into the PAC 12. It appears the PAC 12 is wasting no time either for things to change officially.
This would mean the PAC 12 North would likely then be home to Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Cal, USC, and UCLA. The PAC 12 South would then comprise Utah, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Kansas State, Iowa State, Colorado, Arizona, and Arizona State. It is also worth noting that under the new proposed 12-team playoff, the top four conference champions receive first-round byes. Conference realignment shifting the landscape into four super conferences feels for the first time more of a reality than a pipe dream.