I have followed realignment for a number of years. There are general principles about conference realignment that are often true (ex. FBS conferences do not like adding FCS programs as it tends to make a conference appear to be at the bottom tier of FBS conferences or FBS schools tend to only move up by choice in the FBS pecking order or schools tend to chase better paydays.)
That I have found there is only one real law of conference football realignment. I am naming it after me as I discovered it several years ago and want the credit, lol!
With no further ado...Tobi's "One law of college football realignment":
"When the powers in a conference feel that realignment needs to occur --- at that exact moment --- the schools that fit the immediate and often transitory needs of the conference gets in."
Why did Utah get into the PAC-12 instead of several better supported programs? The PAC-10 had a rule where realignment had to be unanimously approved by all member schools. In 2010, they brought in new conference leadership who accurately assessed that having to wait on votes would put the conference in a weak position to expand. Their leadership proposed a few options to their schools ahead of time that were unanimously approved. Their first approved option was to add Colorado, Texas, Tech, A&M, Oklahoma, and OSU. Their second was Colorado and Utah. Baylor, with no understanding of why the PAC passed them over, tried to use politics to force their way onto the list instead of Colorado. The PAC killed this effort by inviting Colorado on their own. After all, the PAC knew they could get Utah. UT and A&M strung out the process. Eventually the leadership in the PAC decided action was needed and the pre-approved addition was Utah. One wonders if the PAC had a little more patience with their big goal of adding Texas's TVs if the pick would have been a school who could destabilize that incarnation of the Big 12 --- like Kansas or Missouri.
Why did the Big 12 add West Virginia instead of BYU or Louisville? Well, the surprise loss of Missouri (given Chancellor Brady Deaton role in the Big 12 at that time) had everyone in the Big 12 questioning the conference's ability to survive. They needed a solid name immediately. They approached Louisville, but Cardinal leadership felt the Big East's bylaws were too thorny for the next season escape the Big 12 desired. West Virginia's lawyers wrote that thorny decree. West Virginia had no issue breaking their contract. BYU was a far better candidate than either, but may have been seen as a school that would take too long to commit to the Big 12.
Why did TCU get into the Big 12 instead of BYU? TCU draws ~44K; BYU draws over 70K. TCU had an enrollment in the teens; BYU has an enrollment around 30K. BYU's alumnibase dwarfs TCU's. But TCU got the invite? Well at that moment the Big 12 had lost Texas A&M. UT, Tech, A&M, Baylor, OU, and OSU had given the Big 12 a huge share of the Texas audience. Losing A&M football was immensely survivable. Losing Aggie fans who are annually willing to watch any conference game that might affect the Aggies' chances of making a bowl game was the huge loss. TCU didn't come close to replacing that, but (based on attendance) they were the largest Texas fan base available at the time. Additionally, if the SEC did something non-standard and invited TCU too (something not entirely out of the realm of possibility), the SEC could cut in on DFW media exposure and recruiting. Adding TCU protected the recruiting pipelines that make UT and OU national powers. After A&M left, OU was all for adding TCU and UT only required an afternoon drinking session with DeLoss Dodds to give support. I take that to mean the reality had already hit Dodds that he may have to agree to this, not that the man was a soft minded drunk.
Why did "academically questionable" (at least in power conference measures) Louisville get into the academically exceptional ACC? Because at the moment expansion was deemed necessary to replace Maryland, the ACC had a lot of parts in flux. They were working on a TV deal with ESPN and were worried about a potential defection of their lone football power FSU. FSU and Clemson wanted a football power added as Maryland's replacement. Louisville had just completed a dominant season while UConn had just tumbled from a bowl team into mediocrity. If the moment of truth had come right after UConn had won men and women's basketball championships would the decision have been the same?
Why did Maryland and Rutgers get into the Big 10? Both schools fit a lot of Big 10 value criterias, but had sat uninvited for years. Several sources say that Maryland and Rutgers were added when they were to eliminate a potential future where a resurgent ACC might look very tempting to Penn State. It is a conceivable thing. With most conferences writing very toothy exit agreements, the ACC could put together a stable conference and when Miami and the Virginias finally return to power the ACC would in theory have much greater markets to leverage against that football success into very large payouts. The Big 10 felt they had to get the invites out before the ACC got squared away long term and before they recognized the value of Rutgers.
The question for today is does the results of the initial college football playoff announcement lead to one of these moments of truth for the Big 12?
It will be interesting to see if the Big 12 leadership (ie. UT's and OU's presidents and ADs) feel that seeing 2 of the top 6 football programs, playing in what may be the second best conference in America, missing the playoffs may be the required stimulus for another round of realignment.
Consider this. TCU was #3 entering this weekend. Because they didn't play a conference championship game, every team they were competing with outside of the Big 12 earned a quality win this week due to having a title game. That is a huge portion of why TCU is out.
And more importantly, that kind of math is very capable of eliminating a similarly strong OU or UT team in the future.
We have just seen the lack of a title game eliminate a Big 12 team from contention.
So who would the Big 12 add today? Read my next post for my thoughts on that.