- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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Nebraska to the Big Ten? Texas to the Pac-10?
No more Big 12?
Expansion rumors are flying around the college football world, and it's looking more and more possible that we might have some answers by the end of the week.
Big 12 members Missouri and Nebraska are apparently weighing whether to remain in the Big 12. A jump to the Big Ten, which has already announced it's looking to expand, is possible if an invitation is extended.
The Pac-10 is reportedly set to extend invitations to six other Big 12 schools -- Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and either Baylor or Colorado -- maybe as early as this week.
Here are a few things you need to know about the possibility of college football's being turned upside down:
Why are leagues looking to expand now?
Given the success of the 4-year-old Big Ten Network, Big Ten Conference commissioner Jim Delany announced in December that his league would begin exploring expansion. With the conference receiving from its TV network reportedly as much as 88 cents per subscriber per month in Big Ten territory, there are obvious reasons to expand. Under NCAA rules, the conference also needs to have 12 teams to stage a conference championship game in football, which might be another financial windfall for the Big Ten.
The Pac-10, under new commissioner Larry Scott, didn't wait long to announce its own plans to explore expansion. The Pac-10's current TV contracts for basketball and football with Fox Sports Net expire after the 2011-12 academic year. To receive a TV contract similar to those that the ACC and SEC recently negotiated, the Pac-10 would probably need to broaden its conference footprint. Adding a school such as Texas would certainly achieve that.
Which schools are most coveted in expansion plans?
Longhorns athletic director DeLoss Dodds has said that he prefers that the Longhorns remain in the Big 12 -- if the league remains viable. Texas has one of the richest athletic departments in the country and receives about $10 million from the Big 12 in annual distribution payments for TV contracts and other revenue streams. Texas is trying to keep the Big 12 intact, but if Missouri or Nebraska or both leave for the Big Ten, the Longhorns might be forced to look for another home.
Despite its recent struggles in football, Notre Dame is still the most coveted property in college sports. But to this point, Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick has said the Fighting Irish prefer to remain independent. Notre Dame has had its own TV contract with NBC since 1991, and the current agreement doesn't expire until after the 2015 season. According to a 2007 survey in Forbes Magazine, Notre Dame's contract with NBC helped the athletics program contribute $21.1 million to the school's academic programs, which was more than the survey's next five athletics programs combined.
Why is the Big Ten so attractive?
Thanks in part of the launching of the Big Ten Network, the league distributed $19.9 million to each of its members during the last fiscal year. About $15 million was generated through TV contracts, including $6.4 million from the Big Ten Network. Just as important, joining the Big Ten increases the academic profile of schools such as Missouri and Nebraska. Each of the Big Ten's current 11 schools is a member of the Association of American Universities, a highly regarded alliance of research-based institutions. The Big Ten has made it clear that it wants prospective new members to be of similar academic blueprints. (Missouri and Nebraska are both AAU members.)
How quickly will it be resolved?
Delany initially set the Big Ten's exploration clock at 12 to 18 months, but the Pac-10's swift response might speed up the entire process. Reportedly, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe issued an ultimatum last week to Missouri and Nebraska to decide whether they're staying or going. It has been reported that the deadline could be as early as Friday or June 15. Other than that, no one is entirely sure when the dust will settle.
"I expect whatever change will happen will occur in the next 45 to 60 days," Swarbrick said.
Will the ACC and SEC react to Big Ten and/or Pac-10 expansion?
Unless Texas is on the market, it seems unlikely the SEC will react. Adding the Longhorns and other Big 12 schools would expand the SEC's footprint west, but the Longhorns don't seem interested in joining the SEC at this point. It is believed that SEC commissioner Michael Slive's top targets for potential expansion would be Texas and possibly Virginia Tech. Adding schools such as Clemson, Florida State and Miami would improve the SEC's on-field product in football, but it would do little to strengthen its brand name in outside markets. One SEC official told ESPN.com this week that adding teams like the Seminoles and Hurricanes would only be adding schools "that would divide the pie even more." Also, Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley might be reluctant to add FSU and Miami because the Gators have tried to use their SEC membership as a recruiting advantage in their home state. Unless the Big East dissolves, it seems unlikely the ACC would do much in reaction, either.
Who are the major players?
1. Jim Delany: The Big Ten commissioner might hold as many as five invitations to join the Big Ten, which many schools covet because of the league's lofty annual payouts and the equally impressive academic standing of its members.
2. Larry Scott: The Pac-10 commissioner was given authority by the Pac-10's presidents and chancellors on Sunday to explore expansion.
3. Jack Swarbrick: The Fighting Irish are the most coveted prize in college athletics, and the Notre Dame athletic director's recommendation to join or not to join a conference might start the dominoes of realignment.
4. Harvey Perlman: The chancellor of Nebraska will have much influence in deciding whether Nebraska leaves the Big 12 for the Big Ten, and the Cornhuskers' decision might determine the fate of their current conference.
5. DeLoss Dodds: Texas is coveted by the Pac-10 and Big Ten, but Texas' athletic director has indicated so far that he prefers that the Longhorns remain in the Big 12.
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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