The dominoes started falling last week and conference realignment has begun in earnest from coast to coast.
When Colorado and Nebraska both bolted the Big 12 for the Pac-10 and Big Ten, respectively, last week, the wheels for major conference shakeup were set in motion. When the dominoes finish falling, the college landscape could look radically different that it does today – and nobody can predict with any degree of certainty how it will all play out.
Why the sudden push toward super-conferences? The biggest reason – money. When the Big Ten and Pac-10 saw the SEC's two billion dollar TV deal with ESPN, they wanted in on the action. Those league's response? Expand, creating new inventory to sell during the next round of TV negotiations.
Don't expect the Big Ten to stop at 12 teams, or the Pac-10 to stop at 11. In fact, the Pac-10 could add five more schools this week to form a 16-team Super Conference. Larry Scott, the Pac-10 commissioner, had a busy weekend flying around the Great Plains trying to secure Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State for his league's expansion.
But the Pac-10 will have competition for a few Big 12 heavyweights, foremost Texas A&M.
Reports surfaced out of College Station Sunday that Texas A&M, who also reportedly met with SEC commissioner Mike Slive over the weekend, turned down Scott's league and now favors a move to the SEC for two reasons – to get out of the vast shadow cast by rival Texas and to become a leading research institution in the SEC. Will the two Texas powers really split during this latest conference shifting? It might be the biggest storyline this week.
If Texas A&M decides to join the SEC, Kansas or Utah could find a spot in the Pac-10. Kansas City TV station KWCH reported Sunday night that Larry Scott's plane had been tracked leaving Austin for Kansas City International Airport, presumably to meet with Kansas University officials about joining the league if A&M turns the Pac-10 down.
Much was made last week in the media about the potential of Kansas being left without a conference home if the Big 12 collapsed because of Pac-10 and Big Ten encroachment. Just two days ago, Kansas, along with potential castaways Kansas State, Missouri and Iowa State were floated as potential new members for the Big East, another league who could be hit hard by future expansion efforts by the Big Ten, in a 12 team football-20 team mega-basketball league.
That's how fluid the conference situation is these days. One minute, Kansas is left out. The next, they're reportedly a new Pac-10 expansion target.
How will all this movement impact the Big East? Right now, it's hard to say. The conference definitely dogged a bullet last week, to the potential demise of the Big 12 Conference, but the league isn't out of the woods yet. In fact, we'll likely not know the fate of the league until the Big Ten, SEC and ACC decide to expand, if they do so at all.
Right now, it appears the six Big 12 schools considering offers from the Pac-10 are on the clock. If they bolt, the Big 12 will likely collapse. At that point, all eyes will likely turn to the Big Ten, who reportedly will turn to the Big East in effort to expand their league eastward to secure the large TV markets in New York/New Jersey.
That's when it will get interesting for Louisville. If the Big Ten grabs two or three current Big East members – Rutgers, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, UConn and Notre Dame have all been mentioned as possible targets – the future of football in the Big East would be in doubt.
But several dominoes have to fall before we get to that point, and it's expected to start early this week with several Big 12 members heading west to the Pac-10.
Hold onto yours hats, it's going to be a wild ride and nobody knows what twists and turns might lie ahead.
Here are a few key realignment storylines to keep a close eye on this week:
1.Will Texas lead the charge of Big 12 schools into the Pac-10, creating a 16-team Super Conference spanning from the Great Plains to the west coast, and in the process, sinking the Big 12? Or can Big 12 commish Dan Beebe make a successful last minute deal to save the league?
2.Will Texas A&M spurn the Pac-10 and head to the SEC instead? If so, who will the SEC turn to balance the league if Oklahoma, who reportedly is also an SEC expansion target, heads west with Texas? And who will the Pac-10 invite in Texas A&M's stead? Kansas or Utah?
3.If the Pac-10 lands its Big 12 prize, will the Big Ten quickly counter and also move to 16-teams? If so, will they turn to the Big East for new members? Who?
4.What will happen to Baylor, Missouri, Kansas State, Kansas and Iowa State if they get left behind? Would they be interested in partnering with the Mountain West, which added Boise State as a tenth member last week? Or might they become realistic targets for the Big East, which already possesses an automatic BCS berth, unlike the Mountain West?