Well folks, we can put to bed the 16 team conferences, the four conferences to rule them all, the departure from the NCAA, and conferences built on greed. Okay, not the last one, but the rest of those will have to wait for a few years. All of a sudden the path that was being thrown around with words like “inevitable” seems to have been tossed by the wayside. Why? There are a few reasons, but the first I’d like to point out is the reason I think Tom Izzo stayed at Michigan State. Bear with me, here. The longer someone is forced to wait on a big decision, the less likely they are to make a change. As the days wear on, the novelty of the new option erodes while the security and confidence in one’s existing station, however flawed and unfulfilling, builds. Of course, we all know it was more complicated than that.
By now you have all read how Texas “saved” the Big 12, which is a bit generous considering that it was their willingness to leave that may have threatened the existence of the conference. Had Texas gone out at the beginning and voiced its allegiance to the Big 12, no one would have ever worried about the conference lasting in the long term. Instead, Texas basically held out to get a better deal, as if Peyton Manning was threatening to bolt to the Jaguars if he didn’t get the biggest contract in history. They wanted to enter the Big 10 as an unequal partner, and when the conference scoffed at that, and the Pac 10 (12?) demanded equality with its existing members, Texas wanted to be able to run the show. So they took Commissioner Beebe up on his offer to salvage the conference, but retained their inordinate share of revenue, the rights to their own TV network, and the status of top dog in conference decision-making. Without the counterweight of Nebraska, they are free to run the show. I have heard rumors that the TV deal isn’t as sweet as it appears, that it is structured more like a back-loaded, incentive-laden player contract that is built more for show than anything else, but either way, the Big 12 survives, so they get what they needed.
Make no mistake, Nebraska and the Big 10 may have been the next biggest winner after Texas. Nebraska gets a conference where it will make more money than in the Big 12, where it fits culturally, and where it will benefit academically through tens of millions of research dollars the Big 10 (plus the University of Chicago) obtain through membership in the CIC. The Big 10 retains geographical integrity (not that they cared about that, I bet they would have taken Cal if Cal was interested). This was about making money (and for Nebraska, getting out of Texas’ shadow), and they did that.
So where do we go from here? The Pac 10 will likely add Utah, stinging the Mountain West’s bid for an automatic BCS berth. Aside from that, it appears quiet, at least for now. But don’t be mistaken- when TV contracts come up again, or when a team or conference senses it is falling behind, it too will look to expand. It may not come in one big panic or a seismic shift in the landscape, but schools are becoming free agents all on one-year contracts. Each year there will be a re-evaluation, with teams looking to improve, and all the talk that the BCS officials and conference commissioners spew out about tradition will be tossed out the window for a few dollars. It is funny the way Jim Delany, Big Ten Commissioner, talked at length about preserving the tradition of college football in rejecting a playoff system, yet apparently “tradition” doesn’t matter when it comes to adding a team to the Big Ten and making a lot more money.
Musical chairs will continue in the coming seasons, and don’t be surprised if conferences edge closer to that 16-team mark. But for this year, the song stopped with just 4 teams making a move- at least for now.