WALNUT CREEK, Calif. -- The architect of the latest round of conference realignment says the earthshaking hasn't stopped.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott told CBSSports.com that there could be more conference movement before 2020. Scott was named No. 1 Friday in CBSSports.com's college football top 100 for 2011.
"I don't see anything major on the horizon -- short term, a few years," Scott said. "I'd be surprised if in the second half of this decade, we don't see another major round."
What, he was asked, would set it off?
"It could be TV deals," he said. "It could be other politics and dynamics within the NCAA. If I had to guess I would say it would be economic. That's why I believed it made sense [to expand] and continues to make sense."
A marketplace starving for content and a bunch of major conferences coming up for rights fees renewal caused the latest shifts. Conference affiliation has become more about your rightsholder than your league partners. The leagues that have the most schools desirable to the networks make the most money. That's why we came close last year to ushering in the era of superconferences. Texas was seriously considering joining the Pac-10 a year ago.
It was last June when Scott narrowly missed shaking college athletics to its foundations with a bold play to lure half the Big 12 to the Pac-10 to form the Pac-16. The deal was all but done but ESPN and Fox intervened at the last minute making financial promises that essentially convinced Texas to stay in the Big 12.
Having to "settle" for expansion with Utah and Colorado, the Pac-12 still landed a record rights deal in May with the same two outlets. Fox and ESPN joined as partners in the Pac-12 deal to pay the league $3 billion over 12 years. What would a Pac-16 have been worth?
"It's hard to know," Scott said.
Given that a 12-team league that didn't include Texas was worth $3 billion, a 16-team conference with the Longhorns would have been worth at least $4.8 billion. That's a conservative estimate of $25 million per school multiplied by 12 years.
Would the Pac-12 still be interested in Texas? Any league would be interested in Texas. The Longhorns are happy for now, starting their own network within the framework of the now 10-team Big 12. But clearly the geographical challenges of flying from Austin to the West Coast didn't matter when Scott made his play last year.
"There was a 48-hour period during that week where it was close," said Chris Bevilacqua, the Pac-12 TV consultant.
Bevilacqua may be the first industry insider to admit that it was ESPN and Fox that saved the Big 12 a year ago. Neither network could afford for the Big 12 to go away so they both made financial promises in order to keep it together. Had the Big 12 broken up, that would have eliminated one BCS conference that accounts for 16 percent of the households in the middle of the country. With the Pac-10 going out to bid this year, there was a possibility that both ESPN and Fox would have been shut out of two BCS leagues.
The Big 12 recently signed a long-term deal with Fox for its secondary rights for $90 million per year.
"They [ESPN, Fox] conspired, of course they did," to save the Big 12, Bevilacqua said. "That's a fact."