The future of the national college athletics landscape may hinge on whether Nebraska acts within two weeks to stay in the Big 12, CBSSports.com has learned.
Texas has indicated that if Nebraska doesn't declare its allegiance to the league by mid-month, it would take a reported offer to join the Pac-10. Nebraska was issued an ultimatum by the Big 12 during the league's spring meetings last week in Kansas City. It has, at most, less than two weeks to declare its allegiance to the Big 12 or the league could split apart, leading to conference realignment before the Big Ten even acts.
What is being underplayed nationally is that Texas feels it can move forward in an 11- or 12-team Big 12 that includes Nebraska. However, without the Huskers, Texas would have to look west to the Pac-10.
Two sources have now confirmed for CBSSports.com that Nebraska was issued the ultimatum. The Austin American-Statesman is reporting that Missouri has also received a deadline that expires at 5 p.m. Friday but could be extended by another week. However, the loss of Missouri is not considered a deal-breaker for Texas to remain in the Big 12.
The expansion timeline has moved up for everyone because of the Pac-10's supposed offer of six Big 12 schools -- Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Colorado and Texas A&M. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said Sunday that his conferences expansion timeline could be sped up depending on the Pac-10's actions. Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott also said Sunday he has been given authority by his league's presidents to pursue expansion options.
The snag in any movement is that the Big Ten has not made an offer to Nebraska and/or Missouri because it is likely Notre Dame is still in the mix to join the league. Notre Dame officials have repeatedly said their desire is to stay independent in football but have left the door open in case of seismic shifts in conference realignment. Until discussions between the league and Notre Dame are completely dead, it is probably that the Big Ten won't officially reach out to anyone -- Nebraska, Missouri, Rutgers or any of the other rumored expansion candidates.
Complicating matters is that if Notre Dame decides to go to the Big Ten, there are indications the league will stop at 12 teams. Orangebloods.com also reported what CBSSports.com learned Sunday -- that the Big Ten would be a 12-team league with Notre Dame.
The Associated Press reported Sunday that Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick was part of Sunday's meeting of Big Ten CEOs. Meanwhile, ESPN.com reported that Nebraska AD Tom Osborne and Ohio State coach Jim Tressel met on April 19.
These new developments add some definition to possible Big Ten expansion that threatens to alter the college athletics' landscape. It is clear Notre Dame remains the league's first choice. Texas is probably second because taking the Longhorns would most likely mean taking Texas Tech and Texas A&M, too.
Beyond the geographical limitations of such a move -- the closest Big Ten campus to Austin is Champaign, Ill. -- there are academic limitations. Texas Tech is not a member of the Association of American Universities. All 11 Big Ten schools are AAU schools, a designation given to 63 leading public and private research institutions.
That probably what was meant by Ohio State president Gordon Gee's e-mail to Delany that Texas had a "Tech problem."
Texas is probably out of the Big Ten mix if Texas Tech has become a deal killer for the league. If Notre Dame remains independent, then Nebraska seems to be the third option. Nebraska doesn't have the large population that would deliver TV viewers, but its national brand name seemingly makes up for that shortcoming. Nebraska probably wouldn't be taken alone, with the Big Ten deciding on an expansion from 11 to 14 or 16 schools. Missouri, as well as several Big East schools, have been mentioned.
What has emerged lately is that the Big Ten may have lost its leverage position in the expansion process. Texas seems like it holds the key not only to the Big 12's future, but also to the future of major-college sports. Assuming Notre Dame's independence, any Big Ten expansion that doesn't include Texas will indicate that the league has settled. Either way, Texas will have a home in a rich conference and remain the nation's richest athletic department with a reported annual budget of $138 million.
As part of expansion fallout, a side battle now could be raging in the Texas statehouse. A group of Texas legislators is reportedly pushing for Baylor's inclusion in the Pac-10 offer, instead of Colorado. When the Big 12 was formed in the mid-1990s, then-Texas governor Ann Richards, a Baylor grad, got Baylor into the new league with her political clout.
Baylor has one of the lowest athletic budgets in the Big 12 and hasn't been to a bowl game since 1994, but could get the Pac-10 call. It is classified as having "high research activity", the second-highest designation given by the Carnegie Foundation. Seven of the 10 current Pac-10 schools are either AAU or Carnegie institutions.
Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are also rated "high" by Carnegie but are not AAU members. Colorado is an AAU member and rated "very high" by Carnegie. Baylor's advantage over CU might its proximity to the other Texas schools and the fact that it is a private institution.
If it comes to picking either Baylor or Colorado for Scott, that is one of the few easy decisions the Pac-10 commissioner has left. As long as his league gets Texas, it doesn't matter.