Everyone knew that the last round of conference expansion left the Big 12 on shaky ground, with Nebraska and Colorado pulling chocks and Texas being allowed to start its own television network. Still, I thought we’d get through at least one season before the hate & discontent flared up again. I was wrong. Texas A&M has apparently had enough, and is once again looking like it’s headed to the SEC; if not right away, at least in the not-too-distant future. For the most part, the comings and goings of the Big 12 and SEC aren’t something I’m overly concerned about other than in a general college sports fan sense. If the Aggies do end up making the switch, though, there are ways that the fallout could potentially impact the Naval Academy.
Before the A&M story broke, the only expansion talk we were hearing was coming from the Big East. Army and Navy were part of the conversation as usual, along with regular supposed expansion targets like UCF and ECU. The conference had already added TCU and had a standing invitation to Villanova should the Wildcats choose to make the move to I-A football, although that offer was put on hold once the Big East football members realized that Villanova was actually serious about the move. The general response to the Army/Navy rumor was less than enthusiastic, which isn’t all that surprising, but doesn’t really take everything into consideration either. These moves are all dictated by television; conferences are looking to add schools that will bring more viewers and add more value when TV contract negotiations come up. To that end, a national name brand that sits within 30 minutes of two major cities, has the leverage to get a multi-year national TV contract on its own, and will appear on national network television three times this year (not including ESPN) seems like it would be worth considering. ECU and UCF don’t have any of that, let alone friggin’ Villanova. Sure, there are other considerations, and you could argue that ECU or UCF might have more drawing potential in the long run. Might. What Navy brings to the table here and now, though, shouldn’t be laughed off.
Still, if I’m the Big East, I wouldn’t bother with any of those schools at this point, including Navy. Everyone knew that the Big 12 was built on quicksand even before the Texas A&M story picked up steam. If the Aggies do end up going to the SEC, and if the SEC expands to 14 by tacking on, say, Missouri, then that whole conference could collapse. Maybe the Pac-12 will come calling for Texas and Oklahoma again. Either way, it isn’t like there’s anyone else beating down UCF’s door, so there’s no rush to add them when exercising a little patience could have half of the Big 12 falling into your lap. Imagine a conference with Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, TCU, Cincinnati, and Louisville in one division, and Syracuse, West Virginia, Pitt, Rutgers, UConn, and USF in the other division. That’s a great football conference and an elite basketball conference. It also adds way more TV revenue potential than any of the other rumored targets would, since it would create a demand for the Big East in areas of the country where none exists now. I know that the Big East is trying to squeeze everything it can out of its next TV contract, but adding another Conference USA school isn’t going to do anything to support that cause. The smart move for the conference is to wait this one out.
What if they don’t? What if they decide they want Navy? I don’t think they will, but let’s assume they do. My feelings on the matter are unchanged. Navy would get a lot more money in the Big East, no doubt. The problem is that there is only so much that the Navy football program would be able to do with all that money. It wouldn’t change the service commitment, academic standards, or military lifestyle that scare away recruits now. By joining a league with other programs that don’t share those challenges, you set yourself up for failure. That doesn’t mean the idea should be completely dismissed, though. If the time comes when it appears that the BCS schools will break away from the NCAA to form their own organization, then I think you have to consider joining a conference if it would keep you in the top tier of college football (I’m not convinced that it would). But until you’re certain that’s the case, it’s better to stay independent.
So keep an ear to the ground when it comes to the Texas A&M fallout. Everyone will be affected by it. The only question is to what extent.