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Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe is one of the 10 members of the NCAA tournament selection committee and was on the inside of the decision-making process that led to the change from a 65- to a 68-team field, despite the assumption nationally that the 96-team format was a done deal.
On Sunday night, Beebe emphasized that difference between perception and reality as he deals with the swirling rumors that his conference will implode after getting raided by the Big Ten and the Pac-10.
And that's why we need some perspective here before the assumption is made that the entire current format will be thrown into chaos with a land grab by the Big Ten and Pac-10.
Based on discussions Sunday night with a number of high-ranking sources throughout the NCAA (including those who have been in some of the direct talks on these topics during the past decade), here is some relevant information on the various possibilities:
• If the Big Ten can persuade Notre Dame to join the league, the expansion discussion is over. The Big Ten doesn't need anyone else but the Irish to accomplish its goal of increasing its value. The networks have lined up to get the Irish deal from NBC, and adding ND would enhance the Big Ten television property. All conference television contracts have a clause that they are subject to change if there is a membership change, meaning they can be worth more money (with Notre Dame) or less (if, say, the ACC were to lose members even after doubling its current deal).
• Being in the Association of American Universities is a major deal for the academic side of Notre Dame. If the Irish could be assured that they would get an 11-vote bloc of Big Ten schools to usher in Notre Dame as a member, that could sway the Irish hierarchy to move toward the Big Ten. If the Irish have no shot at the AAU, that could be a deciding factor against their joining the Big Ten. Getting into the AAU makes a Big Ten acceptance a lot easier.
• Romancing Notre Dame has been going on since the 1920s. The timing has to be right. There will be a critical mass of alumni who will want to remain as a football independent. For every other sport, being in the Big Ten makes more sense than the Big East, although this isn't a decision about the rest of them.
• Notre Dame wouldn't want to be one of five additions to the Big Ten. The Irish won't want their addition to be devalued.
• Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick have a longstanding relationship. Swarbrick was instrumental in bringing Big Ten championship games to Indianapolis while working in Indiana with the sports commission.
• Delaney won't get burned here. He's considered one of the most savvy and shrewdest negotiators in college athletics. He's not going to issue an invitation and get turned down.
• If Notre Dame were to join the Big Ten, the rest of the chatter would halt. The Big East could bump up Villanova football to FBS to avoid expansion, or it could add a member to stay at 16.
• If Notre Dame is the only grab by the Big Ten, there is no need to toy with Missouri and Nebraska.
• That means the ultimatum doesn't make any sense. Why would the Big 12 tell Missouri and Nebraska they have to be in or else? What's the consequence? The Big 12 isn't going to boot them out of the league. If they don't get an invite to the Big Ten, the chances are that nothing happens to the Big 12.
• The Longhorns won't do anything that won't benefit Texas. They don't want to leave unless they have to get out. Texas enjoys being the deal-maker in the Big 12 rather than just another school, albeit an important one, in the Pac-10 or even the Big Ten.
• Pac-10 presidents gave commissioner Larry Scott the go-ahead to look at expansion, but the academic profile of schools the league would invite is critical, much like the Big Ten. Not all the Big 12 schools meet this standard.
• UCLA and USC get the most money in the Pac-10 because of appearances. Both schools won't want to lose that status in a new, expanded conference.
• The Pac-10 can only expand and expect to make enough money on a television deal with Texas. Adding random Big 12 and/or MWC schools won't increase the value of a proposed television deal.
• The Big Ten Network deal that Delaney has is based on subscription fees and makes more money than the Pac-10 could on its own.
• The Pac-10's best hope is for a television merger with the Big 12, forming a mega TV deal. The Pac-10 and Big 12 television deals are up in 2012, and both leagues have confirmed discussions on a television agreement.
• A number of sources find it hard to believe that Kansas would somehow be left with nothing. Football drives this, but the power; prestige; tradition; and, most important, ratings of basketball do have serious value. It's akin to leaving out Duke in some sort of ACC chaos.
• Underselling the value of the new $10.8 billion deal with the NCAA tournament is a mistake. It matters. This is a football-driven discussion, but it's not at the expense of disrupting the entire NCAA tournament plan.
• A number of conference presidents are trying to ensure that any potential move makes sense. (For example, did Boston College to the ACC make sense?)
• Boise State would probably take a MWC invite, but does the MWC want to invite Boise State without knowing what will happen to the Big 12?
• All of this is relative to the discussions going on at the Pac-10 and the Big Ten. But so many of the doomsday scenarios could be tamed if Notre Dame were to tell the Big Ten yes.