With an assist from Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney, the Badgers should see the Cornhuskers on the schedule for many years to come.
After the first domino fell Thursday with Colorado officially accepting a bid to leave the Big XII and join the Pac-10, Nebraska, baring an unforeseen snag, will become the 12th member of the Big Ten this afternoon and could start competing in the conference as early as the 2012 football season.
Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez, a former letterman and graduate from Nebraska, said in December that the Big Ten first was considering expansion. It was later confirmed by Delaney that the evaluation process would take 12 to 18 months before any formal invitations were announced.
That timetable was moved up roughly six months after Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott was given permission from the current member schools to explore expansion, which has resulted in the conference grabbing the Buffaloes and courting five schools from the Big 12 South Division – Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech.
The Big Ten most recently expanded with Penn State, which began competing as a league member in football in 1993, but the topic of expansion started brewing before Alvarez made things public for two main reasons. Not surprisingly, both involve money.
By adding at least one more team and splitting the conference into two divisions, the Big Ten would hold a lucrative conference championship game. Typically ending its conference season before Thanksgiving while the other BCS conference finish its regular season and play a conference championship game, the Big Ten would most likely add a bye week and a title game to keep pace.
"We're irrelevant for the last three weeks of the football season because we're not playing," Alvarez told Badger Nation in a past interview. "By pushing our schedule back, we're still being talked about later in the season, which can only be a good thing."
The second is because of Delany's successful gamble launching the Big Ten Network. The conference distributed $19.9 million to each of its members during the last fiscal year, $15 million through TV contracts and $6.4 million from the Big Ten Network.
With the Big Ten paying out twice as much as the SEC and three to four times more than the Big East, the appeal is there for a school like Nebraska and for the Big Ten to expand its brand into new markets.
Throw in the fact that Nebraska is a member of the Association of American Universities, a highly regarded alliance of research-based institutions, just like the current 11 schools in the Big Ten, it's a win-win.
"There's been some frustration with the Big XII (with Nebraska)," ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit on a recent broadcast. "You look at the amount of money these (Big Ten) teams are getting and you break it down with the way these teams share money and you compare it, (the other conferences) are behind the times. If you go back 10 years when the Big 8 turned into the Big XII, people were speculating that they would be a power conference and be as good as the SEC. That just hasn't been the case."
That thought process alone is one of the driving forces for Scott to push into the Midwest market, especially with the Pac-10's current TV contracts for basketball and football with Fox Sports Net expiring after the 2011-12 academic year. Adding the huge popularity of Texas and Oklahoma would certainly achieve that, making more people tune in to a conference most people in the East and Midwest generally fall asleep watching due to its late-night contests.
The question remains now – is the Big Ten done expanding? Sources indicate no, especially when a prize like Notre Dame is still in limbo.
With the big six most likely heading to the Pac-10 and Missouri thought to also be a Big Ten target because of the St. Louis and Kansas City television markets, the Big XII conference will probably dissolve, with Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State left behind, a place the Fighting Irish and Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick don't want to be.
Swarbrick and Notre Dame have maintained its desired to remain an independent football program with no conference ties, with Swarbrick citing "It's core to who we are. It's so uniquely interwoven with the identity of the school. It played a role in bringing Notre Dame to the national conscience."
When the Big Ten started expansion, it targeted Notre Dame and would have been content to only add the Irish for a 12-team league. With Notre Dame dragging its feet, the Irish are now in a situation it especially doesn't want to be in, be a member of a potential 16-team super conference.
If Notre Dame remains independent, the Irish run the risk of losing out on a BCS bowl bid, put its football scheduling into the ‘near impossible' category and place its non-revenue sports in jeopardy.
Notre Dame has had its own TV contract with NBC since 1991, and the current agreement doesn't expire until after the 2015 season. However, the Irish have to recognize that because of the Big Ten Network, Indiana makes more money annually from football than Notre Dame does, putting them behind the eight ball.
The Big Ten wanted to expand its brand and it's done that by adding one of the most tradition-rich football programs in the nation (winners of five national titles and one of seven schools to have won 800 games). Swarbrick said in March that the only way Notre Dame would join a league was if something forced it to.
With the super powers starting to form, there is only so much time before enough dominoes force Notre Dame to the ground.