Judging by the news of the last 24 hours, it seems almost like a foregone conclusion that it’s a matter of when, not if, Nebraska divorces its old flame the Big 12 and shacks up with the financially-flush Big Money Man on Campus, the Big Ten.
If that were to happen — and it’s not yet official; kinda like you can’t sorta be pregnant — what would be the next conference domino to fall? Or, would there even be additional dominoes tipped over as a result of Nebraska’s purported move?
Based on reports over the past few days, Nebraska leaving the Big 12 would create a domino effect that could not only cripple — and probably demolish — the Big 12 itself, but would be the “conference apocalypse” that could forever change the collegiate landscape and, possibly, force Notre Dame out of its football independence.
Here’s a look at how just one simple move — Nebraska opting out of Big 12 membership — could trigger a chain of events that would render the current conference alignment obsolete.
Over the weekend, first-year commissioner Larry Scott was given permission by Pac-10 presidents to advance the expansion process. Out of four scenarios reportedly on the table for Scott to advance the process, the one most desirable from a financial standpoint involves the Big 12.
In that preferred scenario, the Pac-10 would be eyeing half of the current Big 12 — Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado.
Texas reportedly would prefer to stay in the Big 12, but only if Nebraska remains a member. If the Lincoln school were to ply their athletic wares in the Midwest, the financial juggernaut in Austin would take their balls — and gloves and sticks and javelins — to the West Coast, and would be followed in quick succession by the five other members of what is — for now — the Big 12.
If you’ve lost count, that’s seven members of the Big 12 no longer members of the Big 12. Which would lead us to…
This conference would cease to exist. Missouri, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State and Baylor does not a league make. No Texas, Oklahoma or Nebraska? Let’s move on…
If Nebraska moves on to the Big Ten… if the Pac-10 makes a move to super-conference status… here’s a deposit slip you can write in pen on your way to the bank: Jim Delany & Company will not sit on their hands.
If all of the above happens, the conference commissioner would then enter Phase II of the expansion process he initiated back in December of 2009.
Four invites would be forthcoming to get the conference up to the Pac-10’s 16-team level. Odds are, according to the tea leaves, those invites would consist of Rutgers, the New York/New Jersey television footprint that would add innumerable dollars to the already-bloated Big Ten Network coffers; Missouri, an Association of American Universities member — a prerequisite for expansion expansion due to the research dollars involved — and yet another relatively untapped television market; and Kansas, yet another AAU member and one that, while they don’t bring much of a cachet as far as football is concerned, does bring a tradition-rich basketball program. And, again, the Jayhawks would bring another virginal TV market on a state-wide basis.
Possibly, you could replace Kansas with Maryland, a school that is, for some reason, rumored to be on the Big Ten’s radar.
That’s three of the four. Who’s the fourth? You’ll have to read on.
Currently the top dog of collegiate football — the sport wearing the engineer’s hat driving the whole expansion train — the SEC has been very, very quiet throughout all of the speculation regarding conference realignment.
Mistake public silence for private inactivity at your own peril, however; commissioner Mike Slive has been quietly working behind the scenes on a contingency plan that would be at the ready to react to whatever befalls the collegiate landscape. Right now, the preeminent football conference needs to do nothing. When forced to do so, if two other major BcS conferences move to 16 teams?
Say hello to the SEC, Florida State, Miami (Fla.), Clemson and Georgia Tech.
Certainly, Florida would buck at adding two in-state recruiting rivals, and South Carolina and Georgia would prefer not to have Tigers and Yellow Jackets from their own backyard prowling — do Yellow Jackets prowl? — around the same league, but, in the end, what Mike Slive wants, Mike Slive gets.
And what he would want is to completely and totally lock down the South, which is what those four schools would accomplish. In spades.
ACC, BIG EAST, MOUNTAIN WEST, TATTERED REMAINS OF BIG 12
You thought all of the above was murky? Look what’s left if everything we’ve written about were to some how, some way — and against all odds — come to fruition.
Three schools from the Big 12. Eight from the formerly 12-team ACC — or seven, if Maryland is off to the Midwest. Seven from the eight-team Big East.
And the current nine-school Mountain West, on the verge of both adding Boise State and becoming an automatic BcS qualifier.
Our guess, if it ever gets to this point? The Mountain West makes a push for some of the remnants of the Big 12 — Kansas State and Iowa State? — and gets to 12 schools. The ACC either raids the Big East yet again, or merges with the Big East to give the country its fourth 16-team super conference.
So, there we are, over nine hundred words into this, and we’ve yet to really mention…
Ah yes, the Fighting Irish.
Athletic director Jack Swarbrick has heavily intimated that it would take a seismic shift in order for the Domers to cast aside their beloved football independence and — holding their noses — become a member of a conference. Is the above seismic enough for ya?
If all of the above occurs — and not even exactly like that, just a reasonable facsimile — Notre Dame would likely have no choice but to shed their independent sack cloths if they want to remain relevant in the sport that matters most in this dicey game of conference roulette.
Hello, Big Ten? Even after all of these years of being rebuffed, the Big Ten still has eyes for the Irish. And would likely settle for bedding just one school and calling it a night.
Just think, for all of this conference apocalypse to transpire, all it could take is one school in the Heartland of America — largely irrelevant in football for a decade — giving a thumbs up to a different conference over the next 48 hours.
Implausible? Certainly, but not nearly as implausible as it was 48 hours ago.