Remember how in 2011 the Big 12 was in danger of losing a cluster of schools? No, not the cluster that actually left. The even bigger one.
Texas, Oklahoma, and a couple of buddies were reportedly mere handshakes away from bolting for the Pac-12, thereby sending the four dumb years of television-powered conference realignment into an even dumber tailspin. Luckily for almost all of us, the Big 12 instead lost Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and Texas A&M; picked up TCU and West Virginia; and remained afloat.
At the time, multiple outlets reported that the Big 12's soon-to-be-abandoned remnants and the remains of the ACC-scavenged Big East were thinking merger. Now, via a conversation ESPN's Brett McMurphy had with West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, we know exactly what that new conference would've looked like:
Luck's plan, which also had the support of Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich, was also to add UCF for a 12-team Big East divided into two divisions: West: Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, TCU and Louisville; East: UConn, Cincinnati, Rutgers, West Virginia, South Florida and UCF.
"I remember thinking: 'That's not a bad conference,'" Luck said. "And we would have kept the affiliation with the (Big East) basketball schools, because they loved the addition of Kansas. They (the Big 12 schools) also liked it. They were nervous as hell, too. We had a series of phone calls. That was sort of our best option."
That is actually a decent all-around conference.
In football, the divisions would've stacked up something like this since the move, based on Football Study Hall's four-year F/+ stat (link is slightly out of date, but close enough for our purposes).
The East would've been respectable, and likely had a BCS-bowl-worthy team or two along the way (and, based on the last Fiesta Bowl, certainly could've won the conference). But the West would've been one of college football's best divisions, with Baylor and Louisville playing some of the best ball in their school histories and K-State always being tough.
Access to high school talent would've been a big strength, with multiple schools in Texas and Florida, plus presences in Ohio, near Pennsylvania, and near the DMV.
As far as realignment-y things like major TV markets go, it's somewhat lacking. And this makeup assumes the ACC wouldn't have been able to grab Louisville and perhaps another school like Cincinnati -- which would've been even more likely if the Pac-12 had pushed the doomsday MEGACONFERENCE button and potentially sent the other power conferences into a whole new level of panic.
But it's at least a little comforting to know that when realignment had reached DEFCON 2, somebody in charge of something somewhere had a backup plan.
Elsewhere in realignment what-ifs: Rock M Nation on what if Missouri had gone to the Big Ten.