Big 12 expansion: Everybody wins, except the ACC

Big12Handcuffed-hiresThe conference realignment rumor birds started tweeting again Wednesday morning with talk that Notre Dame was closing in on a deal to park its so called Olympic sports in the Big 12. The talk intensified when everyone’s favorite realignment rumormonger Chip Brown of reported that the ND-Big 12 union was on track.

While Brown suggested that the move could spark a “frenzy of interest” from ACC schools, Ingram Smith (who truly deserves credit for owning this story) added to the intrigue by suggesting that the Fightin’ Irish were simultaneously haggling with the ACC, a move that would theoretically stave off the Big 12 barbarians pounding on the conference’s gates to steal away Florida St. and Clemson.

Then, realignment oracle Honus “The Dude” Snead weighed in with hints that the Big 12 and ND really had come to arrangement by which the Irish would join the league as a partial member. The Dude took things a step further by reiterating that FSU and Clemson truly do intend to leave the ACC for the Big 12. Furthermore, the developments with ND had only solidified their plans to change conferences.

For good measure, ND athletic director Jack Swarbrick denied everything late this afternoon at a press briefing following today’s BCS meetings.

Feel free to take all that however you want. Humor me, though.

For the sake of a thought experiment, let’s assume that we end up with the scenario reported by Smith weeks ago. Namely, the Big 12 adds Florida St. and Clemson as full members, while ND will be a partial member with a scheduling agreement in football. (Full disclosure: I was skeptical at first, but I have come to believe this will be the final outcome – for now, of course.)

Why would the Big 12 do this? More specifically, why would the Big 12 make this kind of agreement with Notre Dame? The Irish’s non-football sports are worth next to nothing in the business of college sports. The chances that ND would actually agree to a home-and-home series with the likes of Kansas St. and Texas Tech are nil. Plus, there’s no guarantee ND will ever become a full member of the Big 12.

Ultimately, I think it’s a case of everyone getting what they want in exchange for accepting what they don’t.

Oklahoma and Texas

OU and Texas may not see eye to eye on everything, but in the expansion game, they seem to have been united on two points:

  • Keep the conference at 10 teams.
  • Unless one of those teams is Notre Dame.

With ND joining as an “associate member,” the Sooners and Longhorns look like two of the most likely candidates to set up annual games with the Irish. Meanwhile, having ND involved in Olympic sports could help make their own networks more valuable.

On the other hand, with 12 full members in football, both now face a more difficult road to the new playoff. Expanding the conference to 12 full members and one partial could potentially dilute their share of the conference revenues, too.

The rest of the Big 12

Conventional wisdom has held that Texas – and to a lesser extent, Oklahoma – call the shots in the Big 12. This time around, however, it appears as though the Davids toppled the Goliaths.

Keeping the Big 12 viable means less to UT and OU, which could certainly find a home outside the league, than it does to Baylor or Kansas. A 10-team Big 12 simply wouldn’t have the same staying power that a 12-team conference does, especially one that features two new brand names in FSU and Clemson. Sure, they might lose a little money on the margins from cutting up more pieces of the pie. It’s still a worthwhile investment to ensure conference stability.

The trade-off is that the Big 12 undoubtedly will be paying a premium for the honor of having the Irish park their non-football sports in the conference. Given that ND will probably never set foot in Lubbock and the like, you’ll essentially have a big portion of the conference subsidizing ND and the higher-profile teams’ games with the Irish.

*One interesting thing to watch would be how the revenue from ND’s football games against Big 12 opponents would be split up.

Notre Dame

To the surprise of absolutely no one, the Irish would make out like bandits.

ND would get to keep its contract with NBC. It would fill some of the potential holes coming up in its football schedule as a result of the scheduling agreement between the Big Ten and the Pac-12. It would extricate itself from its relationship with the Big East, which seems less desirable given its recent defections.

Most importantly, the Domers could keep their beloved independent status.

*I take a more skeptical view of the claim that this move would pave the way for ND to join the conference in football at some point in the future. ND’s fans appear to covet independence to the extent that it would probably take a threat to the viability of the school’s football program to prompt a move. Furthermore, if the Irish were forced to pick a league for football, would they really be gung ho about rubbing elbows with Baylor and Oklahoma St.?

Of course, there would be one major loser in this scenario.


Assuming John Swofford really was pulling out all the stops to get ND on board, it would seem to represent a Hail Mary to keep his league alive. Get the Irish, and you may get a bigger payday on your TV deal. Get a bigger payday on your TV deal, and you may get your conference to stick together.

As it stands, if ND really is planning to hitch its wagon – kinda – to the Big 12, Tobacco Road may want to round up loved ones and family, because there wouldn’t be much time left.