If Texas A&M Leaves, Who Will The Big XII Turn To?

It appears that Texas A&M is going to leave the Big XII a year after committing long term to being a member of the conference and is preparing to bolt for the SEC.

Like the other eight teams that stayed with Texas in a reformed Big XII, minus Nebraska and Colorado, Texas A&M was well aware of Texas’ plans to start their own television network. Texas starts that network in conjunction with ESPN later this week, and UT will have enormous opportunities to promote their school and their athletic teams. All of a sudden, Texas A&M acts like they’re shocked that Texas is going to have so many riches, and they need to get away from the Longhorns.

If the other eight teams knew about that network, if I knew about it, then A&M should have known about it. Texas caused a stir during the summer when it was revealed that they were going to show high school games featuring their targeted recruits on the network, but that idea was shot down by the NCAA. Even the help of the NCAA, however, hasn’t appeased the Aggies.

So Texas is going to get $15 million a year to have tons of sports televised. Is this good for the Aggies? No. But it’s just as bad for Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Mizzou, all of whom use the state of Texas as a recruiting hotbed. But for the rest of the conference, it’s simply something they have to deal with. Everyone else knew when they made the commitment to the conference last year that it might as well have been called the Big One and the Little Nine. Or the Longhorn Conference. Texas runs it, and everyone else must do their best with less.

What alarms me is what the Big XII plans to do to replace Texas A&M. Two schools named as a possibility are SMU and TCU. While the Southern Methodist program was a football power in the late ’70s and early ’80s, much has changed since they returned from the NCAA Death Penalty.

As an example, every school in the conference has upgraded their football stadiums. With the help of billionaire Boone Pickens, Oklahoma State now has a state-of-the-art, 60,000-seat palace with 102 luxury suites. Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium in Oklahoma has 2,500 club seats among its capacity of 82,000. Darrell K. Royal stadium in Texas had a capacity of 77,000 in 1997, but now has over 100,000 seats. Even at Mizzou, Faurot Field has been expanded to accommodate 68,000, rather than the 62,000 capacity in 1995.

Now look at SMU. Gerald J. Ford Stadium has a capacity of 32,000, with a possibility of upgrading to 45,000. It doesn’t hold a candle to any school in the Big XII.

In terms of basketball, Kansas, K-State, Missouri, Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma State have all displayed different levels of power over the last three or four years. Oklahoma is quite capable of being a power. Only Texas Tech lags in that department. The Mustangs haven’t been to an NCAA tournament since 1993, and last year enjoyed their first winning season in eight years, and their first 20-win season since 1999-2000.

SMU doesn’t fit. TCU, which has enjoyed great football success lately, only has 7,000 students on campus, and its basketball resume leaves a lot to be desired, having last won a conference title and securing an NCAA berth in 1998. The Horned Frogs would have to upgrade their athletic department dramatically to play with the big boys in the Big XII. Houston is in the same boat. Notre Dame seems happy as an independent.

There is one school that has come up of late that has to intrigue the powers that be in the Big XII, and that’s Pittsburgh. Pitt would add to the footprint of the conference, moving north beyond Missouri and Kansas into the rust belt. It’s become one of the nation’s best basketball programs during the course of the last decade, and has a great football history, including the 1976 National Championship behind Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett. Several years later, Pitt turned out a quarterback named Dan Marino. The Panthers play in a state of the art facility in Heinz Field, the same home stadium as the Steelers.

The school also has a full complement of Olympic and non-revenue sports like wrestling, women’s basketball, gymnastics, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, soccer, and track and field, plus wrestling. It would enhance its place in the college sports landscape, especially in football, with a move from the Big East to the Big XII.

How great would it be for Mizzou football if Gary Pinkel could re-establish the pipelines in Ohio and Pennsylvania he had as coach of Toledo? All of a sudden, the black and gold would be seen annually in the Pittsburgh market. How much of an advantage would it be for everyone in the conference to recruit the rich rust belt area, so that they didn’t have to depend on a state of Texas dominated by the Longhorns?

I would argue that if the Big XII could make that trade without a disgruntled A&M, they should do it. College conferences are big business now and there’s no doubt in my mind that Pittsburgh is better business for the conference than Texas A&M.