If the Pac-12 expands again, who would you choose? Part III


So, if indeed Texas joined the Pac-12, there clearly would be three other teams joining them. When the Pac-16 mega-expansion was first floated, Colorado was already a done deal, but Utah was not really in the picture yet. Instead, the others being mentioned the most were Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech. In Part II of this series, I laid out the academic rankings of the Pac-12, Big 12, and Mountain West Conference and from that table, you can see who fits best from an academic perspective. But, what about the other factors?

We will discuss Oklahoma, OSU, and Texas A&M later down…But, let’s start with who would have been 16th and final member of the originally proposed group, Texas Tech University. Why they were included is for reasons that are not entirely clear to those outside of Texas. Sure Texas Tech is a large university with 34,000+ students. They have also had some level of success in football and basketball over the years, but nothing Earth-shattering.

But, there is nothing there that screams major BCS-conference material. It is way over in Lubbock in the South Plains/Texas Panhandle region. Lubbock only has 230,000 people, which ranks it about as significant as Spokane in terms of market-size. In fact, if you include the entire South Plains/Texas Panhandle (including Abilene, Midland/Odessa, and Amarillo) you still only end up with a little over 1 million people in an area the size of Iowa. So, it isn’t about adding TV sets in that region.

Texas Tech is not a highly rated university academically (+300 in the latest ARWU ratings), but the engineers and other professionals who do graduate from there do get distributed across the rest of Texas. Not many stay in Lubbock, that is for sure. One factor that probably played a role was that of local Texas politicians getting involved in things. For many, inclusion of Texas Tech was mandatory or they would enact legislation to prevent Texas and Texas A&M (both state universities) from leaving the Big 12. And, for supporters of the Red Raiders, if they didn’t go to the Pac-16 where would they go? They would probably be left begging for an invite to the Mountain West or WAC conference…Neither of which are BCS conferences.

I am quite sure if the Pac-10 had its choice, they would have left Texas Tech out of the equation. But, they probably figured they had to include them to make the rest of the package work. Perhaps now that Utah has been added to the Pac-12, the next time Texas comes knocking, Texas Tech will not be included any longer.

Another school discussed at the time was Baylor. Baylor really didn’t fit the needs or culture of the Pac-10 in any conceivable way. First of all, they are a private Christian university in a conference of state schools (and two secular highly rated academic universities). Secondly, they are not a highly respected academic institution (They did not even make the Top 500 in the ARWU ratings). Thirdly, they are a smaller sized university with only about 14,000 students and thus without a large alumni following. Fourthly, despite some occassional good seasons in football and basketball, they certainly have never been a marquee school athletically. Lastly, they are in Waco, a city with only 233,000 people in its entire metro-area. That’s like adding a school from the Tri-cities. Not exactly exciting numbers for TV executives.

So, why would Baylor even be promoted for inclusion in the Pac-16? Politicians in the Texas legislature who were alumni. Plain and simple. I see absolutely no reason why the Pac-10 would have fallen for that. They were a poor fit and would have never been accepted. Nor do I think Texas would have stood for it had Baylor been the only obstacle to making the deal happen.

Which brings us back to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. What do they bring to the table anyways?

The University of Oklahoma is a major university with 30,000+ students. With Norman just a stones throw from Oklahoma City, it would bring in the 44th ranked media market in the country. Oklahoma has a long and storied history of success in football and to some degree in basketball as well. Oklahoma also has a major following across the country and a significant rivalry with Texas, that would bring TV attention to their annual Red River game in Dallas. Academically though, they don’t inspire anyone with a +300 ranking in the ARWU. That is actually below Oregon and Washington State! Taken alone, it would be the worst ranking of any current Pac-12 school.

Oklahoma State University is a bit smaller university with about 23,000 students. Stillwater is a small city and not really directly in a media market. But, their influence overlaps with both Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and thus brings in all 2.3 million citizens in Oklahoma. Oklahoma State has had some really good football and basketball teams over the years and certainly would be competitive. Oklahoma State (like Baylor) is also unranked in the top 500 by the ARWU, so it clearly would not be academics the Pac-10 would be interested in with them. I suspect the only reason Oklahoma State would be added would be to maintain the rivalries with Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas A&M.

Oklahoma and Oklahoma State made sense for two reasons. First of all, they were natural in-state rivals and the only real major universities in the state. Oklahoma’s long-standing rivalry with Texas (known as the Red River Rivalry) would be maintained. Oklahoma had appeal and the only way to get them was to add Oklahoma State. Adding these two schools together was more about enticing Texas to come west than it was directly about them.

Now comes the lynch pin that may have broken the entire plan apart, Texas A&M. Texas A&M is the 7th largest university in the country with some 49,000 students. Their enormous alumni base means TV viewers in all of the major markets of Texas. With their intense rivalry with the University of Texas, their games are must see events in Texas and nationwide. While College Station is a bit of a remote location, it is most closely situated to the enormous Houston market (#6 in the country).

Texas A&M also fit the mold in terms of academics with a #95 ranking on the latest ARWU. While culturally, they may be more closely aligned with the SEC, clearly the Aggies would have been a good fit for the Pac-16 with the combination of athletics, academics, and market reach. They were a no brainer. But, Texas A&M apparently was a bit uncomfortable with the situation and started looking for greener pastures to the east and was trying to see if they could sneak into the SEC. While the SEC was loathe to expand, they probably would have absorbed the Aggies if they felt they had to to keep up with the conference expansion arms race.

In the end though, either Texas A&M was going to go with Texas, or the deal was going to collapse. When the rest of the desperate members of the Big 12 gave almost dictatorial power to Texas to reshape the operations of the conference, Texas A&M decided to go along with it. However, they want to be seen as able to stand on their own and are not happy about the power Texas now wields. Rumors are they are still eyeing the SEC and I do not think they will jump to the Pac-12 without reluctance and a push from Austin.