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Why I think the Big 12 is going to collapse, and how Baylor should react

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We could be headed for major changes

NCAA Football: Stephen F. Austin at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier today Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle reported that Texas and Oklahoma reached out to the SEC about leaving the conference.

Texas’ statement: “Speculation swirls around collegiate athletics. We will not address rumors or speculation.”

OU’s statement: “The college athletics landscape is shifting constantly. We don’t address every anonymous rumor.”

With those horrendous non-denials, it seems fairly apparent the duo are looking to bolt the Big 12.

In 2016, I was one of the few people that predicted the Big 12 would not expand. I also argued that Baylor had to oppose Houston’s bid to join the league because Baylor would have elevated Houston if the next round of realignment occurred. While I’ve had some terrible takes, those are probably my two best.

Past success is not a guarantee for future results, but I think I’ve navigated the realignment space well because I’ve focused on group interests and votes. It doesn’t matter what one group thinks. It matters who has the votes.

How sure should we be that OU and Texas want to leave?

I would say very for two reasons. First, the non-denials are terrifying. Either school could say they’re committed to the Big 12. Some think this is a ploy for more TV money, but OU and Texas don’t maximize Big 12 revenue by leaving the league. The networks would probably prefer to see the pair in the SEC or Big 10 because those games would draw larger audiences.

Maybe Oklahoma and Texas are doing this to earn a higher split of revenue in the next television contract. If the smaller schools think either will leave, then maybe those schools will agree to a better revenue allotment. But the Big 12 contract runs through the 2025 season. This is an odd time to do this.

Second, who leaked this matters. Zwerneman is the Texas A&M beat writer. OU and Texas are unlikely to be the leakers. Instead, someone from Texas A&M that doesn’t want this to happen likely leaked the information to try and drum up opposition to the move. If OU and Texas wanted TV revenue, the pair could leak to a source closer to them or a national outlet.

Will the SEC take the pair?

The SEC requires 11 yes votes from the 14 member schools for expansion.

Texas A&M is an adamant no vote (assuming there are enough votes to stop it). The Texas A&M Director of Athletics said, “We want to be the only SEC program in the state of Texas.”

Kirk Bohls of the Austin-American Statesman says that Missouri will also oppose expansion. That makes sense, and Bohls is a well source journalist. Missouri left the league because of concerns about Texas’ influence.

The remaining question is whether two other schools will oppose the move. Some have theorized that Texas A&M has an alliance with Georgia and Florida to stop expansion. The rationale is that each school has an alliance to stop any other institutions from those states joining the league. Georgia, Florida and Texas A&M want to be the only SEC teems in their states. And maybe some of the other SEC schools will balk at elevating two more programs.

So it’s hard to know what the vote is. I am worried that Texas A&M leaked this it’s because the Aggies are worried they lack the votes to stop this.

What about other leagues?

The other eight schools should be terrified that Texas or Oklahoma will head to the Big 10, ACC or PAC-12 if the SEC tells them to buzz off. If the schools are looking to leave for the SEC, then they might leave for better paydays in another league.

Each of those leagues can likely offer more revenue. Maybe the PAC-12 won’t achieve what the Big 12 would in a future TV deal. But the Big 10 and ACC will. If money is the chief motivator—and it’s been one for most—then the schools could leave for that.

So I don’t think Texas and Oklahoma, right now, want to remain in the Big 12. Maybe the duo change their mind. But I expect them to leave.

What about the rest staying and just expanding?

The remaining schools would be significantly weakened without Texas and Oklahoma. Texas has not been relevant when it comes to on field play for almost all of the last 12 years. But the Longhorns are a revenue maker. And Oklahoma is a giant money maker and the fourth or fifth best football program under Lincoln Riley.

Without those teams, the Big 12 is going to make substantially less. Even if the Big 12 added Memphis, Houston, UCF and Cincinnati, the league isn’t going to make up for the loss of Texas and Oklahoma. The league would be severely weakened and would fall below any of the other power leagues.

Can’t the Big 12 force Oklahoma and Texas to stay in the Big 12 because of the Grant of Rights?

The Big 12’s Grant of Rights is codified in Big 12 Bylaw 3.1, which provides, “The Grant of Rights Agreement which will remain in full force and effect as to such Withdrawing Member and the Withdrawing Member shall continue to be fully bound under the Grant of Rights Agreement after Withdrawal for the remainder of the term...”

That basically means that Oklahoma and Texas would not be able to claim Tier 1 or Tier 2 (the top television) rights in the SEC until after 2025. The two would also have to pay a buyout fee, which is equal to the revenue that each would earn in its final two yeas in the league.

Some have written that Oklahoma and Texas can deal with this by paying a fee. I don’t think that’s how they deal with it.

The real reason that the Grant of Rights doesn’t matter is because the rest of the league will collapse too. If Texas and Oklahoma leave, then the other conferences will want to expand. Texas Tech would be insane to wait around hoping to legally bind Texas and Oklahoma into the league, and then think that Texas and Oklahoma are staying. Instead, Texas Tech should leap at going to the PAC-12. KU wouldn’t wait around if the Big 10 came calling. The PAC-12 would likely add four teams, the Big 10 would add two and the ACC would add two. While that doesn’t guarantee eight remaining Big 12 members find homes—the leagues could add an AAC team or Notre Dame. Or one of the leagues could decide that it doesn’t want to be a 16 team conference.

If the Big 12 is down to just one or two schools left, then the league could simply dissolves or amend its bylaws. This gets fairly nerdy and legally debatable.

Theoretically dissolving the league or changing the bylaws requires eight votes or 75% of members to change them.

A majority of the conference can vote to settle litigation. Bylaw 1.5.2(a)(6). Dissolution requires 75% (8 votes). See 1.5.2(b). That means six Big 12 schools (a majority) could leave the conference, sue, say “We owe nothing and the league is dissolved.” Then those six members could say, “We agree with the lawsuit filed by those six, and therefore, we concede the lawsuit.” So really I think you’re looking at six votes being sufficient to stop the Grant of Rights payments, not eight.

Now, if Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas State and West Virginia are left homeless, those schools will argue that the departing schools are no longer members of the league because those schools are obligated to provide notice of withdraw. You then get into a very complicated legal debate about Big 12 Bylaw 3.2, which is here.

Basically you’d be left debating when someone withdrew, then who could vote? If Bruce Feldman reports that Oklahoma State is heading to the PAC-12, but Oklahoma State says its had conversations but is not 100%, can it still vote? Given every school is likely to be flirting with other conferences, it’d be dangerous to start telling other members, “Hey, you’re now withdrawn.” That’s also deadly because it means the schools that might get left out would not have the chance to reconstitute a smaller Big 12.

If Texas A&M and the SEC block Oklahoma and Texas, and the pair commit to stay, will everything be okay?

I don’t think so. Texas and Oklahoma evidencing their intentions shows that this league is shaky. If your spouse went on Tinder and got curved by everyone on Monday, you would probably get out of the marriage before they matched with someone on Tuesday.

So I’d expect the other leagues to expand. And if I’m the other eight schools, I would leave as soon as possible. I wouldn’t wait for Texas and Oklahoma to eventually leave. I’d take the security of one of the other power leagues over the possibility Texas and Oklahoma really mean it this time when they say they’re done with thinking about other leagues.

The other issue is that even if that’s not true, nobody can be certain. All the schools end up in a prisoner’s dilemma. Even if it truly is in the best interest of the remaining eight to remain in the Big 12 with Texas and Oklahoma, those schools can’t trust that every other school won’t bolt. And if you can’t be sure the other members will remain faithful, then you have to leave before the other schools leave and put you in the worst spot.

How could the Big 12 survive?

Nothing is certain in life. If you’d told someone in 2009 that TCU would be a more successful Big 12 football program than Texas in the 2010’s, you’d be blown up on a young Twitter.

Maybe Texas and Oklahoma quickly decide the duo wants to stay and agree to a new TV deal as an act of good faith. Maybe the remaining schools decide that it’s too expensive to go to another league, and with a longer TV deal, it’s worth staying.

Or maybe the Oklahoma legislature forces Oklahoma to stay in the Big 12 because Oklahoma State can’t find a home in the SEC. But I bet Oklahoma State gets invited to the PAC-12, and the legislature doesn’t get in some weird convoluted act to tie money up.

What should Baylor do?

If the Big 12 collapses, Baylor’s immediate goal should be to land in a power conference.

Maybe the ACC would want to get Baylor and a Texas program. The Bears also provide a good academic institution, and if paired with Kansas, would make the ACC the greatest basketball conference ever.

The Bears will have issues landing in a power conference. I went to Baylor and literally wrote the first book on Baylor’s national title in hoops, so I appreciate the strengths of the university. But in realignment, Baylor has drawbacks. The PAC-12 apparently didn’t like Baylor’s stance on some issues. Maybe those schools reject it again. The Big 10 might claim Baylor’s not an AAU Univerisity (though Nebraska is not, and by any real ranking Baylor is a much better school than Nebraska). And the ACC might just say—as the others will—that the alumni base is too small and Texas is a weird geographic addition for those leagues.

Baylor should strive to get into one of the power conferences because the money and competition are far superior to the other options. It’s a lot harder to rise from the American than the ACC.

If Baylor can’t land in the ACC, PAC-12 or Big 10, what then?

Baylor would have three options. I’ll list them in order of positivity.

First, Baylor could join the Big East in basketball and the American as a football only member. Given Baylor’s size and success in that league, the league might take Baylor as a football only member. The Big East is a great basketball league with Villanova, Georgetown and Creighton, so Baylor could keep it rolling in hoops. The 2021 Bears had one player from Texas (Matthew Mayer) among the top eight guys, so even if Texas recruiting takes a bit of a dip, Scott Drew and company could make up for it with a national brand in that league.

Second, Baylor could try and keep a revised Big 12 together and merge with another league. Maybe Baylor, Kansas State, Iowa State and West Virginia can’t find homes. Those four still offer more than a lot of leagues. Those teams could merge with the top American teams and form a quality conference. With the playoff supposedly expanding to the top six conference champions, the new Big American (the name can improve!) would have some path to winning.

Finally, Baylor could just join the American. Maybe it’s just Baylor and Kansas State or some other school that are homeless. Houston made the Final Four in the American. Houston, UCF and others have been good football programs. Even with a step down, Baylor could keep winning in hoops and have a competitive football program.

Is Baylor doomed?

No. Texas had all the resources in the world and lost to Abilene Christian while Baylor won the national title in hoops. Baylor’s won two Big 12 titles and played for another in the span that Texas has won zero. If resources were everything, then Texas football would have been something during the Obama and Trump years.

Baylor might have to deal with a setback though. The football program could be in a worse spot if the Bears fail to land a power conference home, and Baylor basketball’s revenue might decline quite a bit. But Baylor has great leadership and one of the country’s best basketball coaches. It has a cerebral football coach who appears to be on the right track with the offensive changes he made. Maybe it all blows up for Baylor, but the oldest university in Texas survived every other round of realignment. It will make it through this one too.