This weekend I found myself in conversation with a buddy who happens to be a rabid Texas fan, and naturally, the talk soon turned to conference realignment. I pointed out that there were four conferences (the SEC, Pac-10, and Bigs 10 and 12) essentially all waiting for the Longhorns to join them in the land of fruit and TV money, and he agreed, expressing a personal preference for the Pac-10. "But what I'd really like," he added, "would be for us to go independent in football like Notre Dame."
I've been rather fascinated by that idea ever since I heard it. It's not at all likely, or even being considered by anyone involved, but it would neatly solve a lot of problems. The Texas legislature might harrumph a little bit, but as long as Texas kept the in-state rivalries going, they wouldn't stop UT from attempting such a bold, well, Texas-like move. They'd be even happier if Texas A&M jumped to the SEC prior to the announcement. And if Texas couldn't pull in Notre Dame money - I'm not even sure Notre Dame can get that kind of scratch now - they'd presumably get more than they're getting even under the current non-revenue sharing plan the Big 12 has set up at the moment. Among the other big winners:
Kansas: Bill Self's nightmare of the Jayhawks being forced to play ball in a mid-major would safely be avoided, and Kansas could continue playing against some top flight competition. Losing Colorado and Nebraska would only increase the talent level of the conference anyway. And with a lot of the big historical threats gone from the football schedule, they may even be able to achieve some sustained success on the gridiron, as well.
People Who Don't Like 16-Team Conferences: This stops that trend dead in its tracks. With the Colorado and Nebraska moves, every conference will have twelve teams (the Pac-10 will grab someone; Utah is the most likely) and a conference championship game. Expanding to 16 without a Texas around to sign is merely diluting the pool of revenue; the Pac-10 will stand pat, and the Big ten will be less likely to go after some of the questionable choices people keep kicking around, like Rutgers and Maryland
People Who Like Good Football Games: Fill four slots on the Longhorns' schedule with their traditional games, mainly Oklahoma and three Texas schools. Add two or three traditional cupcakes. That still leaves five games to fill, and if Notre Dame is any indication, they'll pull from among the middle tiers of the BCS conferences. Texas is well-suited to travel to almost anywhere, so good games against the Pac-10, Big 10, SEC and ACC are all possibilities. Some may be blowouts - I'd expect a lot more Dukes and Vanderbilts to make the schedule than Floridas and Ohio States - but they'd still be good games for teams' fans to see on the schedule.
Now then, there are quite a few losers with this, however:
Oklahoma and the Rest of the Pac-10 Courters: Yeah, without Texas, no one wants you. Instead, you'll get Big East-type football money, and possibly a difficult time making your case for a national championship slot. The Sooners will still have the Red River Shootout to prove their mettle, but OSU just became as tough a sell as a contender as Kansas and Missouri were a few years back. The only exception is that the Pac-10 still needs one team to hit 12. Texas tech or Oklahoma may have an outside shot.
The ACC: The SEC might, if they accept Texas A&M, be the only conference with greater than 12 teams. They'll definitely want and even number, hitting 14 if not 16, which leaves the ACC as the prime target for raiding. (They won't take the FedEx cash on the table; it's way too degrading. That bonehead offer probably made the odds of Memphis moving even less likely, although one can never rule out the desperation of the Big East or new Big 12.) I don't think the Florida schools bring anything new to the conference, and UNC won't go, but Virginia Tech's a possibility. It'd be a mistake for the Hokies and the SEC, most likely, but that never stopped anyone before. With this the ACC goes from the conference least likely to change this go-around to the biggest, juiciest target, unfortunately.
Still, the damage it may do to the ACC aside, I like this idea. It's counter-intuitive, brash, and a big screw you to the current trend of consolidation. Notre Dame's unique status came about from the other direction, of course, and no school has ever backed out of a conference in only one sport. The reaction will be largely negative, especially amongst their fellow Big 12 schools. But Notre Dame's situation works because the Big East needs the Irish more than the Irish need them, and that's even more true for Texas and the Big 12 right now. It' looking more and more likely that Texas is going to attempt to save the Big 12 by sticking around, but they could just as good of a job of it, ironically, by blowing them off.