The first step is now out of the way... sort of.
For the first time since Conference Realignment Part Deux reared its ugly head, officials from Texas A&M have let their intentions be known.
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, A&M president R. Bowen Loftin said: "As I have indicated previously, we are working very deliberately to act in the best long-term interests of both Texas A&M and the state of Texas. This truly is a 100-year decision. While we understand the desire of all parties to quickly reach a resolution, these are extremely complex issues that we are addressing methodically."
During the past couple of weeks, Loftin and other A&M officials had confirmed that conversations between the Aggies and the SEC were ongoing, but this was the first we've seen in terms of them saying that they are actively pursuing their options.
Many have believed all along that the Aggies will leave the Big 12, leaving the conference, which lost Colorado and Nebraska a year ago, with just nine teams. Conference and university officials have said the league would and could survive with nine teams but the rumor mill has been hot with talk about which schools the Big 12 might pursue should they look to expand to 10, 12 or even 16 in the wake of A&M's departure.
With A&M all but gone — all that needs to happen now is the SEC has to invite them officially and the Aggies have to cough up some cash — let's turn our attention to potential replacements.
Here's a quick look at what's being talked about around the web regarding the new-look Big 12.
This report, from the Dallas Morning News, says SMU is openly auditioning for a spot.
This one, from Vahe Gregorian of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, says Notre Dame, BYU and Air Force are at the top of the Big 12's wish list.
This one's short but sweet and says the Louisville likely won't leave the Big East even if invited to the Big 12.
Houston's another name that keeps popping up. Here's where the Cougars stand as of a couple of weeks ago.
Some of these are a week or so old. Some are fresh. But now that A&M's out in front of this thing a little bit, expect the rumors to start flying again.
The guess here is that the Big 12 will sit at nine teams until it's reasonably sure that it can make a splash with expansion. Does that include Notre Dame? It should. But if the Irish truly aren't interested, then it wouldn't have to.
Adding Notre Dame would be hitting the jackpot, one of those where the coins come pouring out so fast you can't keep your bucket in front of them fast enough.
But if Notre Dame chooses to remain independent or explores a home elsewhere, there are plenty of other prizes that would pad the Big 12's pocket book just fine. It may take a few pulls to get there, but my guess is it would be worth the wait.