Sports Outside the Beltway

Nebraska and Colorado Bolt Big 12: Who’s Next?

The long-predicted collapse of the Big 12 athletic conference — and perhaps college sports as we know it — seems about to happen.

Nebraska is going to the Big Ten and Colorado to the Pac-10, with many other teams expected to flee as well as the big football powers race to establish 16-team super-conferences.

The Boulder (Colo.) Daily Camera reported early Thursday morning that the University of Colorado has officially accepted an invitation to join the Pac-10 and will make the announcement publicly at a 1 p.m. ET press conference on Friday. The Camera says multiple people with knowledge of the move confirmed the news.

Colorado’s addition would give the Pac-10 a total of 11 schools, but speculation persists that the league will also look to bring in Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech to give the conference 16 teams.

The Texas schools seem to hold the keys to the survival of the Big 12 in some form:

Texas and Texas A&M officials are scheduled to meet to discuss the future of their athletic programs and the Big 12 amid speculation the league could be raided by rival conferences and broken apart.

Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds has said he wants to keep the Big 12 together.

Thursday’s meeting at an undisclosed location comes on the heels of reports that Nebraska could be ready to bolt the Big 12 for the Big Ten and Colorado could move to the Pac-10.  Baylor and Texas Tech officials have said that even if the Big 12 breaks apart, they want to remain with Texas and Texas A&M as members of the same conference.

That’s going to be difficult, however.   Texas and A&M are big prizes in college football and Tech has had some recent success.  Baylor . . . not so much.

Still, the Big Ten has, despite the name, had eleven members since Penn State joined in 1993.  Adding Nebraska brings them to 12 and adding the four Texas schools would bring them to the magic 16.   Thing is, they’d much rather have Notre Dame than Baylor.

It’s hard to get particularly nostalgic for the Big 12, itself an amalgamation of the old Big 8 and the carcass of the venerable South West Conference.  It’s only been competing since 1996.  But we appear ready for an arms race for the good football schools that will destroy some of the smaller conferences and, quite possibly, the NCAA.

Sportswriter David Moulton:

Nebraska leaving the Big 12 for the Big Ten is the college sports equivalent of the Archduke Ferdinand being assassinated. His death set off a chain reaction that led to World War I. Nebraska’s shot has set off a chain reaction that will ultimately lead to the death of the Big 12, the Big East, the athletic irrelevancy of major universities and all their sports not named football.

How could this happen?

The roots began four years ago when the Big Ten went looking for more money from ESPN for their product. ESPN said “No.” The Big Ten said, “If you don’t give us more money, we’ll have to start our own network.” ESPN didn’t, so the Big Ten did. The Big Network kicked off in 2007 and regionalized the conference — a bad move which would have to be corrected by expansion — while also becoming a cash cow.


Despite all this incompetence, the only moves that had to take place were the Big Ten, Pac-10 and Big East becoming 12-team conferences. Why? Because BCS bylaws state that to have a conference championship game in football (big $$$) you need 12 teams. The only question that mattered became, who would the Big Ten add?

Immediately, Nebraska raised its hand. The Big Ten would offer them triple their current TV revenue. Of course, they didn’t really want to replace Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas with Indiana, Illinois and Northwestern. Nebraska just wanted more money. Who controls the money in the Big 12? Texas. When Nebraska asked one final time last week to get TV revenue shared equally, the Big 12 (i.e., Texas) said “No.”


Yet despite everything that had transpired the last four years, the school that could have stopped all of this as late as 48 hours ago was Notre Dame. Because they were the only school the Big Ten wanted. If Notre Dame earlier this week, had said to the Big Ten, “OK, you win. Instead of all this crazy expansion talk, blowing up conferences, and us being on the outside looking in, what if we agree to join your conference? Will you then stop the madness?”

On last night’s PTI, Tony Kornheiser suggested that the upshot of all this will be maybe four major conferences, each with 16 teams — thus, 64 total — driving the bus.  And, with all the major football schools in four conferences, who needs the NCAA and it’s pesky rules about academics — much less sharing the massive television revenue with weak sister schools with lousy football teams?

Interestingly, the first of the super-conferences, the vaunted Southeastern Conference (SEC), is keeping its powder dry at the moment. But longtime Atlanta Journal-Constitution hand Tony Barnhart thinks this may be the calm before the storm.

There are also reports out there that very quietly, Mike Slive and his folks at the SEC could still invite Texas and Texas A&M if the Big 12 breaks up. Would Oklahoma and Oklahoma State come along? Yes, I know about the Pac-10 offer to the six Big 12 teams (Texas, A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Colorado). But as one official put it to me yesterday: Do you think DeLoss Dodds (the Texas athletics director) would rather send his women’s softball team to Pullman, Washington (home of  Pac-10 member Washington State) or Tuscaloosa, Ala? I know all about the academic arguments in favor of the Pac-10. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Notice that Baylor’s not on that list, either.

Who cares, though, really?   Big-time college football is about money, after all.  And even with geographically spread-out conferences, schools would only have to take long road trips a few times a season.    But, oops, there are other sports!   Baseball and basketball play much longer schedules and many, many more games each season.   And basketball coaches, like Kansas’ Bill Self, are not happy.

The decisions being made in the ivory towers of presidents’ offices and conference commissioners’ meeting rooms are driven solely by the promise of a potential pigskin-inspired financial windfall.

Nowhere is that more evident than at 1651 Naismith Drive, where Kansas has gone from storied, tradition-laden program of lore to afterthought. If the rumored Pac-16 models are to be believed, the University of Kansas could soon be a sports vagabond, left searching for a new conference home to cobble together.

The Jayhawks would have plenty of company but that Kansas — Kansas — is hanging by a thread tells you just how much of an ugly stepchild basketball has become in this process.   “We play on Naismith Drive; the father of coaching [Phog Allen] was our second coach; Adolph Rupp and Dean Smith went to school here; the most dominant player in the game in Wilt went to school here,’’ KU head coach Bill Self said. “And it’s not like we haven’t lived up to it lately. … But here we are potentially trying to find a home? I don’t get that.’’

But, of course, he does.   Football is the money machine in college sports and Kansas is only occasionally a major player in that sport.

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