The news of the day isn't really "news," because it's old: Texas A&M is leaving the Big 12. We've heard that for the last few weeks, but today the school sent out a press release announcing that they will submit an application to join another conference. We also know which conference that is: the SEC. That will likely be announced in the next few days.
So what's next for the Big 12? In the conference's perfect world, they add three teams -- BYU, Notre Dame, and Arkansas for example -- and get back to 12 members. But Notre Dame won't come -- they already have a Big East affiliation in everything but football, and their campus is right in the middle of Big 10 country. Even if the Irish decide to shed their independent status as a football team, it won't be to play in the Big 12.
After reading this article, I think that Arkansas makes some sense. But at the end of the day, the risk of the Big 12 imploding and leaving Arkansas without conference affiliation is probably too great for that school to make the move.
BYU does make sense. Their football team is beginning its first year as an independent, so they have nothing to lose if they join the Big 12 and it eventually dissolves. Also, by joining a conference, BYU would help itself as far as scheduling and playing meaningful games in October and November, which currently is not the case.
After that, several other schools have been mentioned: TCU (I can't see them bailing on their Big East commitment), SMU, Houston, Memphis, and others. I had a chance to talk with SMU athletic director Steve Orsini on Tuesday, and he was campaigning on his school's behalf (one of his big points is that SMU immediately becomes the second-best academic school in the conference, behind Texas). For college football fans in Dallas, SMU joining the Big 12 would be a coup. But I have a hard time envisioning conference commissioner Dan Beebe deciding that SMU, Houston, and Memphis are suitable replacements for Colorado, Nebraska, and now A&M.
The Big 12 is in a tough spot. It obviously has to add at least one team to stabilize, and preferably three. With Texas looming such a large shadow over the conference, it's hard to imagine a true big dog (Notre Dame) joining. But if the conference adds three mid-majors, its overall toughness drops. Remember a few years ago, when Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, and Chase Daniels were playing? The Big 12 could make an argument that it was the best football conference in the country. Those days would be over.
It seems to be a foregone conclusion that the future of college football will include "mega conferences" - 16-team conferences divided up by region. When people talk about these conferences, there seem to be four: the Pac-10 (West), the Big 10 (Midwest), the SEC (Southeast), and either the Big East or the ACC (East Coast).
The Big 12 is trying to survive. And not just this year, but in the years and decades to come.