The realignment in college football isn’t resting for a second, with certain conferences, like the Big Ten, on a constant prowl to add impressive pieces from shaky conferences. Next on their list? The Big 12, and specifically the most successful program in the conference, the Oklahoma Sooners.
Oklahoma have been courted before, when the Pac-12 was thinking about its Pac-16 plans, but that meant four schools from the Big 12 going along with them, which would have pretty much torn the conference to shreds, just like the Big East turned out over the last couple of years. This time, it’s pretty much them, and possibly Kansas, not to mention Vanderbilt from the SEC.
Geography doesn’t mean as much anymore, especially to those pushing for expansions, trying to get another foothold in another big TV market. The Big Ten has been raiding the ACC and the Big East by adding Rutgers and Maryland, but it also added Nebraska from the Big 12 two years ago in the first major realignment move we witnessed in recent years. By 2014, it’ll be a 14 team-conference, split into the East-West divisions.
It hasn’t stopped the Big Ten from “doing its homework” on certain ACC programs, mostly eyeing North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia, thinking about dominating the DC area with Maryland and Virginia, getting the valuable North Carolina market and trying to get a foothold in Atlanta with the Yellow Jackets.
Oklahoma is a national powerhouse in terms of football, and the only one of its kind that seems available to move, with the Big Ten simply offering financial benefits no one can, despite the disappointing quality in football over recent seasons. Maybe Ohio State going 12-0 with Urban Meyer changes that, and getting to play annually against Nebraska isn’t such a bad idea, not to mention occasional games vs Michigan and Ohio State that will get more than just a regional interest, but not everything is bright for the Sooners when you look beyond the money.
First, there’s Oklahoma State. In talks with the Pac-12, Oklahoma made it clear that they aren’t going anywhere without the Cowboys, but the Big Ten offer more money, and might cause them to reconsider. At the moment, Oklahoma State isn’t something they’re considering of adding. The ending of the rivalry with Texas is another serious matter, and getting Nebraska back isn’t going to make up for it. If the Longhorns were able to lose their A&M feud, they’ll be able to give up on Oklahoma.
Another issue is recruiting. Oklahoma rely on their Texas-ties to recruit heavily from the lone star state. Leaving to the Big Ten, who are struggling to compete with those getting players out of the South and California will be a major blow to the quality of players they can hope to attract. The distances for travelling fans will be another issue, as Iowa and Nebraska (nine and eight hour drives) suddenly become the closest available rivals.
For now, there are now talks. Just speculation, winks and hints. The financial and academic angles are the attractive piece of this. So is the basketball program moving to a much better conference, which is also something that is helping Kansas consider the move. But something about Oklahoma in the Big Ten just doesn’t feel right, not to mention the fate of the Big 12 if one of its two most successful programs leaves as well, after already witnessing Nebraska and A&M go to find more money elsewhere.