Don't look at this Texas A&M thing as conference realignment. Look at it through the stakeholders' eyes.
The stakeholders being ESPN, Oklahoma, A&M and Texas. It's likely that ESPN CEO John Skipper is evaluating at this moment how to maximize his profits through Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Texas if there is another round of conference shuffling.
Where those schools end up is less important than how the three current Big 12 schools can be profitable for ESPN (and Fox).
Whether or not A&M ends up in the SEC, watch for the Pac-12 to sooner or later take another run at Texas. The Big 12's instability dictates it. Commissioner Larry Scott told the Austin American-Statesman last month after the formation of the Pac-12 network one could "imply" that the Longhorn Network would be a "huge impediment" to Texas joining his league.
How quickly things change -- or possibly change. In a strange way, the Pac-12 could now make it more likely that Texas make the jump if it deems the Big 12 not worth the effort.
"At this point I don't think Larry does anything," one source close to the situation said, "He's got to let it come to him. He's the one who is sitting there with all the firepower. There is no one in a better position to monetize expansion than Larry Scott is. Not the SEC, not the Big East, not the ACC, not the Big 12. He's sitting in the catbird seat."
Why? Because he can. Remember, Scott was the guy who had invited six Big 12 teams, including Texas, last year. Consider it a still-open invitation. One that Texas would have to seriously consider.
One source painted it this way: The new Pac-12 Network is made up of six regional networks. Why couldn't the Longhorn Network be folded into the Pac-12 as a seventh regional network?
The source emphasized that ESPN is desperate to make TLN profitable. It has sunk hundreds of millions into the venture and there is no certainty whether it will work. To date, only the Big Ten Network has been profitable among collegiate networks.
It didn't help Thursday that the NCAA ruled against the televising of high school games on school/conference networks.
There are a few hurdles. Texas supposedly would have to surrender its third-party rights (re: archival, historic properties). But if Texas shows interest, that's nothing more that details. The new Pac-12 shares revenue more or less equally. Again, that can be worked out because it's, well, Texas.
Pac-12 schools would have consider working around those barriers to get the No. 1 revenue-producing athletic department into its conference.
That takes care of Texas. Oklahoma? If A&M bolts, it is seemingly a swing team between the Pac-12 and SEC.
Here's why ESPN would like A&M in the SEC: The Aggies would make ESPN's (and CBS') 15-year, $3 billion deal with the league more profitable. Some at A&M obviously see it as a more stable home.
If the Big 12 crumbles, the Longhorns most likely aren't going to the SEC or Big Ten. Texas has always looked down its nose at the SEC. Texas AD DeLoss Dodds is on record as saying he is against independence.
The Pac-12 makes the most sense for Texas almost because of TLN. It would increase the value of Pac-12 Network as well as increase the value of TLN.
"Something is wrong with your conference," a source said. "when Washington State is getting more from its conference than the University of Texas."
The source was referring to the fact that some Pac-12 projections have the league making $30 million per school once its network gets up and running. Even when the Big 12 renegotiates its primary rights in a couple of years, it is expected to top out at $20 million per year. That was with A&M.
So where does that leave us? Scott and SEC commissioner Mike Slive declined to comment through spokesmen. Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe did not return phone and text messages.
But I learned last year during the conference merry-go-round to start with the stakeholders. Last year, it was Texas and Notre Dame. Both stayed in place, minimizing conference realignment.
This year the main players are Oklahoma, Texas and A&M. The question seems to be whether the Big 12 will hold together (with nine schools, or more with new expansion) if A&M leaves. That decision is up to Texas and ESPN (and Fox).
That combination kept the Big 12 together last year. Is the negativity such that the league couldn't go on after the loss of A&M? Is an enhanced SEC and Pac-12 worth more to ESPN than a damaged or non-existent Big 12?
The answers, seemingly, are coming soon. Despite reports that A&M-to-the-SEC was a done deal, it's likely that nothing will be officially decided until the Aug. 22 A&M regents meeting.
While Nebraska was a slam dunk to go to the Big Ten last spring, it wasn't official until AD Tom Osborne and chancellor Harvey Perlman made their official presentation to the regents.
Through an A&M spokesman I was able to determine this much about the process:
--A conference call among the regents is scheduled for Aug. 22. The fiscal year budgets for the entire A&M system will be discussed.
--An agenda has not been published beyond the budget discussions. An official agenda for the meeting will be available 72 hours prior.
--The spokesman would say whether conference membership would be discussed.