Why Texas Is Stalling Conference Realignment

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The latest news coming out of the Lone Star State on the realignment front, courtesy of University of Texas media henchman ace realignment scribe Chip Brown, has the state legislature supposedly pressuring UT to slow down the latest round of conference shuffling and the Longhorns mulling a chance to move to, wait for it, the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Bevo traipsing down Tobacco Road on an East Coast swing. Fits like hand and glove, right?

Oddly enough, reporters who don’t work for an outlet called Orangebloods.com actually took the time over the weekend to ask Judith Zaffrini, chairwoman of the Texas State Senate Higher Education Committee, and ACC commissioner John Swofford for comment heard a different story.

Zaffrini: “I don’t see that happening at all at this point. I have absolutely no intent of calling a hearing at this time.”

Swofford: “I need to read more to see what we’re doing. That’s news to me.”

OK, so there’s wiggle room in those statements if you want to read it that way. Still, doesn’t it sound like somebody here is obfuscating the truth? Would it surprise you to think my money is on the guys wearing Longhorn Network polos? The reason: The longer uncertainty reigns in this situation, the more leverage Texas agets back.

Indulge me for a moment, as this is a game theorist’s wet dream.

Conventional wisdom holds that:

  • Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are definitely leaving the Big 12 for the Pac-12.
  • The Pac-12 wants to expand to 16 teams, not 14.
  • Therefore, the Pac-12 still needs two more teams.

From a geography standpoint, the Pac-12 is somewhat stymied. When it comes to realistic candidates to acquire for the other two spots, that leaves four legitimate options: Texas, Texas Tech, Kansas and Missouri. The state of Texas’ television market also happens to be one of the crown jewels of the entire expansion game.

Obviously, Texas is the most desirable candidate of that lot. We’re also holdings these truths about the Texas situation to be self-evident:

  • Texas wants to keep the LHN as it is if possible, or at least use it as a bargaining chip.
  • Texas will face intense political pressure to make sure that Texas Tech, at minimum, finds a safe landing spot when the Big 12 dissolves. (See: Tech problem.)
  • Tech in and of itself isn’t that desirable of a target for the Pac-12 or the other major conferences.
  • UT really doesn’t want to go independent at this point.

Got all that? Now that we’ve set the stage, let’s talk about what’s going down at the bargaining table.

Larry Scott

The Pac-12′s No. 1 realistic outcome at this point would be to bring Texas and Texas Tech into the fold, converting the LHN into one of its regional television networks. Coming in second would be a package of Kansas and Missouri.

Enter KU and Mizzou. With the death of the Big 12 a foregone conclusion, these two have to be getting antsy about keeping a seat at the major conference table. As this process continues to drag on, the entreaties from the other AQs will start to sound pretty promising, especially when the alternative involves getting left out in the cold by Larry Scott and Co. (Hell, they probably already are really appealing.)

If - or when – one or both of KU and Mizzou decide to hop to another conference before the Pac-12 situation is resolved, the Pac-12′s fall-back position is dead. Whatever leverage the Pac-12 had over UT? Gone.

If that happens, Texas is, theoretically, back in the driver’s seat. The Longhorns can hold out for the best deal possible from the Pac-12. They can potentially play the conferences against one another to get the best deal for themselves and their network. They could hope a conference covets the Texas TV market enough to scoop up Tech, essentially making UT a free agent. They can bide their time in a watered-down Big 12 until the LHN becomes stable enough to make independence viable.

And maybe, just maybe, Texas hopes the Oklahoma brass takes another look at staying in the Big 12, where UT can keep playing the role of whale in a small pond.

In other words, the clock is ticking for Larry Scott to play his cards.

*Post-script

How do you counter Texas’ stall move? That’s tricky.

Assuming you’re dead set on going to 16 teams, the best move is not to overplay your hand. Kansas and Missouri don’t have the marquee appeal of Texas, but they’re still solid additions.

Give Texas and Tech an ultimatum (delivered by Oklahoma for P.R. purposes): We’re rolling with the Jayhawks and Tigers if you don’t give us an answer in 24 hours. That should give KU and Mizzou enough certainty to wait on Texas’ decision, while putting the ball in UT’s court.

If adding Kansas and Missouri is the ultimate outcome, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

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