When Texas and Oklahoma left the Big 12 for the SEC that left the eight schools Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Texas Christian, and West Virginia wondering if the future of the conference past 2025 was doomed?
Without Texas and Oklahoma, the Big 12 would be the weakest Power 5 conference of the group. Meanwhile, the American Athletic Conference home to the University of Central Florida and the University of South Florida made it clear that they would welcome the eight schools left in the weaker Big 12.
So a merger of the Big 12 and the AAC makes sense for both sides.
It would not take long for Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and AAC boss Mike Aresco to start a conversation since their conferences headquarters are only about ten minutes away from each other in the Dallas suburb of Irving, Texas.
The Big 12 is under the impression that the American is expected to be an aggressor in this current round of realignment with several of the remaining eight Big 12 teams being potential targets. However, considering the Big 12 has autonomy Power 5 status, it would likely make more sense for it to assume the AAC than the other way around.
Here is where AAC commissioner Aresco is a key player because before he was the Big East/AAC commissioner he was a top executive at both ESPN and CBS. When he was named the Big East boss he held the title of CBS Vice President of Sports Programming and oversaw the SEC contract as well as March Madness, so he knows how to make a deal.
The merger would give the new conference a fighting chance at remaining a Power 5 conference beyond 2025 when the Sooners and the Longhorns say so long. Let’s not be foolish and think that the Big 12 can get the kind of TV money they had when Oklahoma and Texas were members but there is a chance that a merger with the AAC could soften the blow.
The AAC has a new deal with ESPN/ABC that runs through 2032. They have a side deal with CBS as well as CBS Sports Network that could allow Aresco to lobby his pals at CBS to take the money they had leftover from the SEC deal they lost when the league inked a mega-deal with ESPN/ABC and invest it in the news conference.
ESPN plans to make the AAC a big part of their ESPN + streaming platform and CBS has Paramount + where they have been gobbling up sports rights for their streaming pay service. If you add the eight schools from the Big 12 to that package then there should be plenty of cash to make all sides happy.
It is possible that each school in a Big12/AAC merger could be worth at the low side $20 million a year to $35 million per year on the high side for the schools in the new conference.
With Oklahoma and Texas in 2019, the Big 12 distributed nearly $40 million in total revenue to each of its members that year, with the largest chunk of the money coming from TV.
Some have suggested that the remaining Big 12 schools such as Kansas and K-State would lose between $20 million $30 million per year without Texas and Oklahoma driving up the conference’s value. ESPN and Fox are TV partners with the conference through 2025 when Texas and Oklahoma are set to leave and as of today, there are no conversations about a new TV deal on the table.
Let’s see what a merger would look like if the two conferences were to join forces making one “Super Conference,” made up of 20 teams and before we talk about adding more let’s look at this by creating four divisions using geographic regions
Since this is Sports Talk Florida let’s look at the South Division and which would have Central Florida, East Carolina, Tulane, and South Florida. Then we head to the Lone Star Division where Baylor, Houston, SMU, Texas Tech, and TCU would do battle, Central Division where Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and Tulsa make a nice fit. Then we head to the Atlantic Division with ARMY (joining the conference for football), Cincinnati, Navy, Temple and West Virginia are all old friends and rivals from back in the day.
So, let’s talk about a 24 team Super Conference?
I would suggest that they go big and add Air Force, Army (we added them as the 20th school in the 20 team league), BYU, Colorado State, and Boise State. You would then cover all four time zones; you would have four national brands in the Air Force, Army, and Navy along with BYU that would with ratings helping to amp up the TV dollars.
That would set up a division with Air Force, Boise State, BYU, and Colorado State with Army joining the Atlantic Division.
There have been reports of the Big 12 going after both schools in the AAC and the Mountain West but that really does nothing to help to lose Oklahoma and Texas. There has been talking of adding, BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati, and others but that really is not as good as a merger with the AAC.
There are reports that the Big 12 and the Pac 12 might loot at a possible merger down the line. But there is a much bigger deal for the Pac12 in building on their existing and long-standing relationship with the Big Ten.
The longer the Big 12 waits to be proactive and looks at a deal with the AAC the bigger the possibility they see the ACC and perhaps the Big Ten picking off say West Virginia going to join their old rival at Pitt or Kansas headed to the Big Ten.
If the Big 12 and the AAC want to survive as relevant players in the age of the Super Conferences then a merger makes the most sense. Right now it is survival of the fittest and this is a deal that could be done today.