I have been tracking the recent developments in national college athletics and posting here the relevant details. This morning, for example, if you Googled 'big 12' you could find over 5,000 articles. Not everything is worth looking at, but obviously there is no lack of data. (Previously on Central Standard, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.)
A recurring theme in a number of those articles has been the lament, "It's all about the money!" as an explanation for all the changes in the college landscape that have occurred or are anticipated. This is a worn out phrase, an easy crutch for people to use as a club to whallop whatever is going on that they do not approve of, as if money is wrong. What it generally reveals is the speaker doesn't have as much money he wants and is mad that somebody else is getting some. In other words, the reaction is all about the money, but that irony is never grasped.
To the point: I don't believe that the changes that we are seeing the conference alignments are all about the money. Let me quickly add that I'm not saying money is not a factor. Of course it is. It's an ingredient in all of this - a major one. But my point is, it's not the origin of this chaos. It is definitely a residue, but it's not what it's all about.
What it is all about is forcing Notre Dame to join the Big 10. That's it. That's all. Let me tell you why I think so.
This chaos we are seeing in June 2010 began in December 2009. Big 10 commissioner Jim Delaney said the conference would seek to expand from it's then 11 teams. He speculated on a time frame for accomplishing this of about 18 to 24 months. Immediately, everyone knew he had his sights set on Notre Dame. But everyone also jumped to the next thing we all 'knew' and that was ND has always been, and longed to always be, independent in football. Then everyone made the next jump which was to start guessing about which other teams made the most sense for the Big 10 to invite.
From that time until now, Delaney and the Big Ten have said very little publicly. Very neat. One school whose inclusion in the conference which made sense to almost every observer is Missouri. Good academics, competitive and improving football and logically geographically situated. Mizzou, everyone agreed, was logical. It was deemed a matter of time before the Tigers would be in the Big Ten.
But a funny thing happened on the way to what we all knew. There came rumblings of Nebraska having struck the fancy of the Big Ten and the Huskers have everything Mizzou has, only the football is better. (Darn it!) Then Texas, whose behavior is worthy of many posts, began to intimate that if Nebraska left, they had no interest in the Big 12. It was then clear that if Nebraska left, the Texas schools would bolt, probably to the Pac 10. Then it came out that Colorado would join the Pac 10 and they did. Then Nebraska joined the Big Ten. Now the Texas schools are free to make their own deal.
It looks as if the Pac 10 will add two or three Texas schools plus the two Oklahoma schools from the Big 12. The Big 12 will be history. Texas A & M may or may not go to the SEC. The SEC and the ACC and the Big East will consider their options and begin nabbing schools or have schools leave them or both. It's chaos.
Meanwhile, independent Notre Dame sits and watches one conference die, the remaining conferences strengthen and has to begin to ask itself, "Is the path to football glory, prominence and championships enhanced or weakened by independent status? Is the BCS going to favor the strong conferences? Or the strong schools in those conferences? What will happen to the Big East, where all our other athletics compete?" The importance of Notre Dame is that it's a school with a national audience. When they play, people are interested and TVs are on. Alumni are all over the country and the South Bend campus fits geographically into the footprint of the Big Ten TV network, which already is in 30 to 35 percent of homes in the country. Yes, that's a money part.
By taking Nebraska, the Big Ten reduced the number of possible seats at the conference's table. How many are available? Two more? Four more? I don't know. Neither does Notre Dame. Remember Missouri is a logical choice, so there may be one less seat. Maryland makes sense, too, so there's another seat gone, possibly. What about Rutgers or Syracuse and the New York City market? You know how to play musical chairs, don't you?
There is chaos out there and the herd may stampede very soon. Options will begin to disappear and Notre Dame knows it. Their AD said this thing will all settle out in 45-60 days. I think there is more meaning in his words than just the definitions. I think Notre Dame will finally jump and they will jump to the Big Ten and it will be in 45-60 days.
Remember how it began? An announcement that the Big Ten was looking to expand and they have hardly lifted a finger since and we've got chaos. Everyone knew they wanted Notre Dame and I think Notre Dame will run right into their waiting arms.