Normally, the offseason hasn't been going on nearly long enough for us to poke at the conference realignment ideas bag. But the fallout from the Big 12's conference championship vote actually could potentially impact Ohio State in the future, so here we are.
For those that haven't been following the story, representatives from the FBS conferences voted earlier this week to allow the Big 12 to potentially hold a championship game without dividing into divisions or expanding to 12 teams. You would think that this would probably defuse realignment talk and drama with the Big 12 for a little while. But then you'd be wrong, because Oklahoma's university president, David Boren, has been very adamant about what he wants. Boren still wants the Big 12 to expand, and he wants them to start a conference network, even if that means taking an axe to the Longhorn Network.
That may be a tall order, given that it's pretty clear that not everybody in the Big 12 wants to expand, or could even agree on who to add if they did. Texas also isn't about to let go of their money-printing TV channel unless they earned financial concessions from everybody else. Plus, who's to say ESPN would even want to start a Big 12 network right now?
So that is all interesting from a national perspective. But Ohio State fans may be most interested in what Boren said to the Tulsa World about what might happen with the Sooners if the Big 12 doesn't take those steps. Here's the full quote:
Q: I understand the Big Ten Conference essentially has a standing invitation to OU. Can you say if that's true or not?
A: "Well, I wouldn't comment on that. I don't think it would be appropriate to comment. I would say that there are no official outstanding invitations from anyone right now, but there are always, always informal conversations that we get approached (with) from time to time, and I think the strength of our program, we're always considered a Top 10 program in the country. So we're always attractive to the conferences. We have comprehensive strength. We're talking about football, we're talking about basketball, we're talking about gymnastics, other things. We have a very strong, comprehensive program. Our brand, I noticed in one of the magazines recently, they measured the worth of the top brands in the country, as they saw it, athletically, and we were in the top six, ranked in that fashion. So I think there are always opportunities for Oklahoma.
Wait. What? Let's try to unpack that for a second.
Throughout this interview, Boren is pretty clear that he would prefer to stay in the Big 12. It makes sense, after all. OU has historical ties with most of the member institutions, they're a very influential member of a power conference, they have financial flexibility; it's a good gig. But Boren has also been very clear that he is not happy with the status quo of the Big 12, or where it stands relative to other power conferences. It certainly isn't the most stable. It doesn't have a conference title game (... yet). And when this round of Grant of Rights agreements end (in the 2020s), one could easily argue they have multiple members who could be attractive to other conferences. Including, say, Oklahoma.
So being public about this sort of this can be a way of trying to influence his other presidents to fall in line. We need to do X Y and Z, or else some universities who have other options might be tempted to look elsewhere. Universities like this one.
But 'essentially a standing invitation to the Big Ten'? Is that possible? Likely? What would that mean?
Per the USA TODAY database, Oklahoma has the seventh largest athletic department in the country. It's not just a football power, but solid in basketball (Top 3 in KenPom at the moment) and a slew of other non-revenue sports, which would make it an attractive addition to any conference, from the Pac-12, SEC, to sure, the Big Ten. Given that the western flank of the conference seems to be lagging as far as football is concerned, Oklahoma could potentially be a huge upgrade.
But Oklahoma also isn't in the AAU, and lags behind the academic reputations of virtually every other member institution, something the Big Ten purports to care about. That could be mitigated a little if the conference decided to add another AAU member at the same time (say, Kansas, or hell, Texas), and it's also possible OU's athletic profile is so excellent that the conference might decide to ignore academics. If OU had to take Oklahoma State with them due to political pressures, however, it's nearly impossible to see Big Ten administrators agreeing to take them.
Big Ten expansion is not very likely in the next several years. Ohio State fans would be perfectly fine if the league never expanded again either, since any additional team means the Buckeyes would play traditional Big Ten opponents like Iowa or Wisconsin a little less often. But Oklahoma might be enough to forget all of that tradition mumbo jumbo. It would be a huge jolt for football, give Ohio State some excellent games, and make a more competitive league in virtually every sport.
You shouldn't bet on it happening. But it is a fun thought. And it'll make the Big 12 meetings next month a little more exciting for everybody to watch, including Buckeye faithful.