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TCU might survive realignment, but college football — as we know it — might not.

The times, they are a changin’.

NCAA Football: Big 12 Media Days
All eyes are on Bob Bowlsby as the Big 12 conference navigates its choppiest waters yet.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

At SEC Media Days earlier this week — or a lifetime ago, who can say — SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey opened his time at the podium with a quote from the Bob Dylan song, saying “the times, they are a changing.” It was a callback to his first address as commish six years ago, as he noted how much had changed in such a short period regarding the landscape of college football.

Little did we know then just how much MORE change was on the horizon.

It seems all but imminent at this point that Texas and Oklahoma are headed to the SEC; multiple reports (like HERE, HERE, and HERE) as well as the fact that the two flagship programs bailed on Thursday night’s emergency meeting amongst Big 12 ADs. Whether they will wait until the Grant of Rights expires in 2025 or negotiate a deal that lessens the $70+ million penalty for leaving early remains to be seen, but as rumors of ADs seeking out back channels with other conferences leaks fast and furious, it seems the end of the Big 12 is nigh, something that would allow Texas and OU to sneak out quietly in the middle of the night with few penalties.

The Big 12 is effectively over, folks — this isn’t doom and gloom, this is happening.

As TCU fans, our immediate thought goes to what happens next. This tends to fall into three categories:

  1. OH S&!T
  2. TCU is an attractive brand name that will have other suitors
  3. Been there, done that. We’ve navigated conference realignment many times and will be fine.

I am firmly in category one, but y’all know that.

247 Sports insider Jeremy Clark reported last night that TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech have already reached out to the Pac 12 to gauge interest. This makes the most sense for those four teams; those calling for the ACC and Big Ten, I am sorry — it’s not happening, and that’s not just me opining, it’s the feeling of every single person that “knows things” that I’ve spoken with. The Big Ten is engaging with Iowa State and Kansas, two schools that fit their wider profile as AAU/research-heavy schools. If anything, the ACC *might* talk to the Mountaineers, but that train has left the station many a time before without West Virginia on it, so folks in Morgantown are rightfully having flashbacks to the days of the Big East.

Kansas State? I am so sorry.

In talking with folks that know BU/TT/OSU well, well, we are all trying to talk ourselves into the PAC not only wanting us, but it being a good fit. The Horned Frogs have a large following in Southern California especially, and if the Pac 12 is going to expand, the rich fertile recruiting grounds of Texas and the enticing markets of DFW and OKC are appealing ish. Sure, the time zone and long flights would suck for programs like basketball and other one offs, but there are ways to make that tenable to say the least. And listen, the Pac 12 is just slightly less desperate than the Big 12 is about to be, and adding four universities with good ties to good markets (though that matters much less these days) would strengthen them considerably and put them in a much better position to consistently send multiple teams to the 12 team expanded playoff in the future. The real draw is better access to Texas talent — dipping your toe in the state and pulling out blue chip recruits would certainly get programs like USC, Stanford, and Oregon — who already prioritize Texas talent — on board. It also keeps the athletic department budgets somewhat consistent to what they are used to: in 2018-2019, the last “normal” year, the Big 12 paid out $38.8 million dollars to each normal school. The Pac 12? $32.2 million.

The AAC? $7.4 million.

(That’s why the Big 12 isn’t going to end up adding four teams and staying alive: that conference without Oklahoma and Texas is basically a beefed up AAC that would almost certainly lose it’s Power Five autonomy and see it’s revenue stream plummet by literally tens of millions of dollars. That will kill non-revenue sports — like baseball (especially at a private school) — and completely change the landscape of the athletic departments that will go from flush to hanging on for dear life overnight.)

If the path forward becomes one of Super Conferences (check out this thread by Adam Lunt for context on what that would mean), then the 12 team Pac 12 needs four teams and the Big Ten (Iowa State and Kansas) and ACC (West Virginia and ???) would need two each. The SEC reaches the threshold with the addition on Texas/OU.

So, it just kind of makes sense, I guess.

But the bigger picture can’t be ignored either, as ESPN writer David Hale threaded at length on twitter. For years, the NCAA has operated as a shadow operation — or maybe more of a shadow puppet — allowing universities to make their own decisions and operate under an “every man for himself” mantra. We have seen that through COVID and now with the NIL — there isn’t a centralized body keeping things above board on the administrative side, and as Gary Patterson pointed out during Big 12 Media Days last week — there isn’t a player’s union protecting the student-athletes. College Athletics as a business aren’t about college athletics, they’re about brands. The bigger the brand, the bigger the paycheck — and ultimately, that’s what matters. Absolutely no one in administration really cares about regional rivalries or game day atmospheres unless those things impact the bottom line: Alabama would drop the SEC and join in a conference with USC, Ohio State, and Clemson if they thought that was their best path to profitability. That’s why the SEC has become so dominant: the brands of their universities and the near-monopoly these programs have as entertainment in their respective regions.

And they want more.

Texas is the richest damn school in the country. And they want more.

At some point, the system is going to blow up. Because the big schools and the big brands will never stop wanting more. They don’t care about tradition. They don’t care about rivalries. They don’t even care about winning.

And they sure as hell don’t care what they leave in their wake.

It feels like it’s just a matter of time before the division between the haves and the have nots becomes untenable, and when that happens, we will see professional college football that is akin to soccer overseas. A million different levels and a million different leagues, with each competing for its own titles and trying to carve out its own place in the media landscape.

We can complain about the Big 12 all we want, but the fact is, TCU has never had it better than they have the last nine years. The money. The recruiting. The growth. Access to the Power Five completely changed the fortunes of the Horned Frogs — just look at a photo of the campus from 2011 and compare it to today.

This is bad, y’all. And TCU fans, we have got to get over ourselves when it comes to a landing spot. If the Pac 12 wants us, we jump into their waiting arms. Saving the Big 12 doesn’t feel like a good financial move, and dropping down a level would be disastrous to the fiscal health of our athletics department. We have to hope that ADJD is able to pull a miracle out of his hat here and find some greener pastures.

Maybe I am a Debbie Downer. Maybe this another :eye roll: negative post. But in talking with other site managers across what’s soon to be the remnants of the conference, as well as folks who have been covering Big 12 teams for a lot longer than I have, the overwhelming feeling is one of the writing being on the wall. And the wall is falling down.

Buckle up, folks. Things are getting choppy.