The last wave of conference realignment was a wild time. There was the death of the Big East (and its basketball-only resurrection), as well as the rise of the American Athletic Conference and the consolidation of the most dominant schools into what is now known as the Power Five.
As hectic as the last turn of the decade was, it was almost even more groundbreaking. The Big 12 was nearly the conference to go the way of the old Big East.
The Big 12 ultimately lost a lot to realignment. Texas A&M and Missouri bolted to the SEC and Colorado and Nebraska left to the Pac-12 and Big Ten, respectively. However, the conference itself was nearly annihilated when rumors swirled of the then Pac-10 absorbing Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas A&M alongside Colorado to form a superconference.
While those rumors certainly carried weight, it was never clear just how close that Big 12 doomsday scenario came to happening. Now, thanks to a report from Dennis Dodd on the prospect of future conference expansion, there is a rough estimate to the nearness of the Big 12’s destruction.
The Big 12’s dysfunction is no secret. An Oklahoma source told CBS Sports that the school was “within 30 minutes” of leaving for the Pac-10 in 2010. That’s a reference to Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott’s reported interest in raiding of six Big 12 teams in June of that year to form a Pac-16.
Had Texas and Oklahoma — the conference’s two flagship schools — left to join the Pac-10, the Big 12 would have almost assuredly ceased to exist. As CBS Sports’ Tom Fornelli writes, those two schools deciding to stay kept the league together.
That hammered home the point that any conference with Texas and Oklahoma in it was worth saving. That’s basically why the Big 12 still exists today, surviving through two rounds of conference realignment earlier this decade.
That’s how close we came to the Big 12 no longer existing at all. Had Oklahoma and Texas left, it wouldn’t have mattered who else went with them; the conference would have ceased to exist. The other Power Fives would have picked off what they wanted from the conference’s remnants, and if anything remained after that, they’d have been relegated to life in what’s now the Group of Five.
Realignment is a fickle creature. Schools like Iowa State and Kansas State could have easily traded places with former Big East members Connecticut and Cincinnati, who ended up in the AAC. Of course, it is all coming full circle now, as both those schools are among the hot names for Big 12 expansion.