As things are right now? Absolutely not…but hold on.
College football is like the weather. If you don't like, just wait a little while and it will change. With all the smoke about Pac 10 and Big 10 expansion (which would all but force Big East expansion), real, significant change in the college football landscape could be right around the corner. With the Big 10 making a (likely unsuccessful) push for Texas and possibly Mizzou and the Pac 10 making a similar push at Texas and Colorado, the Big 12 could find itself in a position where it had to scramble to find new conference mates in order to keep its two-division and a championship format.
The best reason these articles give for Tech's inclusion in a reshuffled Big 12 or SWC is that the conference needs a recruiting stronghold in Louisiana. It's no secret that Louisiana produces some of the top talent in the country along with Texas, Florida, and California. When you look at the talent Louisiana produces per capita, it's even more impressive. I wonder though, if the conference really needs a school in a state to successfully recruit the state. Louisiana is already heavily recruited by all the major conferences. Out of state AQ programs pick up some great "leftovers" after programs like LSU, USC, and UT have taken their favorites.
Another reason Tech has come up in these (wild) speculations is that we are a great geographical fit for any conference with a number of Texas teams. Four short hours from DFW and not much longer to Houston puts Tech right in the footprint of the Big 12 or the new SWC. The same could be said for some other programs that are on better financial footing that Tech. Programs like TCU, SMU, UTEP, Tulsa, and Houston are also right there in close proximity to most Big 12 South members. One of Tech's few advantages over those schools is that there is no Big 12 team in Louisiana. The great markets of the teams listed above are already owned by the Big 12 and they really don't add that much.
Talk of markets necessitates that we talk about the negatives…
I love Ruston, LA. It's one of my favorite places in the world. It's also 25K strong with no local news station and a very small news paper. Put up a map of the southwest and throw a dart. Chances are your dart landed pretty close to a college town with a bigger market than Ruston. It is true that there are a decent amount of folks in the Monroe metro area (I think they've got a school there too) and a quarter million down the road in Shreveport/Bossier, but Tech's ability to hold those markets is often questioned and was one of the reasons CUSA looked at UTEP during their last round of expansion. It would be great if our small market was our biggest negative. If you start bringing teams like OU, Nebraska, UT, or A&M to town regularly (even if that town is Shreveport), you'll start to see much better support from Monroe and Shreveport. Part of our market issue would be fixed with inclusion in one of the AQ conferences. But alas, our small market is one of the easiest negatives to over come…
Louisiana Tech does more with less than a lot of folks. The problem is that's not exactly a virtue to the big boys. You can almost feel them saying, "It's great that you do more with less. Now, go get some more." These big programs have big bucks and they are floated by big time donors. It's true that inclusion in an AQ would almost double Tech's budget just from the conference pay-out, but that budget would hardly put us in a position to be competitive with the teams that currently make up the Big 12. If Tech is ever to be seriously considered by a big time conference, the fans are going to have to step up and really start giving back to the school. Since Dooley was hired, our numbers have improved drastically and that's a credit to him and the vision he was able to get folks to buy into (a vision that at least two internet yahoos apparently bought and that's why Tech is even mentioned). That said we've still got a LONG way to go. Is it even possible?
It's possible, but it's not probable. Tech has been blessed by a group often affectionately referred to as the Big 5. These are wealthy donors who have given the lion's share over the last several decades. Now, if the Big 5 suddenly became the Big 10…or the Big 25…or the Tech Team 100 (with 100 actual members), we might be on the right road. I'm looking at a copy of 100 Dollars & an Idea and thinking of two brothers in Texas who could give Tech a T. Boonesque Booster shot to improve our viability at the highest level. But, billionaires don't become billionaires by making poor investments. Guys with the big bucks want to see a plan. They want to know where their money is going and exactly what the result of their going "all-in" will be. I do feel that if any of this talk began to heat up, the Big 5 would certainly have more folks in line to help out.
So, is Tech really on the short list to replace a conference bolting AQ program? No. I'm certainly glad that Tech is mentioned, but it doesn't seem very realistic right now. That said it might not be a bad idea to have that as the ultimate goal. CUSA is a great conference and most Tech fans would be thrilled to be admitted there once all the expansion dust settles. But, CUSA is not likely to ever have a team play for a national championship. The gap between AQ conferences and non-AQ conferences is wide and with the next round of realignment, it could get even wider.
The long-term goal of our athletic department HAS to be inclusion in one of these AQ conferences. Sure it sounds silly right now, but that doesn't change the fact that we should set our goals high. That's when you'll get folks who WANT to "buy in" to the program. I recall a comment by Howard Schnellenberger when discussing their new stadium. He simply stated that the goal was to get into an AQ conference. I'm sure folks in Miami, Tallahassee, and Gainesville got a real kick out of that, but I think Howard's point was that if don't have the goal in mind now, we'll never be ready if the opportunity ever arrives.
No, Tech's opportunity has not likely arrived, but it might not be a bad thing to conduct business as if our opportunity to join an AQ conference is right around the corner. A former Tech kicker, Chris Boniol, is from my home town. His dad coached baseball and football at my high school. He had a saying for players who were over-exuberant after a win. He'd simply shake his head and say, "Act like you've been there." The first step for Tech supporters might be that we don't laugh when a suggestion is made about our fit for an AQ conference. Maybe we should "act like we've been there" and see what we can do to make that dream a reality.