Conference expansion's winners, losers
Armageddon was coming. Then it wasn't.
Deals were done. Then they weren't.
Conferences were expanding, contracting, staying the same, going away, making comebacks.
After an absurd few weeks of news and non-news, it's time to declare the winners and losers of the silly season that was realignment mania, 2010 version. But let's do this in the proper spirit.
We have a Big Ten pack of winners (actual number of winners: 12). And a Big 12 pack of losers (actual number of losers: 10). That's the new math conference realignment taught us.
Texas. The Longhorns flexed, and half the nation bowed down to Bevo. With Notre Dame all but taking itself off the market, Texas was the power school to woo during this free-agency period. The Horns made the most of their marketability by playing both hard to get and hard to keep, then ultimately impossible to live without for their home conference. In the process of being pulled back into the Big 12 fold, Texas was bestowed every imaginable luxury this side of Bob Stoops' playbook.
Texas A&M. Your program hasn't won a bowl game in nine years and hasn't played in a BCS bowl since 1998. Your record the last five years is 31-31. You have completely abdicated the school's defensive heritage. And yet the Big 12 is willing to cut you in on the same Platinum Member perks afforded Texas and Oklahoma. Don't ask questions, just sign on the dotted line.
Dan Beebe. Before this week, Beebe was on the wrong side of the Commissioner Power Demarcation Line. (On the plus side: Mike Slive, Jim Delany, Larry Scott. On the minus side: Beebe, John Swofford, John Marinatto.) But then the Big 12 commish, with the help of many influential outsiders, managed to do what few people thought possible: He held his fracturing league together. Not sure many people thought he had it in him.
Nebraska. The Cornhuskers got into a more stable conference and got a chance to bark some nasty things at neighborhood bully Texas on the way out the door. Since the Big 12 already had marginalized Nebraska's rivalry with Oklahoma, pulling up stakes on the rest of the school's century-long brethren wasn't a painful experience.
Big Ten. The league commanded attention and respect it has been lacking in recent years with its newfound revenue gusher of a network and subsequent expansion ambition. It landed a prestigious new football member in Nebraska. It did not overreach, and did not tear down the current college sports framework. The Big Ten is well-positioned for the future. Now it just has to win a national title -- or at least come close -- for the first time in eight years.
Boise State. The Broncos upgraded their conference affiliation with a minimum of angst and no geographic hardship. Only downside of Mountain West membership is that it might now come without the added value of Utah, which could become the 12th Pac-10 member as early as today.
The Pac-10. The league stood still under former commissioner Tom Hansen. That's certainly not the case under new boss Larry Scott. He might not have pulled the game-changing coup he sought, but Scott already has done a lot to change the perception of the league. As one Pac-10 athletic director told me last week, "We're showing that we're not just a mom-and-pop operation anymore."
Little Five. For a few tense days, it looked as though Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Baylor might be kicked to the BCS curb as the Big 12 teetered on ruin. The five offered to surrender a lot of potential revenue and even more pride to the Texas cabal, but hey, it beats being homeless.
Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish wouldn't compromise their beliefs -- they want independence in football and Big East membership in everything else. They rode out the storm. They weren't forced into anything they didn't want to do. Even with the power play by Texas, Notre Dame remains the most unique entity in college sports.
Big East. Well before the Big 12 went into a state of emergency, this was the league that topped the endangered list. The Big Ten was rumored to be considering snatching two or more Big East teams -- and the league couldn't afford the losses. Today, the league membership remains identical to before the mergers and acquisitions began.
SEC. Strongest league in the land stood pat and won because of it. Change just for the sake of change was avoided.
Utah. With their expected inclusion into the Pac-10, the Utes finally have what two unbeaten seasons and BCS bowl victories in the last six years could not get them -- a clean shot at playing for a national title. After years of BCS busting, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is forced to find a new hobby.
Missouri. The Tigers retained conference affiliation, but at what price? They went from rumored Big Ten expansion targets to disdained Big 12 tagalongs. After it overplayed its Big Ten hand, Mizzou is being called out by folks around the Big 12 -- up to and including billionaire Oklahoma State booster T. Boone Pickens. This is the same dynamic as Lane Kiffin leaving Tennessee -- most Big 12 members believe Missouri isn't prestigious enough to do the jilting in this relationship.
Rutgers and Pittsburgh. They know a little how Missouri feels, having gone from reported Big Ten targets to just happy they still have membership in their old league. At least they didn't offend the Big East by actively pursuing an invitation that hasn't been forthcoming -- yet.
Colorado. The Buffaloes relocated to a more fitting league, but at a high cost. The cash-strapped school must pay a hefty Big 12 exit penalty and will not have the hoped-for revenue bonanza of a Pac-16 membership to offset the expense.
ACC. The good news: It didn't get raided during this realignment spasm. The bad news: None of its schools is attractive enough to raid. League is now free to return to figuring out how to become relevant in football.
Mountain West Conference. For a while, the future appeared BCS-bright for this league. Boise State was coming onboard, and it appeared to have a legit shot at picking up the survivors of a Big 12 break-up. Instead, the Big 12 stayed together and now the Pac-10 is snatching Utah. Back to the BCS kids' table.
Baylor. The Bears had been riding the coattails of their more accomplished in-state brethren for decades. But Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech were ready, willing and apparently able to jettison underperforming Baylor if the Pac-16 move had come to pass. The Bears know now they are more expendable than ever.
The Western Athletic Conference. It loses kingpin Boise State, and has no adequate replacement in sight. WAC now in danger of dropping to MAC level of competitiveness and clout.
Playoff proponents. A metamorphosis toward four super conferences is a bad idea. But if the ends justify the means, this also would have significantly enhanced the prospects of a playoff in the near future. With the BCS status quo intact (for now), a playoff remains wishful thinking.
College basketball. The sport has never been more brutally disrespected as it was during this realignment phase. Not a single decision was made with hoops in mind, showing just how much it is dwarfed by King Football.
Twitter. The maddeningly fluid conference proceedings did not lend themselves to the immediacy of this social medium. Half-baked, erroneous and premature "scoops" flew around the Twittersphere day after day, at dizzying speed and volume. Useful and reliable information was out there, but often it was buried beneath bewildering sound and fury and stupidity coming from all corners.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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