Senior Writer

Expansion lessons Part I: Effects felt from Granddaddy to TV


Think of conference realignment as a football-shaped meteor coming to rest in your backyard. You got lucky because it didn't make a crater. Watch out for the next one, which could be the Big Bang.

If you don't believe at least a bigger bang is coming I've got some oceanfront property for sale near Tom Osborne's Lincoln, Neb. home.

Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott proved he is a major player with his role in the expansion sweepstakes. (US Presswire)  
Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott proved he is a major player with his role in the expansion sweepstakes. (US Presswire)  
But for now, the Big Ten has hit the "pause" button on expansion. The Big 12 is digging out from the rubble of hurt feelings and school defections. The Pac-10 swung for the fences and ended up hitting a ground-rule double. Somewhere, Notre Dame officials are still rubbing their chins, contemplating the school's future in the realignment universe.

What's it all mean? You'll go cross-eyed trying to understand that the Pac-10 now has 12 members. Same for the Big Ten. The Big 12 is down to 10. The main point is that college athletics still sits along a fault line that could shift violently at any moment.

While we catch our breath here are 10 things we've learned from realignment's whole lotta shakin' going on: (We're splitting the list in half, extending the drama -- kind of like conference realignment. Five today and five on Wednesday.)

1. There will be a Rose Bowl readjustment: Scott McKibben has had a look at the contract -- the one that states the champions of the Pac-10 and Big Ten meet each year in the Rose Bowl.

"Our knowledge based on what we read in the contract," said the Granddaddy's new executive director, "The way the conferences would be structured in whoever the teams are, is pertinent to who might play in our game."

In other words, there will be no contract restructuring now that it's possible Purdue and Utah could meet in the oldest and most revered postseason game. That's important because it occurred to me (and others) that the Rose Bowl doesn't do change, at least not well.

When Utah and Colorado joined the Pac-10 and Nebraska joined the Big Ten, it became clear that someday soon some attitude adjustment would have to come quick to traditional Rose heads. Given certain NCAA limitations -- talking to you, Trojans -- we're more likely to see a Big 12 North rivalry in Pasadena in the near term (Colorado-Nebraska) than Michigan-USC.

Even if the Big Ten and Pac-10 stop where they are at 12 teams each, sooner or later the Rose Bowl is going to have a new look. If, as expected, the leagues keep expanding, then the Rose could have a radically new look.

Texas (Pac-10) vs. Notre Dame (Big Ten) anyone?

"We, at this point, are interested spectators," McKibben said earlier this month. "But it is our belief whatever these two conferences do ... our game will potentially only get bigger and better."

Bigger, for sure. Better? In some corners of the tradition-bound Tournament of Roses committee it's going to be easier to spell Ute than to welcome one.

The current deal between the Rose, ABC/ESPN, Pac-10 and Big Ten lasts through the 2014 game. It would take upheaval of nuclear proportions for those partners to break apart, BCS or no BCS. That's not the point. Given his aggressive approach, don't underestimate what's going on in the mind Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott (more on him below). You'd better believe he has alerted his bowl partner of what could be coming.

Accepting BCS reality has been awkward enough for some of the Tournament of Roses old guard. The bowl has hosted BCS title games after the 2001, 2005 and 2009 seasons. Texas has played in Pasadena three times in the last six seasons, twice for championships. Miami won its last national championship there. Nebraska got there in 2002 as a result of convoluted BCS math when it played for a title despite not winning its own Big 12 division. In January, Alabama played in the Rose Bowl for the first time in 65 years.

The 2003 game between Oklahoma and Washington State marked the first non-sellout since 1944. This year, the Rose Bowl game was not the Rose Bowl stadium's last event of the season. Oregon met Ohio State in January, six days before Alabama beat Texas in the BCS title game.

Yes, there could be some great, historic games in the Rose Bowl's future if conference expansion continues. The game could also produce some stinkers. Get those Michigan State-Texas Tech tickets early.

2. A conspiracy theorist's reason for conference expansion: Start with the assumption that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and SEC commissioner Mike Slive don't particularly like each other.

Jim Delany knows the SEC would suffer in a system with a 16-team Pac-10 and Big Ten. (AP)  
Jim Delany knows the SEC would suffer in a system with a 16-team Pac-10 and Big Ten. (AP)  
It goes back to this treatise posted on the Big Ten's website almost 3½ years ago. Pay attention to Delany's line, "... it seems premature for us to lower our admission standards." That's a clear shot at the SEC and seems more pertinent today with the league having won the last four national championships. We all know that expansion is about money and market share and television, but could it have an ulterior motive? Consider the Rose Bowl's place in a world of 16-team super conferences. With an expanded Pac-10 and Big Ten, the Rose would be partners with 32 of the biggest and best football programs in the country, almost 27 percent of Division I-A. That list would include USC, Ohio State, Michigan, Texas and Oklahoma.

In that scenario, the possibility of national titles being monopolized by the Pac-10 and Big Ten suddenly goes up. The possibility of a mere 16-team SEC becoming marginalized also goes up. That's a long way to go for payback by Delany but it's worth contemplating.

3. Larry Scott is the MVP: Make that Most Valuable Playah of conference realignment at this point. None of this would have happened had not the Pac-10 commissioner, who celebrates his one-year anniversary in office this week, gone after those six Big 12 schools.

With one bold stroke, Scott took some of the leverage away from Delany, the man thought to be driving the expansion bus. With Colorado in the fold and the five other Big 12 schools seriously considering a move to the Pac-10, Delany had to speed up his expansion timetable considerably. Nebraska gave the Big Ten a strong western outpost, an anchor for what could have been Armageddon.

Had the Pac-10 grown to 16, the Big Ten would have had to answer in order to retain market share, TV rights, federal grant money, even enrollment.

That's not saying it won't happen in the future. Only a decision by Texas to slam on the brakes and keep the Big 12 together kept the age of super conferences from dawning.

Even though he fell short of his goal, Scott announced himself as a big timer in college athletics. This is a guy who thinks marketing on the Pacific Rim is important and that the best way to promote the league was to hire the same people who represent Tom Cruise and George Clooney (Creative Artists Agency, CAA).

At age 44, Scott is just getting started. As one columnist put it, the Pac-10 commissioner took the Pac-10 from 1955 to 2015 in a week.

4. A 16-team Pac-10 would have/will work: Had Scott succeeded, there was already a lot of squawking about sending Texas-based athletes to the West Coast in the middle of the week to play volleyball games.

Blah, blah, blah.

If Scott is as smart as I think he is, he was ready to position the new Pac-16 this way: USC, UCLA, Washington State, Washington, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford and Cal would have played in the league's west division. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech, Colorado, Texas A&M, Arizona and Arizona State would have been in the east.

That's essentially the Pac-10 vs. the old Big 12 South. Think of it as two separate conferences with the winners meeting in the championship game. That means a team like Texas could actually travel less than it did in the Big 12.

Assuming a nine-game conference schedule, Texas would play its seven division opponents plus two from the other division. Longest trip within the division: Something like 2 hours, 25 minutes to Tuscon or Phoenix. There would be only one road game required to the West Division.

Counting non-conference games, Texas played 10 games last season within the state. If it configures that same non-conference schedule, it could play eight or nine within the state as a Pac-10 member.

No more trips to Kansas, Missouri or Iowa State. Seems like a pretty good trade off.

5. Why it was worth it for everyone to save the Big 12: Texas was ready to go to the Pac-10, believe me. So much so that a lot of us thought Nebraska going to the Big Ten was the trigger.

But Texas pulled back and eventually agreed that a 10-team Big 12 was viable. Why? There was a general feeling nationally that expansion was happening too quickly. There were implications -- political, financial, maybe even Congressional -- that the game's leaders weren't ready to deal with just yet.

Then a strange thing happened to put a cap on what was about to become college athletics' Deepwater Horizon. Two competitors -- ESPN and Fox -- combined to keep the Big 12 together.

Fox's regional deal with the league expires in two years. Fox, while not a national player in regular-season college football, makes a lot of money from its regional packages. ESPN still has five years to run on its deal with the Big 12, but it showed good faith by not cutting the rights fees after the league lost Colorado and Nebraska.

The Big 12 moved on, based only on promises that there would be more money in the future. While conferences usually get an idea of what their next network deal is going to be worth, it never has two competitors come together to offer a projection for huge money with no signatures on any contracts.

Why did the Big 12's continued existence make sense? ESPN and Fox conceivably would have hurt themselves if the Pac-10 expansion went through. In that case, the Big 12 would have folded, meaning Fox and ESPN would have lost a property. A 16-team Pac-10 that included Texas would have been a juicy property, but perhaps not for ESPN or Fox, which are current partners with the league.

Scott knew there was a big payoff coming if he let the next contract go out to bid. With possible bidders NBC Universal and TNT on the horizon, ESPN and Fox could have gone from two BCS leagues to zero.

Money and television might have jump-started this latest round of alignment. For now, it also ended it.

Tomorrow's what we learned: How the Big Ten divisions might look; how Notre Dame still holds the key; Thank you Urban Meyer; why the network age might be one and done with the Big Ten. And other stuff ...

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

Biggest Stories

CBSSports Facebook Google Plus
Conversation powered by Livefyre


Most Popular