Texas and Big Ten Expansion

Submitted by oakapple on June 5th, 2010 at 3:48 PM

There have been plenty of rumors and guesses about Big Ten expansion, ever since commissioner Jim Delaney announced that the conference was studying the issue. But this week offered the first concrete clues from school officials who are actually in the position to know.

First was the rumor first floated on the University of Texas rivals.com site, that the Pac 10 was prepared to offer invitations to Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado. The Colorado athletic director later said that he believed the report was true.

Second was an email from Ohio State University president Gordon Gee, in which he encouraged Delaney to get in touch with Texas president Bill Powers, “who would welcome a call to say they have a ‘Tech’ problem.” The email was among several obtained by the Columbus Dispatch in a freedom-of-information request, and Gee acknowledged it was genuine.

Gee wouldn't say what he meant by a “‘Tech’ problem,” and several newspapers were at a loss to explain it, but it is not difficult to figure out. ‘Tech’ clearly refers to Texas Tech, the “little sister” of three Texas state schools in the Big XII—Texas and Texas A&M being the other two. Naturally, all three play each other in football every year.

It is likely that wherever Texas goes, A&M will go with it. The Longhorns have played A&M in football every year since 1915. They've also played Oklahoma nearly every year since 1902 (they skipped a few seasons in the early party of the 20th century). It is highly doubtful that Texas would want to give up either rivalry. But it is equally doubtful that the Longhorns would agree to play in another conference, while being locked into two annual rivalry games with BCS-level opponents. If the Longhorns and the Aggies move together, presumably that would leave the Sooners as their only annually contested non-conference rivalry.

The Texas–Texas Tech rivalry does not have the same pedigree as the others. The two schools have played annually only since 1960. It is also a lopsided rivalry, with the Longhorns winning nearly 75 percent of the time.

So, what is the “‘Tech’ problem”? If Texas and Texas A&M join the Big Ten, it would probably spell the end of the Bix XII as we have known it. The more prominent football schools in the conference would not have trouble finding homes elsewhere. Nebraska and Missouri, for instance, could very well join the Big Ten, as well; the Pac Ten would probably take Oklahoma and Colorado. But “little sister” Tech would likely find itself in a non-BCS league, like Conference USA. That wouldn't sit well with Texas politicians, especially if Tech had the double blow of losing its annual rivalry games with both the Longhorns and the Aggies.

Here, then, is the significance of the Pac Ten's allegedly forthcoming invitation to six schools, including Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, which has a similar “little sister” status in its home state. It's a scenario that would make Texas and Oklahoma politicians smile, as in any other plausible expansion scenario, both would be at risk of finding themselves in lesser conferences. But would the notoriously conservative Pac Ten, which treasures its academic reputation and requires unanimous agreement to add a new member, really welcome all six of these institutions? Several of them, particularly Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, are not in the same academic league as the rest of the Pac Ten.

But if the Big Ten is willing to at least entertain adding Texas and Texas A&M, both of which are in the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU), it would under no circumstances accept Texas Tech, which is not. That, in a nutshell, is Bill Powers’s “‘Tech’ problem.”

Most schools claim publicly they are loyal to the conference they are in—whatever they may be saying behind the scenes. But when the University of Texas says it is committed to the Big XII, they just might mean it. The Longhorns have been toying with the idea of creating their own cable television network. They are, perhaps, the only school in the nation that could do this. With their own network, plus the disproportionate share of Big XII television revenue that they already get, the Longhorns would be sitting pretty. But if the Big Ten nabs Nebraska and Missouri, and Colorado goes to the Pac Ten (with or without Oklahoma), Big XII membership might be a lot less attractive.

Among the three conferences the Longhorns could plausibly join, the Big Ten is the most attractive. The average Big Ten school is 1,022 miles from Austin, whereas the average Pac Ten school is 1,377 miles away. Six Pac ten schools are farther than any in the Big Ten. Except for Penn State, every Big Ten school is under 1,200 miles from Austin. Except for the two Arizona schools, every Pac Ten institution is over 1,200 miles and two time zones away. While the SEC might be closer geographically for the Longhorns, the SEC does not have the academic reputation of either the Big Ten or the Pac Ten.

I think there is very little doubt that Texas is the big fish that Jim Delaney and Gordon Gee would love to hook. Whether they can depends on how big a “problem” the “‘Tech’ problem” really is.



June 5th, 2010 at 4:36 PM ^

It would be hard to sell a Texas network to cable providers outside of Texas.  Expanding the footprint is the way to make big bucks.

The Big 10 would appeal to Texas because it helps to get their games broadcast in the Northeast and Midwest.  Remember when the NFL reorganized, the Dallas Cowboys demanded that they remain in the NFC East when geographically they should be in the south.  They did this because they wanted exposure in the major media markets.  I'm sure that if they could work it out Texas would choose the Big 10 over the other options.  However, it sounds like the politics of Texas will keep it from happening.


June 5th, 2010 at 5:41 PM ^

It'll be interesting to see what happens, but as it stands the Big 10 footprint includes about 67 million people, but the revenue derived from that is divided amongst eleven teams. The state of Texas has almost 25 million people and UT would get the whole pie. Seems like a good deal.


June 5th, 2010 at 4:21 PM ^

when it's all said and done, there will be a Texas Conference: UT, A&M, Tech, TCU, Baylor, and then likely Okla, Ok. State, and Kansas.  Stick with 8, but make them teams people are willing to watch. With UT and Oklahoma, the conference will stay relevant.

Blue in Seattle

June 5th, 2010 at 4:40 PM ^

The whole "power" behind college sports is of course revenue, and revenue comes from the fans.  Texas diminishes themselves if they choose either conference.  On top of that the travel cost issue for all of the "non-revenue" programs is a huge thing, and would be a huge disadvantage if the profit sharing was equal to each school.

Texas culture is rooted in the fact that they were momentarily kind of a separate country who asked the US for help and then agreed to join as a state.  You know "the Lone Star" state.

Now everyone loves to be courted and flirted with, but I don't see any scenario where Texas joins someone else as feasible.  Yes, technically they joined the Big 8 to make it the Big 12, but I'm confident that many people in the West see that as the Big 8 joining the state of Texas.

I believe the conversations are happening, but the result I see is that someone like Boise State ends up joining the Big 12 to help them get to 16 teams.

I'm sure the Pac 10 is desperate to not be left behind and to struggle to create their own TV Network deal, but unfortuantely they are on the other side of the Rockies, so they are just kind of screwed that way.  They should be turning their sites to BYU, Boise State, etc.

I just checked the Big East footprint and the Big Ten foot print, and I have to say, they are pretty close.  The overall biggest factor, day in and day out for all these sports to compete is the traveling to all the other conference competitions.  

Just like in Real Estate, Location, Location, Location.


June 5th, 2010 at 11:28 PM ^

I must disagree with the idea that just because UT and Oklahoma are in a "Texas Conference" that it'll still matter.

One of the reasons that ND is a national team with a national following is because they play a national schedule, they regularly play USC on the west coast and BC on the east coast with us in the middle.  And now they might play Miami in a few years putting them in the south for a little while.  The point of this is that teams are relevant not only based on how good they are but how watched they are.

Obviously you're a football fan but how much are you going to care about a game played between UT and Baylor?  Not much.  In fact, the majority of the people outside of Texas won't care at all.  That will decrease their national exposure which makes them less relevant over time decreasing their ability to recruit (although, honestly they will never have a problem with all the talent within 100 miles of their campus).

More damning of the idea to a "Texas Conference" is that it would essentially be the MWC.  The MWC has Utah, BYU, and TCU (although I'm far less sold on them than Utah and BYU), outside of those teams nobody cares at all.  Those teams have shown that they can at least compete with most of the BCS conference teams.  Yet the MWC is still on the outside looking in when it comes to automatic qualification status for BCS games.  That's because the rest of the conference is so bad at football that it makes us not respect even their good teams.  A "Texas Conference" would have the same problem, outside of UT and OK the rest of the conference would just be okay.  I'll admit that A&M can be good at times and OK. State does more than just show up for games but imagine watching Kansas v. Baylor, TT v. TCU, etc.  The games would be boring.

Worst of all, a "Texas Conference" only appeals to 3 states if you include Kansas.  I understand that Texas is a big state with a passion for football, but for a conference to get a good deal with Fox, ABC/ESPN, CBS, or form their own network they need as many eyeballs dedicated to the conference as possible.  UT alone delivers TX, that's why they're valuable to everyone, adding more teams in Texas doesn't increase conference viewership.  That's the same reason that Pitt isn't on the A-list of B10 invitees, the B10 already has Pennsylvania wrapped up with PSU.

Going back to my first comment, UT and OK can't be the only thing holding up the conference and making it relevant.  You might say that they're doing that right now, but Nebraska still commands a lot of respect.  And, UT and OK are holding up a conference that has more people that actively care about it since it's spread out over 7 states and not just 3.  That allows UT and OK to make more money, there's no reason to go to Texas-centric conference since it would surely decrease UT and OK's revenue.

Think about this, everyone thought the ACC would be relevant year in and year out with VT, FSU, and Miami... they haven't mattered since they lost to OSU in the 2002 title game.  Yes, that's partially because those schools fell off the map in terms of wins/talent but one could account for that as being due to the rise of the SEC due to being able to market itself as the best at the top and competitive from top to bottom (the validity of that is obviously questionable, but that's what they do and what many people believe).

Sorry for the long reply, I can be... verbose.

Mi Sooner

June 5th, 2010 at 6:00 PM ^

It was Anne Richards, then Govenor of Texas, and the the Texass State legislature that forced the Big 8 to take BOTH Tech and Baylor or neither UT or the Aggies could join.  That move by the gov and the legisislature was one of the few in recent memory that was agreed upon by everyonein Texass.  So yes, more than likely, the three will move as one with BAylor being left out this time.

Mi Sooner

June 6th, 2010 at 5:02 PM ^

Baylor is a private school that hasn't done much in the Big 12.  Tech on the other hand is a state school that is really large -- think MSU/OSU sized, and has done okay in the Big 12.  That would be my guess, but I don't live down there anymore; oklahoma that is.


June 5th, 2010 at 8:12 PM ^

The can play each other 10 times a year, crow about how independent they are, split the dough 50/50, and keep their two most important non-"conference" rivalries intact.


June 5th, 2010 at 10:28 PM ^

It would just seem so weird playing at Texas in a conference game. It seems so geographically wrong but if it happens we would be adding another awesome team.


June 6th, 2010 at 10:56 AM ^

Texas is not joining the Big Ten.  I was born and raised in Michigan, but I've been stuck down here in Texas for 15 years.  Blue in Seattle's point about Texas at one time not being part of the union is only half of the point.  There are plenty of people down here who STILL talk about seceeding and forming their own country again.  I mean, seriously talk about it.  Down here, everyone north of Oklahoma is a yankee, and as important as football is down here (ridiculously), I think we could expect to see the United State of Texas before a single conference game against the Longhorns.


June 6th, 2010 at 11:58 AM ^

But the corollary is that if Texas creates its own TV network, you would assume the remainder of the Big XII would LOSE money per school.  Texas keeps that conference afloat.  Assuming Nebraska and Missouri are gone, then I see no way the Big 12 survives, because Texas will require more and more money, and the Big 12 can't handle that.  


June 6th, 2010 at 3:56 PM ^

What happens if there are 4 mega conferences and some Texas 8-team runt conference?  Is UT willing to risk being left out of a 4-team football championship played among the super conferences?  What if A&M and Oklahoma decide second-rate status in the country isn't worth it and bolt for the SEC and Pac-10 respectively?  UT risks being in the same place as ND, which is why I expect the Domers to be the 16th (but not 12th) Big 10 team.  Maybe if they can rewrite American history they can just insist on their own reality tha a Lone-Star championship is all that matters.  Screw 'em.


June 7th, 2010 at 2:46 PM ^

UT is not really “risking” anything. As the most desirable school in any re-alignment, they can afford to wait until everyone else has played their cards, and then make a deal. There is no realistic chance that the music will stop, and that they’ll be the only ones without a chair. I mean, it’s about as likely as LeBron James not being able find anywhere to play basketball next year.