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Commentary & Opinion

Keith Strudler: Big 12 Going Big 8

There are few divorces more acrimonious than the one between the University of Texas and Texas A&M in 2012 when the latter left the Big 12 conference for the SEC, ending the nearly 100 year annual football rivalry between the two schools. Like most separations, both parties blamed the other, and angst went generations back. But this split at least allowed each party to avoid one another, unless they somehow met in the college football playoffs, which hasn’t even come close to happening.

That peaceful co-existence will soon come to end, as the University of Texas has announced its intentions to join the SEC in 2025, reuniting with the university they consider a little brother, and not in a nice way. And Texas is bringing along its cross-border frenemy Oklahoma, preserving their rivalry game and making the SEC the most powerful football organization in the history of college sports. It’s also nearly gutted the Big 12, eventually leaving it with only eight schools and no marquis national power. Which has made the good folks of Oklahoma State so angry that their president has taken to issuing seemingly daily statements about how much she hates Oklahoma. All of that has led to the Big 12, which is obviously not a great name at this point, and the Pac 12 to consider an alliance of sorts, even if we don’t know what that means. We’ve also heard that Clemson and Florida State are looking into the SEC, probably not with the approval of people in Gainesville or Columbia, Miami is looking at the Big 10, and the American is not currently looking to poach schools on the move – which means they almost definitely are.

In other words, when it comes to big time college football and conferences, it’s a hot mess. We’ve seen versions of this before, including the complete collapse of the old Southwestern Athletic Conference and what was the Big East Football Conference. Generally speaking, whenever there’s more money to be made on college sports, a lion’s share at the conference level through football television contracts, schools are on the hunt. This often happens around ground swell change, like the rise of cable television contracts or the formation of the college football playoffs. That’s certainly what seems to be happening now, as conferences and their universities consider the shifting tide of streaming media, and star athletes can start to capitalize on their name and likeness. That means that being a part of a marquis conference like the SEC can be far more lucrative than even another Power 5 group like the Big 12. Which is why Texas, which once nearly mocked the idea of joining the likes of Alabama and Georgia, has nearly invited themselves to the party.

The fallout of this is going to be pretty remarkable. It’s like dropping a brick into a bowl of Jello. The divide between haves and have nots is only going to get bigger, and at some point, the game of musical chairs will come to an end, leaving a bunch of football teams with nowhere to go. Just ask UConn for more clarity on that. We’re also going to see the rich get even richer, which is going to put more pressure on how players get some piece of that pie and make young athletes even more selective when it comes to choosing an employer – I mean school. If you think the recruiting wars are rough now, just wait.

There is nothing reasonable that the NCAA as an entity can do to stop the civil war about to start. At this point, Alabama and Texas and Oklahoma and the like are more important than the organization itself. You know when they say the sum is bigger than its parts? Not the case here. It also means that this roulette of sorts brings us closer and closer to a point when the NCAA as an organization becomes truly obsolete, at least in its current form. When the SEC grows to 24 of the most powerful football programs in the country, and the Big 10 takes another 24, there’s not a whole lot of demand for another organization to tell them how they can and can’t act. Including how they might choose to compensate their players. Meaning that for all the sound and fury about the end of the NCAA, this time, it may actually signify something.

Then again, that noise may just be grumbling from College Station. Because as you’re likely aware, those folks at Texas A&M aren’t too happy.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.