Big-time college football may be on the verge of another major round of conference realignment, which could further disrupt an already combustible situation in the sport.
Newspaper reports, starting with a Houston Chronicle exclusive last week (limited to subscribers) and since followed by many others, indicated that the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Oklahoma were poised as early as today to abandon the Big 12 Conference in favor of the Southeastern Conference. The shifts would turn the SEC into the first 16-team league, leaving the Big 12 with 10 teams and almost certainly spurring another wild round of moves as leagues like the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conferences strived to match their southeastern rival.
The last such flurry of conference switching occurred in 2012, as the Big Ten Conference swiped the University of Maryland at College Park from the Atlantic Coast and Rutgers University from the Big East Conference. The year before, Texas and Oklahoma were reported to be leaving the Big 12 for another league, as was Texas A&M University, but the presidents of the league’s members worked together to hold the conference together. That was the year after the Universities of Nebraska and Missouri at Columbia left the Big 12 for the Big Ten — leaving the Big 12 with 10 members, and the Big Ten with 12. The latter now has 14.
The last few days have brought much more speculation than facts about what’s happening. But the Big 12 Conference released a statement on Twitter after the league’s other members met without Texas and Oklahoma, saying among other things that “there is a recognition that institutions may act in their own self-interest, however there is an expectation that members adhere” to conference rules and contractual obligations.
A new round of conference realignment could produce further tumult at a time when major sports powers are dealing with the aftermath of court rulings that allow individual players to earn money by marketing themselves, and Mark Emmert, the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, has opened the door to more decentralized governance of college athletics.
One possible outgrowth of another major round of conference realignment would be moving closer to a scenario in which a handful of major football leagues, and, say, 50 or 60 football powers, separate themselves from their peers more formally.