June 10, 2010

Colorado's move to Pac-10 just the start

MORE: Conference realignment/expansion timeline

New Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville's world is changing, and there's nothing he can do about it.

"I haven't even been at Texas Tech for a year and the landscape of the Big 12 already is moving around," he said Thursday. "I guess all of this was inevitable."

That inevitability -- that the college sports world has started to change forever -- became fact Thursday morning when the Pac-10 announced that Big 12 member Colorado had accepted an invitation to join the league.

"This is an historic moment for the conference, as the Pac-10 is poised for tremendous growth," league commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement.

And that is only the beginning.

Nebraska officially joined the Big Ten on Friday. Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are poised to accept invitations to the Pac-10.

Just like that, the Pac-10 will become America's first 16-team football mega-conference and the Big 12 may vanish.

"I continue to work through the process that was agreed upon last week by our Board of Directors to address membership issues, and am working tirelessly towards the long-term viability of the Big 12," league commissioner Dan Beebe said in a statement.

Beebe is trying. But he's sinking with the ship, along with -- at least for now -- Kansas, Missouri, Iowa State, Kansas State and Baylor.

Maybe Beebe can keep the Big 12 intact by luring Mountain West schools such as TCU, BYU and/or Utah. But it won't be the same.

The expansion train has left and there's no stopping it as college sports appears to be on an inexorable march toward a new era of 16-team mega-conferences.

"I tell you what, this new Pac-10 would be quite a league if it happens," Tuberville said. "Just think, we would have to beat Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M all of those schools. And then beat someone like USC or Oregon in a championship game."

Actually, surviving that type of gauntlet could become status quo in the other major conferences, too.

With the Pac-10 already expanding with Colorado and set to add five other Big 12 teams and with Nebraska making it official with the Big Ten, the focus now shifts to Notre Dame, perhaps the biggest domino of all that could fall.

Some reports have said that the Big Ten has given Notre Dame a June 15 deadline to decide if it wants to join. While Notre Dame treasures its heritage of independence, Golden Dome decision-makers may realize they need to act or face being frozen out of college football's new power structure, which could make scheduling and access to the national title difficult -- as well as putting Notre Dame's other sports in peril.

If Notre Dame declines the Big Ten's overture, league commissioner Jim Delaney has said he's willing to expand in "stages," meaning the league may stop growing at a number such as 13 in the short term while waiting on Notre Dame to come around in the next few years.

Will this new world order be good for college athletics? It's difficult to tell right now. But there appears to be some definite winners and losers at this juncture.

Some winners

Playoff proponents: A four-league, 16-team configuration could push the sport toward a playoff. It's simple: Take the champs of the four mega-leagues, seed them first through fourth and have a "final four."

Nebraska: The Huskers land in the nation's most lucrative league. And winning the Big Ten should be easier than winning the Big 12, where Oklahoma and Texas consistently have been better than any teams in the Big Ten.

Big Ten: It seems the behemoth eventually is going to get the object of its desire -- Notre Dame.

SEC: The league may just sit on the curb and watch the action for the next six to 12 months. Once the dust settles, the SEC could opt to bulk up by adding Virginia Tech, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Maryland (if the Big Ten doesn't add the Terps), Florida State or Miami. Even if it doesn't bulk up, the league still will be printing money. But there would be a danger that standing pat could cause the league to fall a bit in terms of prestige.

Some losers

Missouri: The Tigers consistently made googly eyes at the Big Ten, and many around the program talked about being disgruntled with the Big 12's TV revenue-sharing and bowl-selection process. A few weeks ago, it seemed as if Mizzou was headed for the Big Ten and all those problems would be gone. But now, at least for the time being, Mizzou will be in the same lifeboat with Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Baylor.

Notre Dame traditionalists: Few schools cling to the past tighter than Notre Dame. That past always has featured ND as an independent. But the Irish appear as if they eventually will join the Big Ten.

Big 12's "Forlorn Five": Many feel the Mountain West could be folded into the Big 12 leftovers and -- voila! -- a 16-team league. But such an alliance wouldn't be considered a peer of the "super conferences." Thus, would this new league be granted an automatic BCS bid?

Potential Big East leftovers: If the SEC expands, it almost certainly would look to the ACC -- and maybe the Big East. If the ACC loses teams to the SEC, it likely would look to the Big East. There are some Big East schools that wouldn't be part of any marriage to the ACC. How big a deal would a Big East football league be if it loses a few members?

The non-Big Six schools: If you think schools such as Baylor and Iowa State are sweating bullets, what about schools such as Utah, BYU, TCU, Boise State, UCF, East Carolina, Houston well, you get the idea. If there indeed are going to be four 16-team super-conferences, what happens to the schools who aren't in those super-conferences?

MORE: Conference realignment/expansion timeline

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.


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