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Realignment: Every college for itself

By Jack Bogaczyk

Maybe, just maybe, it takes the Three Stooges to figure out who's where - hey, that's almost an Abbott & Costello - in this amoebic conference realignment talk in major college athletics.

From 1935, and "Restless Knights:"

Larry: "All for one!"

Moe: "One for all!"

Curly: "Every man for himself!"

It seems Curly has a good grasp of the matter, where all of these schools seem to be looking out for No. 1 - and, really, who can blame them? In the shrinking (again) Big 12, for instance, everyone must be sleeping with the lights on, so they can see who's going where 24 hours a day.

So, I made some phone calls to connections in the Big East, ACC, Big 12 and SEC, trying to figure out what's what. What follows is a compilation of what I found while digging.

One of those sources called the situation "fluid" - an understatement unless "fluid" is what you'd call the recent tropical-spawned floodwaters that brought disaster throughout the Northeast.

Anyway, Texas A&M wants to move from the Big 12 to become the SEC's 13th member, no secret there. The only thing holding that up is the threat of lawsuits from within the Big 12, which stands to lose its lucrative TV deal with Fox, and maybe life as we know it in the BCS.

Texas, playing its own card with its $300 million ESPN-produced Longhorn Network, suddenly is all for keeping the Big 12 together (nine schools without A&M) and has expressed a willingness for equitable revenue sharing - something UT hadn't done earlier.

The linchpin now is Oklahoma. The Sooners hold the cards to the Big 12 future, because if Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott can convince his university presidents to take the Sooners and Oklahoma State, they're pulling a Horace Greeley.

If the Sooners (and Cowboys) decide to stay with the Big 12, it could be bad news for the Big East. Here's why. The school everyone in the Big 12 - well, everyone except Texas - wants to bring in to replace A&M and get back to 10 is TCU, which is supposed to make its Big East debut next season.

"Texas is the only one on the Big 12 side blocking this right now," I was told.

The Horned Frogs back-tracking for their southwest base would be worse for the Big East than a hit to the conference's image, trust me. However, most Big Easters don't think it will happen. One said, "TCU probably views, for one thing, the Big East as an easier road to the BCS than through Texas and maybe Oklahoma."

Texas would rather have new football independent BYU replace A&M, so the Horned Frogs don't slice into Texas' clout in the Dallas-Fort Worth market.

However, if the Oklahoma schools leave the Big 12 and Texas still wants to save the league, the 'Horns will have to grit their teeth and dip into Conference USA, maybe a combination from among Tulsa, SMU, Houston, Rice and UTEP.

Texas Tech has been portrayed as a "partner" for Texas to the Pac-14 or 16, but the conference is said to not really want Tech, and the Longhorns aren't keen on heading two time zones away anyway.

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said this week that the apparent move by A&M does not mean his league will immediately go after a 14th team. However, if Oklahoma and OkState go west, watch the floodgates open.

The ACC and Big Ten do not want to expand right now, but if Slive and Scott move, they'd have to consider it, too. If the Sooners and Cowboys make it a Pac-14 and the Big 12 expires, the Big East is willing - and ready - to grab Missouri, Kansas and K-State to get to 12 football members.

A 20-team basketball league?

"It's more than a bit awkward and unwieldy," a Big Easter said, "but it answers the need in football, and I don't see the football and basketball schools breaking apart because of the value basketball brings to the table. Missouri-Marquette and Kansas-Notre Dame are pretty good basketball games, right?"

The SEC would take Oklahoma to add to A&M, but the Sooners know that road to the BCS is very rugged, and they're tied to Oklahoma State anyway, so that potential is very slim.

"Two days ago, I'd have said there's no way the Big 12 would survive," a Big 12er said. "Today, it's 50-50, maybe even better than that because Texas wants to keep it together."

West Virginia, you ask?

The notion seems to be that WVU might be a better fit in the SEC than in the ACC or Big Ten, but I get the idea that the Mountaineers know that what might be a 10-2 football season while playing in the Big East could translate to 7-5 in a season in the SEC. That translates to smaller crowds, fewer beer sales, bottom-tier bowls, etc.

Here's the rub however: Let's say West Virginia gets feelers from the SEC? Can the Mountaineers afford to turn that down, when and if the Big Ten and ACC send off the Richter Scale, since WVU has no assurances who or what will be left of Big East football?

The ACC, it's said, would likely try first to pluck a Connecticut from the Big East, as a travel partner for Boston College. Syracuse would be attractive there, too, I'm told.

And get this: Sources told me that in all of this behind-closed-doors talk and under-the-table dealing, century-long rivals WVU and Pitt are seen in some quarters as something of an "entry" - put by one as "kind of like two horses in the (Kentucky) Derby with the same owner ... They could go somewhere together."

Texas could go to the Big Ten, but that road to success is much tougher than holding together a weakened Big 12. And Notre Dame, its football aura fading with every loss, has to be considering joining someone, somewhere, soon - if others follow Texas A&M and maybe Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to new pastures.

The next move in all of this belongs to the Sooner Schooner.

The one thing we do know for sure - and that's all we know for sure - is what Curly said 76 years ago. It's every man for himself.


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