Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West conferences and an occasional contributor.
When we first started looking at all the possible ramifications of Big Ten expansion and the ensuing conference realignment, we knew this was going to be crazy. This week, as the first dominoes have officially fallen, we’re getting a better feel for just how crazy it is, as new rumors fly by the hour and every move that gets made signals another set of decisions that need to be discussed and everybody’s got an opinion about what could happen, what should happen, and what will happen.
Today, another couple dominoes fell, as Nebraska officially announced its agreement to join the Big Ten and Boise State officially announced its intention to join the Mountain West. Not only do both announcements end days, weeks, even months of speculation and at the same time trigger a whole new round of speculation, each comes with something of a surprised attached.
First, Nebraska, the biggest domino (at least until Tuesday). While the announcement was expected today after a wild week, there were plenty of surprises tied in with the announcement, the biggest and boldest being that rather than begin play in the Big Ten in 2012, they hope to kickoff the 2011 season playing in the Big Ten, meaning next year may well be the last year of existence of the Big 12, and likely a wild and emotional one at that. Other surprises include the fact that according to what was said today, it was Nebraska that first approached the Big Ten about membership, rather than the other way around, and the comment by Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said that they weren’t likely to be interested in any further Big 12 schools. While that last little bit of BCS-conference commissioner gossip may be little more than game-of-telephone talk, it cannot do anything to comfort Missouri, who more and more looks like they will be left out of the Big Ten when the wheeling and dealing is done.
Nebraska’s move will likely trigger the full-fledged collapse of the Big 12, as Texas drags most of the rest of the Big 12 west to the new Pac-16 superconference, something we saw as a possibility six weeks back, but perhaps never really believed. There are still questions as to who else beyond Texas will make it to the Pac-16, as Texas A&M is in serious talks with the SEC regarding a new home for the Aggies there, possibly with Virginia Tech, although other schools ranging from other Big 12 schools to ACC football powers could still be in the mix there. Oklahoma has also been tied to SEC rumors, but their athletic director Joe Castiglione said yesterday that they would be following Texas’ lead and the Oklahoman reported today that OU and OSU are definitely heading west, although they will wait until Texas makes their decision official to follow suit. As of right now, it looks like Texas will announce on Tuesday their intention to join the Pac-10, and sometime after that, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech will follow, with the 16th spot going to Texas A&M if they are willing to take the leap. If not, Kansas and Utah seem to be the most likely candidates. Also note that with the Nebraska announcement that they will begin play in the Big Ten in 2011, it is possible that the Pac-16 will also be in effect that same year, one year earlier than expected.
Speaking of Utah, they are, for the time being, conference mates with Boise State in the Mountain West, a move that makes an already strong conference even stronger, at least football-wise. (As an aside, we’ve talked about how this conference realignment action really shows that basketball is the red-headed step-child to football, and just to drive that point home, the first three dominoes in the chain reaction, Colorado, Nebraska and Boise State, are all complete non-factors in college basketball). The Boise State announcement was originally expected on Monday, but after last weekend’s eruption of rumors regarding the Pac-16, et al, both the Mountain West Conference and Boise State found it prudent to take a step back and re-assess their position in the case of the Pac-16 becoming a reality and the Big 12 dissolving. Clearly, they found that as the rumor became reality this week, the dissolution of the Big 12 did not hurt the conference, and in fact, may provide the conference the opportunity to grow. Teams like Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri may be within reach for the Mountain West, with Kansas being the most attractive target, but also perhaps the least likely get. Baylor would be a very good fit for the conference as a regional partner for TCU, but all of the Big 12 leftovers will at least get a look from MWC commissioner Craig Thompson. Thompson confirmed on Friday that he has already been in contact with some Big 12 institutions and sees this as an opportunity for the MWC to get better.