Every few years, NCAA conference realignment boils to the surface and erupts like a Yellowstone geyser spraying a mist of change and panic all over those who care about college athletics. Lately, it seems as if those eruptions are happening with more frequency as hardly a summer goes by without a seismic shift in the landscape. The 2023 round of musical chairs is was perhaps the biggest shuffling of the cards in the history of the NCAA leaving the Big 10 with 18 members, the Big 12 with 16 (both beginning next summer), and the PAC-12 as we knew it just a memory. Fortunately, the Texas Tech football program (and make no mistake, though this drama impacts all sports, it’s primarily based on the money football generates) has landed in a safe spot. But for how long?
There’s reason for Red Raider fans and everyone associated with Texas Tech to be breathing a sigh of relief these days. Though the fate of the Big 12 was not in doubt this summer, it was just over two years ago that the buzzards were circling overhead when Texas and Oklahoma dropped the surprising news that they were heading to the SEC.
At that time, it was widely believed that the Big 12 would be the target of poachers in the form of other Power 5 conferences. In fact, though it may seem laughable in August of 2023, in 2021, many people thought that the PAC-12 would be the likely landing spot for a number of the left behind Big 12 orphans.
That was the second time in less than a decade that the PAC-12 had been rumored to be the future home of Big 12 schools after Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Tech were an eyelash away from receiving invites to the PAC-12 in 2014.
However, that year, then PAC-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, gave into the arrogance of many of his school presidents and decided to thumb his nose at the thought of giving safe harbor to any Big 12 schools in a move that would be the first domino to fall in the chain of events that now has Scott’s former conference down to just four members on board for 2024-25.
Now, after Scott’s replacement, George Kliavkoff, failed to land a new media rights deal worth more than a box of animal crackers being as USC and UCLA are destined for the greener pastures of the Big 10, Texas Tech and the rest of the eight Big 12 schools spurned by Texas and OU two years ago are in the best position any could have hoped for.
Make no mistake, had the Big 12 not acted swiftly to accept Houston, Cincinnati, Central Florida, and BYU in September of 2021, the conference would not have been in a place of strength to negotiate a new media rights deal last fall, a deal that set the conference up to then draw Arizona, Colorado, Arizona State, and Utah into the fold this summer (though the latter two of those programs are coming on board begrudgingly).
In other words, the Big 12 was once in the same position that the PAC-12 has been in for the past year. That means that schools such as Texas Tech, Kansas State, Iowa State, and Baylor sat perilously close to being in the disastrous place that PAC-12 holdovers Washington State, Oregon State, Stanford, and Cal find themselves in this summer; without a seat at a table in a conference capable of giving its members a competitive annual payout.
So take a breath Texas Tech fans and appreciate the fact that our beloved program has found a way to stay at the big kids’ table for what is likely to be another decade (hopefully). Still, the next round of conference realignment is almost certainly on the horizon and that will leave the Red Raiders once again sweating things out. That’s just the reality of not being considered one of the cool kids on the national scene and not being the primary university for a major media market.
It is popular among national media members to predict that the future of college athletics could be a world where there are just one or maybe two “super conferences” that break away from the NCAA and form their own league. What that ultimately looks like in regards to the number of teams is anyone’s guess but the television networks will have the final say and that’s not necessarily good news for Texas Tech.
At best, Tech will be in the group of schools left sweating out the next round of realignment if the above scenario comes to fruition. That’s similar to the position the school was in when the Big 12 was formed in the mid-1990s and during the last decade as the Big 12 has been the epicenter of college sports’ latest geologic shakeup.
So what can the Red Raiders do now to improve their chances of remaining relevant the next time Pandora’s Box is opened? Well…simply put…win and win big.
The only factor in Tech’s control is the product that they put on the field, and more importantly, on television. If the Red Raiders can come to be one of the dominant programs in a Big 12 that is now devoid of a blue-blood program or a bully to hold the mid-tier programs at bay, then there is an excellent chance that they will survive another round of realignment.
Raising the program’s national profile is a must and that will mean that McGuire will need to do something that no Texas Tech head coach has done in the Big 12 era, win a conference title (or two…or three). Doing so would almost certainly put his program into the College Football Playoff, especially once it expands to 12 teams in 2024-25 and make Tech a greater ratings draw. That’s the same goal for every Big 12 member starting next season when the conference becomes a collection of good but not dominant programs trying to fill the void left by Texas and OU.
Someone is going to rise to the top of this newly configured league, one that could be one of only three major conferences left standing if the ACC collapses as many are predicting with Florida State and possibly other schools trying to leave the league with the worst media rights deal of any major conference in the country.
If Texas Tech wants to make sure that the next eruption of college athletics doesn’t end with catastrophic results in West Texas similar to what the current one has done to the four remaining PAC-whatever members, it would behoove Tech to start winning big and start winning now. No pressure Coach McGuire but the fate of the university may rest in your hands.