With the Big Ten and Pac-10 both talking expansion -- and with two Big 12 schools mentioned prominently as candidates -- I wouldn`t be surprised if our friends in Dallas are quietly establishing contingency plans.
The latest rumor from the Big Ten -- and this one is a stretch, to be sure -- is that the conference might actually add three teams to bring the total to 14. Those three would include Missouri, Pittsburgh and either Syracuse or Rutgers. But even a one-team expansion could include Missouri.
The Pac-10, meanwhile, is also considering expansion, with Colorado and Utah believed to be the top candidates there.
If those scenarios play out, the fallout could be widespread. It would be similar to the shakeup on the East Coast in 2003, when Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech bolted the Big East for the ACC and five Conference USA teams then jumped to the Big East.
We begin with the Pac-10. If Colorado and Utah would indeed join the conference, the league would split up into two divisions.
Colorado doesn`t want to end up in a division that would include Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State and Utah. It would greatly reduce Colorado`s connection with Southern California and the Bay Area.
A more equitable arrangement would be to split the California schools, giving each division a slice of the Golden State: Pac-10 Northwest: Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State, California and Stanford.
Pac-10 Southwest: Arizona, Arizona State, Southern Cal, UCLA, Colorado and Utah.
Next we come to the Big 12, which would have to add two schools and perhaps consider realignment if it wanted to maintain its two divisions.
Tops on the Big 12's wish list would be TCU. The addition of the Horned Frogs would be a no-brainer for the Big 12, and strengthen what is already a Texas-sized stranglehold on the conference.
But the task of finding a second team would be much more interesting.
Some possibilities: BYU: The Cougars would bring a strong academic presence, a solid television market and competitive programs. The downside is BYU's refusal to play on Sundays.
That's one reason the school isn't attractive to the Pac-10, and it would also be a negative in the eyes of the Big 12. Still, an attractive option.
Colorado State: If I were CSU athletic director Paul Kowalczyk, I'd be lobbying the Big 12 as of today. On the plus side, CSU would at least help the Big 12 maintain a presence in Colorado in the event of CU's departure. The downside is that CSU's football stadium has a capacity of less than 40,00 — a number that wouldn't fit in the Big 12. It would be a long shot for the Rams, but it would be one worth pursuing on their end.
Arkansas: Here's a school I always thought would be a natural to return to its Southwest Conference roots. But, thanks to the SEC television contract, Arkansas currently gets about $8 million more per year than it would receive from the Big 12. That's too costly of a move.
SMU: Another school with SWC roots, but with TCU already an addition, I'm guessing the remainder of the Big 12 would balk mightily at yet another Texas school.
Boise State: Here's a real long shot. The geographic isolation would be a huge negative, as would a small television market and a small stadium (capacity 32,000). But, the school does have some national appeal. If no other options are available to the Big 12, it would be a possibility.
Now we move on to the Mountain West, the conference that would take a huge hit from these moves. Under the current alignments, the Mountain West stands a very good chance of gaining automatic BCS status after the 2011 season.
The recent performances of TCU, BYU and Utah have convinced the powers-that-be that it deserves such a promotion.
But take TCU and Utah out of the equation — and possibly BYU — and the Mountain West would be much less appealing. To simply keep afloat, the MWC would have to add at least two schools, probably three.
The candidates list would likely be quite similar to the Big 12's. Boise State would be a perfect addition for the MWC, and SMU would help the conference keep its Texas connection.
The Mountain West might also be able to lure someone from the WAC (Nevada or Fresno State).
But the reality might also be this: if TCU, Utah and BYU would all leave the MWC, it might mean the remainder of the schools in the conference would pursue homes elsewhere — and spell the end of the Mountain West.