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What Would The "National Conference" Look Like?

And welcome to Advanced Theoretical Realignment!

As one who follows realignment news fairly closely, I've seen some speculation that the ultimate end-game scenario for Texas is neither sticking with the Big 12 come hell or high water nor seeking independence.  Rather, the speculated-upon end-game for Texas is forming some sort of new uber-conference with Notre Dame and  . . . um, some other schools.

I've usually dismissed speculation about such a conference as just that: speculation.  Which quality schools could possibly be available for such a conference? But I began thinking about it this morning a bit and thought I saw a way this "National Conference," for lack of a better name, could actually take shape.

More after the jump...

Before I continue, I want to put the following in bold lest there be any confusion:

I know very well that what I am speculating about will almost certainly never happen. I am taking a theoretical outcome -- a new conference centered around Texas and Notre Dame -- and trying to discern any way it might happen.  I know that pretty much any school I mention will be a no-go for a number of reasons, which means that the odds of the National Conference actually taking shape are virtually nil, so I don't want to see my "thinking out loud" below interpreted here or elsewhere as "some idiot Longhorn blogger thinks [insert name of school here] is going to leave its current conference to join UT in a new conference."  I know that. This is an exercise in fun for us realignment geeks.

Now that the caveat is out of the way...

How would this new conference come about?

Some assumptions:

(1) Texas and Notre Dame are on-board.  Otherwise, no dice. Again, this presupposes Notre Dame giving up its identity as an independent, which is highly unlikely (as Peter says, ND will never join the Big 12).  But supposing there were a need, forming a new conference might give Notre Dame more control over things important to it than simply joining the Big 10 or Big East would.

(2) The TV dollars this new conference would generate would be enough to tempt the defection of a member or two from conferences like the Big 10 or the SEC otherwise seen as impregnable.  If the price is right, certain schools will play ball.  And with Texas and ND on board at the very least, I think it would be. (And if the TV dollars weren't in that range, there's no need to even contemplate any of this.)

(3) The goal is not to create the strongest football conference possible.  Oh, sure, in theory, a conference of ND, Texas, OU, USC, LSU, Bama, Michigan, OSU, FSU, Tennessee, Virginia Tech and Johns Hopkins sounds amazing.  But such a conference would be guaranteed to leave a handful of perennial powers under .500 and out of the bowl system entirely, not just the BCS.  The task is to pick an attractive mix of schools at various competition levels.

(4) Academics do matter, but we're not looking to create an alternative Ivy League.  It's folly to think that academics wouldn't play a part, and academically-inferior but otherwise-available schools like Boise State would be non-starters. But I would think, out of sheer necessity if nothing else, that there wouldn't be any sort of AAU-only rule or anything like that.  I'd also be willing to be a bit more willing to go on an academic reach with a state's flagship university than I might be with directional schools.

(5) Notre Dame would be joining so that they could play Texas.  Not Tech.  Not Baylor.  Which means no tagalongs allowed, which of course would create political problems not just for Texas but with at least a couple of the other schools I'm contemplating. But I could very much see this as an all-or-nothing issue for Notre Dame, and, frankly, I wouldn't blame them.

(6) The threat of the SEC and, to a lesser extent, the Big Ten leaves existing ACC schools a bit uneasy about what the future holds for the long-term stability of the conference.  This could manifest itself quickly if the SEC attempts to poach FSU or Clemson as a 14th member, but with the possible long-term possibility of 16-team super-conferences out there, those additional schools for the SEC and Big 10 would have to come from somewhere.

(7) Twelve, not ten, schools is the magic number. Having twelve schools, with divisions, lends itself more easily to eight-game conference schedules than does a ten-team conference which almost demands a nine-game round-robin schedule in this day and age. Having that extra available OOC could be a carrot to schools like ND -- and Texas -- to allow them an extra opportunity to play a traditional rival annually. For example, Texas could pledge to play either Baylor or Tech annually as part of a political settlement to get out of the Big 12.

So with the assumptions out of the way, which schools would actually comprise the National Conference? (And please note that since this is all very unlikely, I'm only going to give a cursory explanation of whether any school would actually join.  No real in-depth analysis to follow, in other words.)

(1) The Core Schools. I see an obvious four schools forming the core of any theoretical National Conference, with Oklahoma and BYU joining Texas and Notre Dame.  OU would have its OSU problem, but again I can't see ND joining any conference for the chance to play in Stillwater regularly.

(2) The Hey They're Available So Why Not Schools. This is where Kansas and Mizzou come into play. Both are good schools, and they'd certainly help fill those crucial mid-tier spots any conference needs.

So we're at six schools pretty quickly.  This is where things become dicey very quickly. Who else is available?

(3) The Service Academies. Air Force is in a conference, but neither Navy nor Army is, as they value their football independence almost as much as Notre Dame does. Would they join the National Conference?  For a chance to play in a conference with national exposure, perhaps.  From the perspective of the top-tier programs within the conference, these schools would fill the roles of the bottom feeders well, but with the benefit that a game against Navy is likely to command more national attention than a game against Iowa State does, given the national fan bases these schools have.

(4) Poachable ACC schools. Now I freely admit we're well within the territory of "almost certainly will never happen," as if we weren't there already, but if schools in the ACC felt vulnerable about the conference's long-term survival, why not through a life raft to North Carolina and Duke? Both have national fan bases.  Both are, of course, top tier academically UNC has always struck me as a undervalued football program waiting to wake up, and Duke again helps fill the "bottom-feeder with a bit higher national profile than the typical bottom-feeder" role. Neither school was thrilled with ACC expansion, so since it's no longer the conference it was years ago, why not consider leaving for greener pastures.

Hmmm.  Suddenly we have Kansas, Duke and UNC in the same conference.  What about...

(5) Kentucky. Yeah, I admit Kentucky sounds strange at first, but it makes sense for a few reasons. They'd be another good mid-tier football program.  (Again, a conference needs schools like that.)  But basketball . . . wow, just look at that conference beginning to form. Instantly the highest-profile basketball conference in the country.  (Yeah, I know, we all learned that basketball didn't matter at all during realignment.  But still...) The question is why they'd leave the SEC. I would think the only answer is that they are enough of a geographic and cultural outlier that throwing enough money their way could entice them in a way a Florida or a Alabama would never, ever be enticed.

(And as I type this, I realize one could just as easily substitute "Louisville" for "Kentucky" in that analysis. But I think Kentucky is a better initial prospect. And I like the idea of going after a state's flagship school.)

And now that a school has been poached from the SEC (Calm down SEC fans, I know this is just theoretical!  Y'all rule!  No one would ever leave your conference!!!!!), could a Big 10 school similarly be approached?

I can only think of one...

(6) Penn State. Similar to Kentucky in that the school is a bit of a geographic and cultural outlier in the Big 10.  (My impression is that many at PSU feel more kinship to the Mid-Atlantic and the East Coast than they do to the Midwest.) Plus they have only a couple of decades worth of allegiance to the Big 10.  Ultimately, they'd leave for the same reason Kentucky would: this Texas-ND conference gives them the opportunity to make more money than they already do in the Big 10. (And Michigan and OSU would never leave for the same reason Bama or Tennessee wouldn't leave the SEC: no amount of money is going to break through the tradition and cultural issues.) And this would give the National Conference an instant top tier of ND, UT, OU and PSU.

This gives us now 13 possible members for the 12-school National Conference:

  • Air Force
  • Army
  • BYU
  • Duke
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Missouri
  • Navy
  • North Carolina
  • Notre Dame
  • Oklahoma
  • Penn State
  • Texas

Not a bad conference, eh?  Certainly the best hoops conference around, and a football conference which would rival the existing power conferences for annual dominance on the field. And one which could command top-dollar television revenue.

(And, again, one that is almost certainly never going to happen.)

Now one ancillary issue is the extent to which a true "National Conference" would want to be in all four time zones and subsequently make a move for either USC and/or Stanford.  I would bet their existing rivalries with ND would make that an attractive option for the Irish to pursue.  So I suppose they could be considered as well, though with just as much likelihood of that happening as a UNC or a PSU leaving their current conferences.

So what do you think? What other theoretical paths exist for a Texas/ND-centric National Conference if this truly were the end game being contemplated?