NCF Nation: Conference expansion take 060910

Expansion stories, especially in the past week, have rolled in by the hour. It can be tough to keep track of. And my mailbag is full of questions like, "What's going to happen to my team!?"

So here's a refresher course on each team's situation moving forward.

Nebraska, Missouri

Could have a decision to make if a Big Ten invitation to apply arrives in Lincoln or Columbia. But an anonymously reported nearing deadline (a deadline both schools have not confirmed exists) may prevent them from making that decision with a sure Big Ten invitation. A nightmare scenario looms if they scoff at the supposed deadline, the Big 12 South makes a move to the Pac-10 and the Big Ten never calls.

Team to watch: Notre Dame

If Notre Dame accepts an invitation to the Big Ten, the chances of the rest of the country standing pat are good. It also means an invitation may never arrive. If the Irish choose to stay independent, both schools should be a top target for the Big Ten, with Nebraska's big-time football program and Missouri's potential for homes to host the Big Ten Network in Kansas City and St. Louis.

Possible landing spots: Big 12, Big Ten, Mountain West Conference/Conference USA


Call Texas the kingpin. Everyone wants the Longhorns. Their national following, huge recruiting base and competitive teams in virtually every sport make them the LeBron James-like free agent of this whole situation. Staying in the Big 12 makes the most sense for the Longhorns, and though they'd have to bring along at least a few of their friends, they could play in just about any conference they wanted.

Team to watch: Nebraska

If Nebraska stays, there would be little reason for the Longhorns to leave. If Nebraska leaves, Missouri likely would, too, and Texas would have to either patch together a weakened Big 12 or move to a more attractive situation -- like the Pac-10.

Possible landing spots: Big 12, Pac-10, Big Ten

Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Texas Tech

Life could be good as Texas' hangers-on. Any move by the Longhorns will be made simpler if they bring their natural rivals with them, and that means these guys -- plus Oklahoma State.

Team to watch: Texas

Any of these teams leaving for another conference without Texas would be absolutely shocking.

Possible landing spots: Big 12, Pac-10

Baylor, Colorado

Could this be the Big 12's newest rivalry? E-mails between Baylor administrators have surfaced with the Bears making a strong case that their program is superior to the Boulder Buffaloes', but conference realignment could be a high-stakes battle between these two. Winner goes to the Pac-10 if the Big 12 breaks up. Colorado looks like it could have an attractive backup plan of a souped-up Mountain West Conference, but if Baylor gets left behind by the other five South teams in a move to the Pac-10, it could be left scrambling. Other than a blossoming, but historically poor basketball program, Baylor has little to offer.

Team to watch: Texas

Baylor's fate rests more with the Longhorns than Colorado, but don't expect Texas to campaign for Colorado to join the Pac-10. Colorado is the only team in the nation in three of the Pac-10's four expansion scenarios, but nothing's guaranteed. That, by the way, is a theme for this entire post.

Possible landing spots: Big 12, Pac-10, Mountain West Conference

Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State

It's hard not to feel sorry for these three -- especially Kansas, which is learning just how little basketball counts in conference realignment. The Jayhawks won a national title in 2008, possess a national following and are a truly elite program only miles away from Kansas City. And no one seems to want them. The same goes for Kansas State and Iowa State, minus everything Kansas brings to the table. Kansas State's fortunes might be a bit different if this realignment was taking place during the glory years of the Bill Snyder era. Instead, they're rebuilding in a small town with a small fan base.

Team to watch: Nebraska

Kansas administrators know Nebraska holds the key to their future, and have made their wishes known. But outside of saying, "please," there's not a lot these three can do.

Possible landing spots: Big 12, Conference USA, Mountain West Conference

Does the Pac-10 need to expand?

June, 9, 2010
"Shoeless" Joe Jackson walked out of an Iowa cornfield. It appears that conference expansion -- a no less shocking apparition -- will emerge from one in Nebraska: The Omaha World-Herald is reporting that Nebraska could jump from the Big 12 to the Big Ten by Friday.

If an actual expansion event occurs this week, there seems to be widespread belief that it will cause a chain reaction across the country.

And the general feeling -- we could say, "according to sources," but we know you are tired of reading that -- is that if the Big 12 starts losing schools, the Pac-10 almost assuredly will gain them.

If you send out invitations, they will come ... to the new Pac-16: Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado forming an Eastern Division with Arizona and Arizona State opposite the Pac-8 Western Division. Or maybe it's Baylor instead of Colorado.

Talk about a tectonic shift in college football.

So is this imminent? It's still hard to say and there continue to be many variables. The circle of trust on the Pac-10 side is small. It might include only commissioner Larry Scott (and a few choice advisers). He has been empowered to make whatever move he feels is best for the conference without further consultation with the university presidents.

What he wants is to create a conference that could distribute as much as $20 million per program when it negotiates its new broadcast contract, a process that could include the creation of a Pac-Whatever network. That per-team revenue would essentially put the conference on comparable footing with the Big Ten and SEC, though it remains to be seen how those conferences will end up and what that means for their revenue.

To do that, Scott needs Texas. So he appears ready to tailor his invitations so they create as appealing a scenario for the Longhorns as possible. Ergo, he invites many of the Longhorns' best buddies.

Plenty of longtime Pac-10 fans love the conference as is -- its symmetry, its natural rivalries, its general sophistication. The conference has repeatedly referenced its elite academic profile, which won't be bolstered by a couple of the teams that are reportedly expecting invitations. Heck, from a competitive standpoint, Arizona and Arizona State probably aren't eager to get thrown into a division with Texas and Oklahoma.

What about, despite all the chatter, retaining the status quo? Perhaps savvy marketing and a can-do attitude would be enough for the conference to land a new broadcast contract that would at least approach the figures connected to the 16-team scenario, without the increased expenses and decreased tradition.

While this remains one of many possibilities that can't be ruled out completely, the present momentum suggests that it's not going to happen.

Adding Texas and the state's 27 million potential TV eyeballs would represent a coup for Scott that few saw coming only a few weeks ago. Oklahoma is certainly a prestigious program. And if four other invitations are needed to get the Longhorns, so be it. The increased revenue justifies the compromises. At least that's the thinking at the executive level.

And at this point, with the already rich Big Ten apparently making a big move, and the SEC already overflowing in revenue, the Pac-10 almost doesn't have a choice in order to remain competitive. Further, just in terms of pure perception, an absence of expansion would suggest failure -- as in the conference wanted to expand but it couldn't get the deal done.

If the Pac-16 is Scott's ideal scenario, then an immediate test of wills might be ahead: Colorado is a much better fit for the conference than Baylor, from academics to culture to geography. Critics say that Colorado doesn't bring the Denver market but that's not savvy thinking. It could bring the Denver market in the future, and that potential would add dollars to a broadcast contract more than Baylor.

But Baylor boosters are agitating for intervention -- government and otherwise -- on behalf of their Bears. The Longhorns might feel obligated to side with Baylor over Colorado. So, if Scott ends up inviting Baylor, know that Texas asserted itself. And if Colorado is the pick, then Scott imposed his will. But that's probably getting ahead of ourselves.

Still, after so much speculation and misdirection and rumor, it appears the eggshell is cracking and the expansion bird is about to emerge. Who isn't curious as to what it might look like when it finally takes flight?
In an e-mail about expansion sent to Ohio State president Gordon Gee in April, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany wrote, "Also need to make sure we leverage this to increase chances of hr additions."

It doesn't take a code breaker to know what Delany meant by "hr additions."

When it comes to conference realignment, there are two obvious big prizes, or home-run additions, available: Texas and Notre Dame. Those two athletic programs bring the most fans, the most money, the biggest markets and, perhaps most important, the least amount of risk for a league. Both institutions are also very strong academically and fit the Big Ten's criteria outside of sports (Notre Dame isn't an AAU member, but the Big Ten has already tried to add the school before, so the conference is comfortable with ND's academic rep).

If you add Texas and/or Notre Dame, you have improved your league. End of story.

But what if the Big Ten's expansion doesn't include Texas or Notre Dame? Can the Big Ten still score without hitting a home run in expansion?

Some talk about Delany like he's the Babe Ruth of college sports because of all the clout he possesses. Without Texas or Notre Dame, Delany might start drawing comparisons to David Eckstein or Juan Pierre.

Keep in mind that the Big Ten has never been desperate to expand. The existing product of 11 members is both healthy and lucrative. And while adding a championship game in football will be a result of any expansion, it hasn't been the driving force behind the expansion push.

The Big Ten wants to strengthen its already strong brand. It wants to increase subscriptions for the lucrative Big Ten Network and bring in new media markets. It wants to increase its number of alumni in the northern half of the country to combat the population shift to the South. It wants more marquee games for its marquee sports. It doesn't want to sacrifice what makes the league cohesive, especially at a time where discord is tearing apart other conferences (ahem, Big 12).

Can the Big Ten achieve these goals without Texas or Notre Dame? Yes, but there's a lot less certainty.

Delany and his staff have been studying this since last fall and crunching all the numbers, and they won't expand without a strong belief that new members can help the conference grow. They already have a strong belief in the Big Ten's existing product.

The expansion candidates not named Texas or Notre Dame have their pluses. Nebraska is a big name in football with a national fan base, tons of tradition and a location near the Big Ten footprint. Rutgers is located near the nation's biggest media market (New York City). Missouri, Pittsburgh and Syracuse already have rivalries with Big Ten members Illinois and Penn State. All are solid academic institutions.

But all these candidates carry greater risks for the Big Ten. They're not slam dunks or home runs.

The Big Ten can reach its goal through an expansion that doesn't include Texas or Notre Dame.

The league just needs to find ways to manufacture runs.
The seeds of conference expansion are everywhere in college athletics.

Make that everywhere but the SEC.

The landscape in college athletics is poised to change as we know it. Nebraska and Missouri could be on their way to the Big Ten by the end of this week. The Pac-10 is ready to take just about everybody else out of the Big 12, and the Big East could also be on the verge of losing a team or two to the Big Ten.

Meanwhile, the SEC sits, waits and watches.

And in doing so, there’s a sense of contentment among SEC commissioner Mike Slive and the league presidents and athletic directors.

The general consensus last week at the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla., was that the league liked its current lineup and wasn’t going to be in the business of raiding other conferences just for the sake of adding more schools.

The phrase that Slive keeps repeating is “strategic and thoughtful” as it relates to the SEC’s stance on expansion.

In other words, if there’s a chance to go get Texas or even Oklahoma if the Big 12 indeed starts to crumble, then the SEC would almost certainly make a pitch.

But the majority of the presidents, athletic directors and football coaches in the SEC are in favor of keeping the league right where it is with 12 schools -- regardless of what the Big Ten or Pac-10 does.

Still, that doesn’t mean the SEC wouldn’t be opportunistic.

Broadening the league’s borders would be favorable to some in the league, which would bring in new markets, create new recruiting territories and introduce SEC football to a brand new collection of fans.

The two schools that would probably fit that description best are Texas and Virginia Tech, two traditionally strong football schools and two entirely new markets to the SEC.

Ultimately though, the SEC will probably look the same way in 2012 as it does now.
Could the Big East actually make it through the expansion merry-go-round relatively unscathed?

Scenarios and speculation continue to fly every day, but it's been fairly quiet on the Big East front for some time. At least quieter than it was when those erroneous reports about Big East schools getting invitations from the Big Ten hit this spring, or when it looked like the Big Ten might make its move last month at its league meetings. The Big East isn't demanding oaths of loyalty or holding emergency secret meetings; it's mostly just waiting while exploring future options like its own TV network.

Now all of the focus is on the Big 12 and whether that league may crumble under threat of a Pac-10 invasion. There continues to be rampant speculation that Notre Dame is looking hard at the option of joining the Big Ten, which may be all that conference has ever wanted. Maybe the Big East even ends up with some Big 12 leftovers like Kansas and Kansas State in a new geographic alliance.

Nobody really knows what's going to happen, and the Big East is far from safe. But the possibility of the league surviving in some form seems more hopeful today than it did a month ago.

With all that said, it's time to present round 2 of our Big East expansion worry-o-meter, which I debuted in April. The list is ordered from schools that should be the least worried to the ones that should be pushing the panic button.

1. Rutgers (Previous rank: 1): The Scarlet Knights still have the most enviable position in this whole mess. Hardly any scenario exists in which the Big Ten takes a Big East team or teams that doesn't include Rutgers. The school's announcement today that its football program finished No. 1 nationally in the NCAA academic progress rate scores can only help its profile among the egghead sector. If nothing happens, Rutgers stays in the Big East as usual; if expansion comes, the school moves on to bigger things.

2. Syracuse (PR: 3): One national columnist has suggested that Syracuse is the Big Ten's key to prying Notre Dame away from independence, the theory being that the loss of the Orange and one other Big East team would collapse that league. Maybe, maybe not, but pairing Syracuse and Rutgers could give the Big Ten a monopoly on the New York market.

3. Pittsburgh: (PR: 2): Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany's recent comments that the Pennsylvania market is not a factor in expansion could hurt Pitt's chances. The Panthers still seem like a strong fit for the Big Ten, but the geography may work against them.

4. Connecticut (PR: 4): Football is king in all expansion talks, but UConn's success in men's and women's basketball made the school attractive. One has to wonder, then, if the recent problems involving the men's hoops program will prove to be a setback for the Huskies.

5-8: West Virginia, Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati: No need really to go over each school individually. All should still remain on high alert. None has been mentioned as a possible Big Ten candidate, and that's not going to change. If expansion decimates the Big East, these schools will have to hope the league reorganizes in a way that somehow protects the BCS auto-bid status, or they will need to bat their eyes toward the ACC in hopes of landing on solid ground.

Status quo best case for ACC

June, 9, 2010
When it comes to expansion talk, the rest of the college football world is making enough noise to deafen Beaver Stadium and both Death Valleys.

The ACC, on the other hand, sounds like the Duke library.

Enjoy it while it lasts.

There have been no rumblings from the league offices in Greensboro, and there shouldn’t be -- the ACC went through expansion already. Commissioner John Swofford is pleased with the 12-team league exactly the way it is. There’s no need for him to be elbowing his way into the discussions or making his presence known. The best place for Swofford right now is in his office with the door closed and the phone off the hook. He doesn’t want or need any other conference heavyweights calling on the ACC.

Lock them out.

The best-case scenario for the ACC would be to remain status quo and on the backburner while the rest of the BCS conferences pick each other apart.

Be thankful you’re not a Texas fan. The Longhorns are more popular than the prom king, and everyone wants them to join their party and bring their friends. Those fans are going through an identity crisis as we speak. So are Nebraska fans. And Notre Dame fans.

ACC fans should be relishing the fact their schools are buried at the bottom of expansion articles instead of leading the headlines. There are no rumors to refute -- only speculation about what the trickle-down effect might be.

Worry about it when you have to. And hope you don’t have to.

The ACC needs to remain untouched in order to keep up with whatever moves other conferences might make. Rest assured if the big, bad SEC comes trying to lure away an ACC school or schools, it’s only going to want to take the best the conference has to offer -- Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech, Clemson would likely top the list. My colleague Mark Schlabach writes that Virginia Tech could be one of the top targets of SEC commissioner Mike Slive.

Could be. A lot of things could happen. Or nothing could happen at all, like it is right now. It's refreshingly quiet in the ACC.

The best thing Swofford could do for the ACC is to keep the door closed on everyone else and keep it that way.