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AMES — Dealing with realignment isn’t new for Iowa State. Joining a new conference would be.
A decade ago, the Big 12 landscape shifted when Nebraska, Missouri, Colorado and Texas A&M all split.
The divide seemed to stem from Oklahoma and Texas utilizing their blue blood status as a means of taking control of the conference. And for the last decade, that’s essentially what happened.
Now, Oklahoma and Texas could be forgoing their control to go to the SEC, a move that would make the most powerful conference in college football even stronger.
That same move could lead to the dissolution of the Big 12, because there’s no replacing Oklahoma or Texas in terms of brand power or marketability.
Iowa State’s conference history
Iowa State first joined the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1908, which was the Cyclones’ home until 1927. Iowa State won its only conference football championship in the Missouri Valley when it won it in back-to-back years in 1911 and 1912.
Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Washington-St. Louis and Drake founded the conference and Kansas State, Iowa State, Grinnell, Oklahoma and Oklahoma A&M (later Oklahoma State) joined later.
In 1928, the conference split apart and Iowa State, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Kansas State formed the Big 6, which eventually evolved into the Big 8 and then the Big 12.
The Cyclones have been in the same conference since its inception, after having independent status from 1892 to 1907.
Recent conference realignment
When Colorado (Pac-12), Missouri (SEC), Nebraska (Big Ten) and Texas A&M (SEC) broke apart and joined new conferences in 2010 and 2011, it put the Big 12 in flux.
It was reported then that Iowa State athletics director Jamie Pollard was an instrumental figure in keeping the conference together. At the time, salvaging the Big 12 was exactly what Iowa State needed because it wasn’t in a great position to land in another top-tier conference. The upgrades to Jack Trice Stadium hadn’t happened, yet and neither had the facility upgrades.
Current conference realignment
Before last week, conference realignment talks weren’t expected to pick back up until 2024-25, when the Big 12’s current TV contract expires.
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said during the Big 12 media days, “A lot of the motivation for realignment is no longer there. Is that to say it couldn’t happen? No, it could possibly happen for other reasons than TV money. But it doesn't appear to me that the motivation is there at this point in time. Not to say it couldn't happen, but it's not one of the things that keep me up at night.”
It might be keeping him up at night now.
Ten years ago, the best thing for Iowa State was for the Big 12 to stay together and that's what Pollard did. Now, head coach Matt Campbell has brought the football program to new heights in a time when football continues to be the driving force.
Add in the $90 million facility upgrades and the current upgrades happening to Jack Trice Stadium and the Cyclones have never been better positioned to land in another power conference, which begs the question: What conference could Iowa State land in?
Currently, there seems to be two prevailing thoughts for Iowa State to land in another power conference.
The first, and probably most popular with Iowa State fans, would be the geographically-friendly Big Ten.
Pollard has connections to high-ranking Big Ten officials, the first being Barry Alvarez, the new Big Ten football czar. He was Pollard’s mentor at Wisconsin and Pollard maintains a good relationship with him. Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith was Iowa State’s athletics director from 1993-2000 and still talks fondly of his time in Ames.
The other option would be the Pac-12 absorbing most of the remaining Big 12 and creating a hypothetical Pac-12 East with Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Utah and Texas Tech. A Pac-12 West in this scenario would be Cal, Oregon, Oregon State, USC, UCLA, Stanford, Washington and Washington State.
Pac 12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff went on ESPN on Friday to discuss realignment.
“I consider the Pac-12 an exclusive club with a high barrier to entry,” Kliavkoff said. “We love the schools and teams we have today. We’re not actively seeking to poach any teams from any conference, but we’d be foolish not to listen if schools call us.”
A decade ago, the Cyclones would’ve been in a precarious situation if the Big 12 had folded. Now, if the Big 12 dissolves, Iowa State is at least better positioned to land in another Power Five conference.