The First Domino: Nebraska?Posted by rtmsf on June 10th, 2010
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences and an occasional contributor.
On a busy day in the sports world (Steven Strasburg, NBA Finals, USC sanctions, World Cup, Izzo to Cleveland, etc.), the most chatter throughout the land was about Nebraska either with one foot already in the Big Ten – or not, depending on who you ask.
Once again, Orangebloods.com and their columnist Chip Brown are leading the way on this, and he is reporting that this is close to a done deal. A quick run-down of his reporting:
- Nebraska’s Board of Regents has informally agreed to join the Big Ten and that would become official with an announcement on Friday.
- There is, in fact, an invitation from the Big Ten for Nebraska.
- Sources from Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech have intimated that if Nebraska leaves the Big 12, the conference would be beyond help.
- Texas president William Powers and athletic director DeLoss Dodds informed Texas coaches today that their attempts to save the Big 12 were unsuccessful.
- The Pac-10 will invite the six teams reported first last week — Colorado, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech — and those invitations will likely be accepted, with the new conference alignment going into effect in 2012-13.
- Officials from Texas and Texas A&M will meet on Thursday to confirm their plans in the event of the dissolution of the Big 12.
- Missouri, which has burned bridges with the rest of the current Big 12 members while attempting to garner an invitation to the Big Ten has been “getting the cold shoulder from the Big Ten” according to a Big Ten athletic director and could be on the outside looking in.
- Joe Schad of ESPN reports that the Big Ten remains interested in Notre Dame, and with Nebraska added, its fourteenth member is likely to be either Maryland or Rutgers.
- There is in fact a deadline of June 14 for Colorado, Missouri and Nebraska to commit to the Big 12.
- Baylor, which had been rumored as a possible Pac-10 invitee in lieu of Colorado, is off the table due to the objections of some Pac-10 administrators towards adding a religious institution.
Elsewhere, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen is reporting that Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne has informed staff members that a move to the Big Ten is imminent. And Nebraska’s move has been reported as finalized by Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune. Greenstein also quotes Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany as saying that the Big Ten could “act and act again,” read as that while the Nebraska invite appears to be the only imminent move, there could be additional moves by the Big Ten down the line. And Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Pac-10 invitations to the six current Big 12 schools are “locked and loaded.”
Osborne has since denied that there is any final decision made, has denied that he told his staff that the move was coming, no member of the Nebraska Board of Regents has gone on record confirming any of this, officials from both Texas and Nebraska have denied these reports and there has been no word from the Big Ten that an invitation has been extended to Nebraska. But, while there is no official, on-record confirmation of any of this at this point, there is an awful lot of smoke here for there to be no fire. It looks like the first domino has been pushed over, and the remaining dominoes could fall very quickly from here on out.
Starting with Nebraska, this is a huge move for an athletic department that prides itself on tradition. In making this move, they are cutting themselves off from their entire history. It has been more than 80 years since Nebraska has competed in a conference that did not include Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, and Oklahoma, but if they accept entry into the Big Ten, that link is over. While it still remains possible that Missouri could follow as well, the other four schools are clearly not bound for the Big Ten. From its administrators on down to its die-hard fan base, this move could not have been an easy one to make, certainly one that has been looked at from every angle before a decision was made. But if the decision has been made, Nebraska is just the first big stone in what looks like an avalanche to come.
For the college hoops fan, the Nebraska move is only important in terms of the other moves it triggers. Let’s face it, Nebraska is one of the weaker basketball schools historically of the current BCS conference schools. In their history, they have made the NCAA tournament six times, the last time 12 years ago. They have never won an NCAA Tournament game. Beyond that, they’ve made 16 NIT fields. That’s it, the sum total of Cornhusker success in basketball. But their impact on the way the sport’s landscape will look beginning in 2012 cannot be understated, something the Mayans clearly knew when they made their calendar.
For the Big Ten, this move is likely just the first in a series of moves, and one forced by timing. If the Big 12 had not issued their ultimatum, things could have played out a lot slower and the Big Ten may have been able to announce all their moves at once. But if serious talks were already ongoing between the Big Ten and Nebraska (and there is no reason to believe they weren’t), the ultimatum made Nebraska get assurances from the Big Ten that if they were to leave the rest of the Big 12 hanging, they would indeed get an invite.
The news about Missouri being ignored by the Big Ten is nearly as interesting as the news that Nebraska is going. Just a week ago it was assumed, by me at least, that Missouri and the Big Ten were a foregone conclusion and that Nebraska might be left out in the cold. Now there are reports that the only way Mizzou gets an invite to the Big Ten is if they decide to go all the way to 16, and even then, Missouri may have to fight off teams like Connecticut, Pitt and Syracuse to get the invitation.
Notre Dame still remains the Big Ten’s priority, even more so than Nebraska. However, the Big Ten is reported to have given Notre Dame a deadline to make its decision. Giving Notre Dame a deadline could spook the Irish if they feel like the Big Ten would raid the Big East for teams like Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and/or Connecticut, effectively gutting the Big East and killing off the football side of the equation there. It may be up to ND to call the Big Ten’s bluff if they figure (probably rightly) that the Big East basketball-only schools will remain together even if the football league dissolves.
And then there’s Pitt, rumored all along to at least be in the running for a Big Ten invitation. However, Jim Delany commented on Sunday that expanding the Big Ten’s presence in Pennsylvania is not a priority for the conference in expansion, despite the fact that 17 percent of the state does not have access to the Big Ten Network, the largest percentage of any state in the conference’s footprint. While that isn’t the last word on the subject, it looks like Pitt is running behind.
Pac-10 or Pac-16
For the Pac-10, the Nebraska move goes a long way toward turning it into the Pac-16. With Nebraska gone, Missouri looking for anywhere else to go, and Colorado already California dreaming, if Texas is sufficiently spooked about the long-term prospects of the Big 12, they’ll be headed west with the rest of the Big 12 six. Then, presumably, the Pac-16 creates its new cable network and….. profit! Along the way, the only remaining major conference with a full football round robin AND a full home-and-home basketball round robin expands to 16 and has to come up with some sort of plan to create a reasonable schedule in both sports, not an easy task.
Texas is, of course, the big fish for, well, any conference, really, but in this deal, it is the maker or the breaker for the Pac-10. If Texas agrees to go to join up with the Pac-16, the existing Pac-10 institutions will more or less take whoever they want to bring along, so long as there is no hint of religiosity to the institution, apparently. All the bluster earlier about the Pac-10 only interested in superior academic institutions fell by the wayside once Texas was interested. Oklahoma State? Sure! Texas Tech? Whatever! At the point, the Pac-10 would take the Hollywood Upstairs Medical College if it meant Texas would come along.
And, on the heels of an epically bad Pac-10 season in basketball, and with the immediate future not looking all that bright, a fresh infusion of talent and excitement could be just the thing the Pac-10 needs. Of course, the infusion of all the cash that is going to go along with the first major superconference as they negotiate their new television deals is nothing to sneeze at either.
There are still those that are convinced that the Big 12 can be saved. If Texas and Texas A&M are on board, all they’ll need to do is replace one school now that Nebraska has left, they say. In reality, they’ve lost Nebraska, but Missouri and Colorado are already somewhere else in their minds. Mizzou is done with the Big 12. They’ve long been unhappy with the lack of revenue sharing in the conference, and they’ve made absolutely no secret that they want to be invited to the Big Ten, at which point they would trip all over themselves to sign on the dotted line. Colorado as well would rather be in the Pac-10, and they’ll certainly get their wish. Even if (and we’re talking huge if here now), Texas decides to stick with the Big 12, the Pac-10 is committed to going to at least 12 according to the Dufresne article, and Colorado is one of those extra two.
Those that think the Big 12 can survive would say, hey, they can still just go grab BYU, TCU and Utah and they’ll be fine. Well, first, if Colorado goes to the Pac-10 and the others stay behind, it is going to be Utah that the Pac-10 goes after strong for their 12th team. And, if they want the Utes, they’ll get them. Second, even if the Big 12 were somehow able to get BYU, TCU, and Utah as replacements for Colorado, Missouri, and Nebraska, the six teams rumored to be headed to the Pac-10 would be dumb to stick around in the Big 12. Take Texas for example. Where would they be more likely to get more money in television revenue: in the new Pac-16, or the newly revamped Big 12? Clearly, the new Pac-16 would command higher prices than a Big 12 minus three of their historic institutions.
Face it. If Nebraska is indeed gone, so is the Big 12, relegated to the backwaters of history like the Southwest Conference.
The Big 12 leftovers
Assuming Missouri does get a Big Ten invite at some point, the Big 12 leftovers are: Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, and Kansas State, a group that includes the three best Big 12 basketball teams from last year. So, clearly, if you didn’t know it by now, basketball means absolutely nothing when considering conference expansion. I hate it, you hate it, Bill Self hates it, but them’s the facts.
“I think there are a lot of Kansas alums out there right now that are very concerned, that the face of our athletic department and our university could be changing, in the next 72 hours, for the next 30 years,” Self was quoted as saying. “I really believe that we need to be aligned with a BCS conference. It would be very disappointing to me if a team that’s won three national championships, and is one of the three winningest programs in college basketball, wouldn’t be a part of a BCS conference.”
He’s right. It’s disappointing, it’s concerning, it’s sad. And it’s going to happen anyway. If there is any good news, it might be that the term “BCS conference” will mean very little in the near future. There is talk that if this whole conference realignment thing reaches the nuclear conclusion of four 16-team conferences, a college football playoff is the next logical step, and that is probably true, but it is a discussion for another time and place. In the meantime, where do these Big 12 leftovers, and specifically Kansas, get left? Somebody somewhere would snatch them up, but if we throw out the SEC and ACC (who thus far have been refreshingly silent on the expansion front, an uneasy truce perhaps), there are only three real solutions (aside from independence): the Big East, the Mountain West and a new conference somewhere.
The Big East is perhaps only a possibility because there are so few other options, but if the Big Ten does indeed snatch one or more Big East programs, the Big East will be looking for a match and with Kansas looking for a new home, it could be a Big East member by default. Adding schools like Kansas and Kansas State would go a long ways toward not only bolstering the conference’s basketball slate, but also giving the conference a couple football schools to replace any that may depart.
The Mountain West makes somewhat better geographical sense, but is still regarded by the big boys as a lesser conference or a mid-major, and as a result, would probably be the least exciting destination for the castaways, but given its recent success swimming upstream against the BCS conferences in both football (a couple BCS bids in the past three years) and basketball (four NCAA tournament teams last season), the MWC is a rising power (full disclosure here: I covered the MWC for RTC last season and am an unabashed fan). With Boise State potentially joining the conference at some point in the near future, the conference’s football strength seems poised to increase, and the addition of some or all of the Big 12 leftovers could be a boon to the conference. Additionally, if the current BCS system remains intact, the MWC is the best positioned conference that does not currently receive an automatic qualifier to the BCS to gain that automatic qualifier in the future.
The final possibility for the Big 12 outcasts is creating a new conference of some sort, perhaps with the leftovers of other conferences, likely the Big East but perhaps also Conference USA, if the conference realignment fiasco goes viral. If the Big Ten does go to 16 and take a couple or three Big East teams, the remaining Big East football teams like Louisville, South Florida and West Virginia may be possible partners in a new conference with the Big 12. Again, this is even several decision points down the line from where we are right now, but should all the dominoes fall the right way, this could be the best option for Kansas and company down the line.
In the end, here’s the point of this story: all that speculation about what can and might happen? Well, it’s here. Dominoes are falling, and as dominoes tend to do when they fall, other dominoes are being affected. There is some talk that Congress might poke their noses in and begin some anti-trust investigations, but as for now, it is full-speed ahead and the Big 12 is the first conference to get cannibalized. By the end of the week, you should fully expect these rumors to become fact, maybe as quickly as tomorrow. And as that happens, new rumors will pop up and those will prompt other possibilities. This isn’t going away anytime soon, and by the time the college sports fan looks up in 2012, it will be a whole new ballgame.