Posted: Wednesday September 7, 2011 11:47AM ; Updated: Wednesday September 7, 2011 4:05PM
Stewart Mandel

Is 16 really the magic number in realignment game? More mail

Story Highlights

Superconferences may be the future, but few involved parties actually want them

Texas could easily become an independent if football were the only consideration

Plus: Oregon and Boise backlash, USC's cause for concern, Tech's wrinkle, more

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Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has said superconferences are the future; that doesn't mean he wants to expand to 16 teams.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has said superconferences are the future; that doesn't mean he wants to expand to 16 teams.
Chris Williams/Icon SMI
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The 2011 season began amid an unusual backdrop. Last Saturday, less than an hour before the Nos. 3 and 4 teams in the county were set to kick off, media covering the LSU-Oregon game converged around Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. "So," Scott joked, "are we here to talk about Oregon's gameplan tonight?" Umm, no.

It was a fascinating first weekend of football, but the game currently taking place off the field is proving equally mesmerizing.

Stewart: Why is the 16-team superconference the latest obsession? I can understand the desire to get to 12 and have the conference championship game, but why is 16 suddenly a magic number? It seems that to get to 16, almost every conference would have to take in teams that won't increase their television markets. Add to that the end of compelling rivalries (without any assurance that the new ones will catch on) and I wonder if the game is shooting itself in the foot?
-- Michael, Baton Rouge, La.

You're not alone, Michael. What's truly bizarre about the latest conference missile crisis is that as best as I can tell, almost no one (with the exception of Texas A&M) actually wants superconferences. Not the great majority of fans. Not the television networks (fewer leagues means more intense bidding wars). Not bowl executives. And while this may sound strange, not even the conferences themselves.

STAPLES: SEC accepts A&M; Baylor standing in way

For obvious reasons, most assume Scott is driving the superconference bus. He's the one who first put this chain of events into motion last summer, apparently stamping the number 16 onto every media member's forehead. But I listened carefully to his comments last Saturday, when he repeated his oft-used line that "we will see further consolidation [of conferences]" because of "instability in certain parts of the country." By which he means: Because the Big 12 is such a dysfunctional mess, the rest of us will end up absorbing its parts.

But much has changed since Scott's push for 16 last summer. At that time, Pac-10 expansion was directly tied to the league's impending television negotiations. I'm not sure even Scott would have predicted the league could land a $3 billion deal -- AND start its own network -- after solely adding Colorado and Utah. But now that it has, "We haven't felt one iota of need," Scott said. The league would be just fine staying at 12 teams. Really. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News reported Tuesday that Pac-12 presidents and chancellors do not want to expand. I've even been told that last year's Pac-16 plan wasn't as close to a done deal internally as was reported at the time. Still, Scott is probably going to tell his member schools: You don't pass on programs like Oklahoma and Texas. But Texas isn't keen on joining the Pac-12, with its equal revenue sharing and pooled network, and there's no guarantee the presidents would take the Oklahoma schools on their own.

Meanwhile, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany says his league is happy where it is, and I believe him. "It's about quality, not quantity," he told the New York Times. Translation: There will always be a spot waiting for you, Notre Dame, but until then, we're not going add teams for the heck of it. And Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek raised eyebrows Monday when he said that when SEC presidents and chancellors met last month, they made it clear "we would prefer to stay at 12." Seeing as they're about to go to 13 (and presumably eventually 14), Mike Slive apparently convinced the league getting into Texas was too good an opportunity to pass up.

If both the SEC and Pac-12 move to 14 or more, then it's every man for himself. The Big East plans to be aggressive and go after most or all of the Big 12's leftovers, largely to protect itself if the SEC or ACC comes raiding. The ACC isn't actively looking to expand but knows the SEC could poach one of its schools to accompany A&M. Essentially, we're watching a big nationwide stare-down, where no one wants to get caught blinking.

Stewart, the news that Oklahoma and Oklahoma State brought up this week led me to think that no team wants to deal with Texas anymore. It is clear that the Big 12 needs Texas, but does Texas really need the Big 12 besides the automatic BCS berth? I truly see Texas as becoming the next Notre Dame, able to carry their own network and BCS deal independent of what all the other Big 12 teams do. Thoughts?
-- Jim, Sterling, Va.

Independence is definitely one of the options Texas is pondering, but there's one big problem: Texas fields 17 athletic teams besides football, and they need a conference. Can you imagine trying to put together a 27-game basketball schedule as an independent? Or a 50-something game baseball schedule? That's why Notre Dame is in the Big East for all its other sports, Army and Navy in the Patriot League, BYU in the West Coast Conference. If the Big 12 dissolves, there's no logical landing spot for Texas' other teams. Do you think Rick Barnes wants to compete in the Mountain West? It's the biggest reason why Texas is still fighting to keep the Big 12 intact in some form.

My suggestion: Get the band back together. Re-create the Southwest Conference (mostly). Texas, Texas Tech, Houston, Rice, SMU, Baylor and maybe throw in UTEP and Tulsa. Only this time they'll call it the Longhorn Conference, and all games involving Texas will be shown on The Longhorn Network. The league probably won't get an AQ bid, but Texas won't need one. It will schedule Oklahoma, Notre Dame and BYU out of conference to impress the voters, and get its own qualification provision written into the BCS, a la the Irish. Problem solved.
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