It's still a bit premature to write obituaries for the Big 12...but at the pace a possible Pac-10 expansion is going, things are moving rapidly towards the demise of (at least) one of the six power conferences. And that begs the question: how exactly did we get here?
Yahoo!'s Dan Wetzel provides an excellent breakdown and dates the moment when things began to fall apart for the Big 12 to 2008, when league commissioner Dan Beebe sided with the Big 10 and Pac-10 in turning down an offer to create a plus-one playoff system in college football. Indeed, while the constant refrain has been that we as fans are stuck with the BCS "because of the money", the (obvious) reality is that a college football playoff system would be much more of a cash cow. As Wetzel notes, Big 10 commissioner Jim Delany conceded in congressional testimony that a 16-team playoff would garner about four times the revenue as the BCS system.
So why did the Big 12, Big 10 and Pac-10 conspire to kill it? Well, according to Wetzel, the Big 12 did so because they were dopes. But the Big 10 and Pac-10 apparently wanted to position themselves to take a bigger cut further down the line. If the major conferences had come together on a plus-one playoff system a few years ago, the revenue would have been split more or less evenly between them. By voting down the system, the Big 10 and Pac-10 bought time to aggressively pursue expansion, and set up their own television networks that create a new system of haves and have-nots in the college football landscape. If the two manage to cannibalize the Big 12, with the SEC likely to follow suit and do so to the ACC as well, these new mega-conferences will be positioned to rake in monumental sums if and when a playoff ever does come to college football.
So, in short, the Big 10 and Pac-10 were playing chess, and the Big 12 didn't even know there was a game going on.