As I wrote in the last expansion article ( link here), moving towards a permanent "have" status quo of 6 AQ leagues with 12 teams each seems to be where we're going given the current setup of 1-A college football. However, this is far from inevitable.
The first group that could cause serious disruption to the status quo is the Big East. As noted in the last article, to fill up to 12 teams, they'd probably have to invite at least one non-AQ team, and more if Notre Dame and/or Villanova decline invites. If Villanova says yes, and Notre Dame would come aboard in the case of a "have secession", ignore the rest of the article, because filling one more spot just isn't that big of a deal.
However, for the sake of the argument, let's say Villanova declines the invite, leaving the Big East at nine, and that Notre Dame says they're permanently not interested or at the very least ambivalent even in the "have secession" scenario. That would leave the Big East with three more spots to fill, without any especially good options. Taking a wild guess, let's say they'd end up settling on UCF, Memphis and Houston (the last to get more of a Texas presence). Yes, they could go for Temple, UMass, etc., but those are details. The main point is that it's not an especially desirable set of three teams (which wouldn't change given any other non-AQ options). But they don't really have other options…
Or do they? Yes, those are their non-AQ options, but that assumes that they can't poach any AQ teams. What if they can? Obviously the Big Ten, ACC and SEC teams have zero interest, but what about the Big 12? There's already a sense in that league that Texas is going to end up doing whatever the hell Texas wants to do, and that means that at the very least everyone there needs to have a serious Plan B in place.
So why can't the Big East take advantage? They could easily contact Missouri and Kansas and basically say "we're looking to grab some Big 12 teams, you're our first choices, but we only have three spots, and if you say no, we'll go elsewhere, perhaps including non-AQ's." Wouldn't those schools have to seriously consider it? Kansas is in a bit of a bind due to Kansas St (who nobody really wants), but Missouri isn't. What's better for Mizzou: standing pat, hoping that either Texas doesn't bail and in so doing demolish the league or the Big Ten (who's basically said "we're done") will change its mind and invite the Tigers; or taking an invite from a big-market league that's pretty stable and unlikely to lose its "have" status, especially with a program like Mizzou added to the roster? Isn't the second option better? Given the serious consequences associated with losing "have" status, isn't a bird in the hand worth two in the bush? And since it's highly possible that the Big East will end up going to 12 teams one way or the other, why would Mizzou wait and risk that their only meaningful Plan B gets taken away before Texas gets around to making their final decision?
And for the third member (again assuming Villanova says no), why not Baylor? The Big East got a Texas presence with TCU, and logistically it would actually make some sense to bring along Baylor. Moreover, by freeing Texas from its "Baylor problem" (they don't seem to really want to fight the political battle that ditching Baylor would create), they'd have one of the most powerful and aggressive 1-A programs in the country owing them a meaningful favor (a good thing for a league that's been vulnerable politically). And for Baylor, like Mizzou, getting a solid Plan B instead of waiting and hoping on Texas would make a lot of sense. In fact, it would probably make more sense for Baylor, since Texas would have an easier time politically bailing on them if they could claim that they had found Baylor a "good home", and that it was Baylor's own fault for saying no.
And if one of Mizzou and Baylor said yes, it would seem a lot more likely for the other to do so as well. And then it would be a matter of filling the 12th spot. Clearly Kansas would be the best fit, given that Kansas is a basketball power and the Big East has the most basketball-centric identity of any AQ league. But if Kansas said no (due to Kansas St), they could then offer one of the non-AQ's instead of three of them, or they could take another Big 12 school like Iowa St (though it's hard to see why they would).
And ultimately, a combo of Mizzou, Kansas and Baylor, or Mizzou, Kansas and Kansas St, or Mizzou, Baylor and one non-AQ would be far better than having to settle for three non-AQ's. Of course, there's no guarantee that the Big East would want to move in that direction, and definitely no guarantee that any of those schools would actually say yes, but it actually makes some sense for the parties involved.
Of course, making that move would have all sorts of unforeseen consequences, since it'd pre-emptively blow up the Big 12, making Texas and the other Big 12 South programs total wild-cards, and the final result could potentially work out worse than hoped for the Big East and whoever it poached. But for the Big East, getting Big 12 North teams (and/or Baylor) would be far better than settling for a bunch of meh non-AQ options, and for everyone in the Big 12 that isn't comfortably part of the "in group" (i.e. Texas, A&M, Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma St), finding a safe landing (especially since there probably wouldn't be room for all of them) would seem like a better choice than sitting around and hoping that things all work out.
Mr Pac-10's 2010 Blog
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