When the leadership of Oklahoma and Texas spearheaded formation of the Big 12 in the mid-1990s, the goal was survival.
After all, the Big Ten’s footprint tripled the TV sets of both the Big Eight and Southwest conferences.
"What we were concerned about, candidly, for Oklahoma, was survival,” said then-OU athletic director Donnie Duncan, who with Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds put the Big 12 together. "We could not, in my opinion, be caught in a situation where we had 8 percent or less of the TV sets in the country and continue to be at the level that we all expected.
"It was a necessity to put the Southwest Conference and Big Eight together.”
The need for schools to expand TV revenue was what brought the Big 12 together.
It could also be what rips the league apart.
Various reports leaked out last week that the Big Ten is seeking to expand from 11 to 16 teams and create four four-team divisions within its conference.
Among the schools the Big Ten is rumored to be targeting include Big 12 members Missouri and Nebraska.
Neither school has publicly and directly addressed the prospective invite. But both Missouri and Nebraska have incentive to join the Big Ten.
Thanks to the cash flow from the lucrative Big Ten Network, the Big Ten is able to offer each of its schools $22 million annually in TV revenue.
Nebraska earned $9.1 million in TV dollars from the Big 12 in 2007, the most recent year tax records are made public.
Missouri, meanwhile, received $8.4 million.
"We should look at it if (an invite to the Big Ten) is offered,” Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon told reporters last week.
OU athletic director Joe Castiglione says that while the opportunity to increase revenue is the "driving force” behind conference realignment, schools should think twice about what else they might be giving up.
Missouri and Nebraska have expanded their recruiting bases to the talent-rich state of Texas because of the Big 12.
By going to the Big Ten, the ability to continue effectively recruiting Texas could wane.
"People are talking about what schools have to gain,” Castiglione said. "They also need to talk about what they may have to give up.”
Yet even if Missouri and Nebraska were to leave for the Big Ten, that in and of itself would not cause the demise of the Big 12. The league could replace its departed schools with the likes of TCU, Utah, New Mexico or BYU and continue to form a competitive league, thanks to a still powerful Big 12 South.
"If we happen to lose one member or two members — and I doubt that will happen, but if it did — there are some very strong programs that would be standing in the wings hoping to join the Big 12,” OU president David Boren told the Associated Press this past week.
But former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer warns the fall of one domino — like the Big Ten expanding to 16 teams — could lead to others, specifically SEC counter-expansion, which potentially could threaten the continuation of the Big 12.
"If the Big Ten only adds one or two schools, there might not be a huge change,” Kramer, the SEC’s commissioner from 1990 to 2002, told The Oklahoman. "But if the Big Ten goes to 16, then I think you’ll see the SEC take a serious look at expansion. That could include looking at teams in the ACC or the Big 12.”
No doubt, the gem of any expansion movement would be the University of Texas, the richest athletic program in the country, boasting major TV markets in Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston.
Said Kramer: "That’s the school everyone will be discussing.”
In 2007, Texas received $10.2 million in TV revenue, the most of any Big 12 school but still less than what SEC schools each currently get: about $17 million.
Dodds has said UT is wedded to the Big 12 and that won’t change "unless something drastic happens.”
"If (Texas considered leaving) that would surprise me,” said Duncan, who calls Dodds one of his closest friends.