As a new swarm of realignment inside college athletics begins to take shape, it is unclear if the Pac-12 will, should, or even could get involved as things appear set to pick up steam this week.
It is even less clear how all of this might affect BYU, one of seven FBS independent programs, if it affects the Cougars at all.
The Southeastern Conference currently stands at 14 member institutions. That number is soon to be 16 after the Universities of Oklahoma and Texas jointly announced their intentions to not renew their grant of rights agreements with the Big 12 on Monday morning. That is the first step towards leaving the Big 12, although an actual exit date is up in the air. The current grant of rights agreement expires in 2025. The joint statement indicated both intend to fulfill the current grant of rights agreement, but the more likely scenario will see both pay a hefty, eight-figure sum to get out early.
Both schools will now petition the SEC for full membership, beginning at a TBD date.
Once the dust fully settles, the Big 12 will be down to eight teams, which is not a sustainable way to operate, not to mention thrive, in the long term. To that point, what the fallout might look like has been a topic of much discussion in recent days.
The Big 12 could be aggressive in trying to reload with attractive programs from the AAC, such as UCF, Cincinnati, Houston and SMU. Conversely, under the direction of commissioner Mike Aresco, The American has long tried to paint itself as more than a Group of Five conference, so maybe it becomes the aggressor and tries to poach some of what’s left of the Big 12.
The AAC would, of course, not be the only aggressor in this scenario, as Kansas winding up in the Big Ten has been bandied about. Oklahoma State and its annually competitive football program would also be likely to draw interest, with the Big Ten standing as one potential landing spot.
In terms of who might be aggressive and who will stand firm, the Pac-12 finds itself in an interesting, albeit maybe questionable position.
Sight unseen beyond Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12, the Pac-12 is no worse than the fourth-most important conference in the country, which some might argue is an improvement.
If the Pac-12 does nothing here, it might still come out ahead, especially if no one begins at least trying to poach its members, specifically the high-profile and/or large-market members like Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington.
The other potential end game here might be new Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff accomplishing a scaled-down, slimmer version of what then-new commissioner Larry Scott couldn’t get done more than a decade ago and successfully raid the Big 12.
In the summer of 2010, Scott sought to add Colorado, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. He wound up with the Buffaloes and the University of Utah to form the Pac-12.
Now, Kliavkoff could make a splash by trying to bring in some combination of Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU or Texas Tech. For reasons ranging from secular (Baylor), to extracurricular baggage (Baylor again), to competitive (Kansas football) or cultural (maybe all of them), none of those are obvious Pac-12 fits.
“I consider the Pac-12 an exclusive club with a high barrier to entry,” Kliavkoff told ESPN on Friday. “We love the schools and teams we have today. We’re not actively seeking to poach any teams from any conference, but we’d be foolish not to listen if schools call us.”
Adding a Group of Five school is always on the table, but that isn’t likely to move the needle, even if it is someone like the University of Houston, with good football and men’s basketball in a large media market. Additionally, you may not be able to add one school. It might have to be two to stay at an even number, so then where do you go?
Speaking of Pac-12 and Big 12 options outside the Power Five, would BYU get a look? The Cougars boast a national fan base and would add a lot of eyeballs, and the football program is generally competitive, but there is well-documented baggage to consider, too.
When the Big 12 explored expanding from 10 schools in 2016, BYU was at the forefront. Ultimately, potential backlash from the LGBTQ community over the Cougars entering helped end the possibility.
Five years later, it remains to be seen if either Power Five conference adding BYU, or even the Mountain West as a potential result of realignment trickle-down, would be tenable.