The bombshell of Wednesday that Colorado — a former member of the Big 12, current member of the Pac-12 and now reportedly a future Big 12 member — reverberated throughout the college athletics landscape and sent shockwaves that will affect realignment related to athletics across the country for months (and months and months!) to come.
So what’s next?
Realistically, despite how out-of-left-field Colorado’s move caught everyone, there are only a few viable potential moves the Big 12 could make to solidify its future in the new market and establish itself a formidable major conference that could rival the SEC and Big Ten’s new super-structures. Even a Colorado-to-the-Big-12 stunner — and it was a stunner — doesn’t appear to be in the cards if you examine the current landscape.
So here are four paths I think the Big 12 could take next.
1. Adding the remaining Four Corners Schools
The ideal addition(s) to the Big 12 from the Pac-12 always seemed to be the Four Corners Schools — Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah. Well, well, well: one down.
Colorado’s move to the Big 12 could open up the door for the other three schools to follow suit. Remember: the reason Colorado was receptive to leaving the Pac-12 to begin with was because the league’s uncertain future related to TV deals. With USC, UCLA and now Colorado leaving, that should only be more realistic as Arizona, Arizona State and Utah consider their options.
2. Leaning into basketball value
There was a time in the not-too-distant past when Gonzaga was thought to be on the verge of joining the Big 12 and UConn was considered a very real expansion candidate. TBD on where things stand on both those schools now, but if the Big 12 and Brett Yormark wants to expand the league and build its brand as the best basketball conference in America, adding UConn — the reigning national champion — and Gonzaga — the best basketball brand on the west coast not named UCLA — would be an amazing addition (even if their football value would obviously be a net negative).
3. … nothing [watching, waiting]
Reverting from actively expanding to actively watching and waiting for the dominoes to fall may be a viable plan for the Big 12. Similar to the NBA’s star landscape, where teams with assets like to keep their powder dry in the event a superstar becomes unhappy and wants a trade elsewhere, the Big 12 could watch and wait to see if some schools — Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, Oregon, etc. — becomes unhappy with its current situation and wants out.
The Big Ten would seemingly be in position to poach other programs as well, but for now the league has said it is focused on transitioning UCLA and USC into the league and signaled it has no plans to add beyond that. That could be a win for the Big 12, which is positioned now to add to its portfolio programs from the AAC and Pac-12 in a footprint that spans across every time zone in the U.S.
4. Mixing and matching
If you can’t settle on a direct path for next steps, why not mix and match?
There’s no rule that says the Big 12 can’t expand with a little of both — basketball-rich programs and unhappy Pac-12 programs.
If you could get UConn and Arizona, for instance, but couldn’t get Gonzaga, Arizona State and Utah, then that’d be a nice diversification of assets both that would add value to the basketball side and to the football side.
It seems unlikely UConn would leave the Big East, and I don’t think it should — and of course no one really knows what Arizona brass thinks of all this. But with the expansion wheels in motion and realignment in full tilt, the Big 12 suddenly looks like a stable and growing powerhouse conference that could provide appeal.