Answering lingering realignment questions; more Mailbag
Big 12 isn't looking to expand --- and Houston wouldn't be its target if it were
Utah's move to Pac-10 is bad timing for Boise, but Broncos still took step up
Plus: Reggie Bush/Pete Carroll era reflections … and some actual football!
In the closing paragraph of last week's Mailbag, I opened the door to resume talking about actual, on-the-field football -- but apparently you guys weren't ready. Too many lingering questions, too much unfinished business remains from the drama of the past month.
So consider this week's edition our version of the much-anticipated "bonus material" on the upcomingLost DVD collection -- lots of answers for your as-yet unresolved questions.
Hey Stewart, I'm a big fan of the Mailbag. I don't remember hearing about whether the Big 12 will be adding any teams to have a conference championship game in 2011. I just read about the Texas lawmakers pushing Houston, and I had thought that Houston and TCU would be a great fit. What are your thoughts on the Big 12's best teams for expansion?
-- Jonathan Nelson, Hiawassee, Ga.
The Big 12 (er, 10) is not expanding. People seem to have a hard time believing this, but it's true. Commissioner Dan Beebe reiterated this on Tuesday following a meeting of the league's remaining athletic directors, saying, "There is no interest in expansion, and it was not a consideration at [Tuesday's] gathering." To keep the league together, Beebe had to wrangle up enough new TV money to assure potential defectors Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M a particular revenue distribution (reported to be around $20 million) by 2012. If the Big 12 added two more teams -- particularly those teams -- it'd be right back where it started. The new teams would take away a bigger cut of the pie than they could add in value. Next thing you know, Texas is back on the phone with Larry Scott and A&M is back on the phone with Mike Slive.
I wouldn't take the Houston/lawmakers story too seriously. I have a lot of respect for Cougars coach Kevin Sumlin, who's done a nice job building on the momentum of predecessor Art Briles and getting the program back on the national map a bit. I wrote a feature last season on his and the school's recent efforts to change the program's reputation. But Houston's still got a ways to go. It's still largely a commuter school (it's got dorms, but not a lot of them) with a small local fan base (average home attendance last year: 25,242) in a city where not only pro teams, but also Texas and Texas A&M, take precedence. As of now, the Big 12 has no more reason to add Houston than the Pac-10 did Baylor. Not that Houston is doomed. Utah had much the same reputation prior to Urban Meyer's arrival, so much could change down the road.
That said, recent shuffling has left us with a particularly intriguing free agent, a tradition-rich program that's posted four straight 10-wins seasons, plays in a 64,000-seat stadium and is itching for a new home after watching its hated rival suddenly achieve BCS affiliation last week.
As a lifelong BYU fan, it seems to me that BYU is the biggest loser in the recent conference expansion. Our arch-rival, Utah, goes to the Pac-10 and we stay in the Mountain West. It appears that the only hope for BYU is to go to the Big 12 someday. Right now the Big 12, especially Texas, seems content with 10 teams. Do you see the Big 12 ever expanding back to 12 teams and taking BYU?
-- Shane Jensen, Salt Lake City
If you've ever been to BYU, you know its second-class characterization is completely ridiculous. In terms of facilities, resources and fan support, BYU more closely resembles a BCS program than half the schools in BCS conferences. However, the LDS-affiliated school is unquestionably a unique institution. It's an unofficial Mailbag policy not to delve into politics (college football is polarizing enough as it is), but I invite you to read this excellent piece by Salt Lake Tribune columnist Gordon Monson about why BYU could never "fit" with the Pac-10.
But Big 12 presidents might not have the same objections. BYU's one obvious drawback to the conference is that with Colorado gone, BYU really is nowhere near any of the other 10 members, and it's got no logical travel partner. Some have thrown out Air Force, but realistically, a service academy is never going to be able to compete on an annual basis with Texas and Oklahoma. As of now, it's not an issue, because like I said, the Big 12 isn't looking for new teams.
There's one scenario where I could see that stance changing, though: If, come 2012 or '13, Texas and Oklahoma run into problems with the BCS due to their watered-down league. Up until now, the Big 12 has always been viewed on the same playing field with the Big Ten and SEC, and its schools were virtually assured a spot in the championship game if they took care of business. Its teams have made seven appearances in 12 years. But we don't yet know how the pollsters will treat this new conference. Will the 'Horns and Sooners still get the benefit of the doubt due to their recent track record, or will they be penalized for perceived weak conference competition? If it becomes a problem, then maybe a call goes out to BYU and TCU.
(Or Texas gets back on the phone with Scott...)
If you're Boise State, what do you do? They move to the Mountain West to significantly increase their chances to get to a BCS bowl and Utah pulls the rug out from under them. Do you convince the MWC to add Fresno State and others or do you try to get into the Pac-10 or Big 12?
-- Guy Beaudry, Winnipeg
Obviously it's unfortunate timing, but Utah-to-the-Pac-10 was always a possibility. Boise still took a step up. Besides the Broncos, the WAC's highest-ranked team in the BCS standings last season (according to CollegeBCS.com) was Fresno State at 52nd. More than half its teams (five) were ranked 82nd or lower. Compare that to the Mountain West, which had three teams in the top 25, though admittedly also had its share of weaklings (San Diego State, Colorado State and New Mexico were ranked 95th or lower). The league still has an outside chance of gaining a BCS automatic berth in two years, but it's going to need its top teams (including Boise) to maintain their recent level and, just as importantly, some significant improvement from the bottom third of the league. Depth is the one area still killing the Mountain West in the BCS's qualification formula.
Remember, Boise's program, as successful as it's been, is still in a relatively infant state. If conference realignment was solely about BCS rankings, someone would swipe up the Broncos right now, but as it is, the school's overall athletic program isn't yet strong enough, the university itself isn't that highly regarded in academic circles and Boise is a small TV market. If Boise keeps building like Utah, though, its call could come in the next realignment go-around.
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