Commentary

Big 12 provides a temporary solution

Updated: June 15, 2010, 2:03 PM ET
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

The Great Realignment Gambit of 2010 (alternate title: Kowtowing to Texas) has come and presumably gone.

[+] EnlargeDeLoss Dodds
AP Photo/Harry CabluckDeLoss Dodds spared the Big 12 -- and college football -- from a massive conference realignment.

There isn't a lot to show for it.

If you were hoping a coast-to-coast detonation of the college sports landscape would serve as a summer blockbuster action flick, you're probably disappointed. Nebraska, Colorado, Boise State and possibly Utah relocating doesn't qualify as a doomsday plot twist.

But this relative lack of drama is a good thing for college sports -- and not just because I lobbied last month for the very resolution we currently have. Radically redrawing the map and disposing of traditions and geographic sanity along the way would have damaged the entire enterprise.

So thank all interested parties for coming to their senses. And then return to alert status.

This is only a temporary solution.

Smart people and smart money predict that this new conference setup won't hold for decades to come -- probably not for even a single decade. As we enter a period of relative calm, the plate tectonics of college sports are always in motion beneath the surface. And the next eruption might be the big one.

One athletic director who has been involved in the national realignment negotiations put it this way Monday: "There is no emerging status quo. DeLoss [Dodds, the Texas athletic director] is buying the time he needs to contemplate and perhaps design a future that will be more on his terms."

Staggering to think that the future could get any more on Texas' terms, isn't it? Short of handing Dodds a scepter and giving the Longhorns an annual automatic BCS berth, there isn't much more sucking up the Big 12 could have done to keep Texas in the fold.

Its already outsized share of league revenue is expected to grow, thanks to the proposed new television deal. It has the go-ahead to launch its own TV network. It likely will not have to play in a league championship game, which is something coach Mack Brown has never been crazy about.

Jim Delany
AP Photo/Nati HarnikJim Delany added one school to his conference, but may be after more.

I'm not saying Texas hasn't earned its kingpin status, thanks to on-field success and demographics and tradition and national cachet. But members of both the SEC and Pac-10 had misgivings about inviting an 800-pound gorilla to join their leagues.

The SEC has staunchly adhered to equal revenue sharing -- Vanderbilt and Florida both get the same slice of the pie. League officials didn't think Texas was overly interested in that arrangement. (It's worth noting that Texas officials have said the SEC was not the academic fit the school aspired to.)

And although the Pac-10 aggressively wooed the Longhorns, reports say the league balked at giving them the imprimatur to launch their own network.

So the Big 12 (now 10) remains alive -- and remains troubled. If freshly empowered Texas continues to want more revenue share and more say-so, and if its Big 12 peers continue to chafe about the imbalance of power, an already shaky alliance won't get any stronger.

Sure, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa State and Baylor are happy today -- they were just spared conference homelessness. But happiness is a temporary emotion. If the revenue gap continues to widen between the most favored programs (add Oklahoma and Texas A&M to that list) and everyone else, so will the on-field gap.

The melding of Big Eight and Southwest Conference schools was never an easy alchemy. Just because two old Big Eight schools are out -- one cranky, one flaky -- that doesn't create perfect harmony.

Mike Slive
Darrell Walker/Icon SMIMike Slive and the SEC are comfortable -- for now.

So keep an eye on that league in the years to come. For that matter, keep an eye on everyone.

The Big Ten (now 12) started this latest spasm. Don't think it won't at least consider a future run at Texas, or another run at Notre Dame, or some other addition. The emerging revenue monster that is the Big Ten Network needs to be fed more TV sets to grow.

Under Mike Slive, the SEC knows it has a good thing as is. But the league will remain a preeminent power capable of doing whatever it needs to do to improve itself in the future.

Under new commissioner Larry Scott, the Pac-10 (going on 12, if Utah joins the conference) has fresh energy. If the Big 12 fails to keep everyone happy, Scott could take another shot at his near-miss acquisition from this summer.

And don't discount the Big East. If the Big 12 had dissolved, there was a segment of that league interested in recruiting the Midwest castoffs -- Kansas, Missouri, Kansas State, Iowa State -- and bulking up to 12 teams in football. (That also would have created a 20-team basketball armada of incredible strength and complexity.)

Bottom line: All the discussion in recent weeks about winding up with four super conferences wasn't just hot air. We could still be trending in that direction -- or at least toward some new direction.

Just because the conference map wasn't completely blown up this summer, don't think the current landscape is here to stay.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.