Pac-16 -- the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the 21st century

by | Columnist

So now the fun begins, with Nebraska flitting off to the Big Ten Conference (or as we can call it for the next 15 minutes or so, The New Big 12 Conference). Unless we've missed the signals in this, the worst kept secret in recent sports history, the next shoe drops when the Pacific-10 Conference becomes the new Austro-Hungarian Empire.

For those of who are neither 110 years old nor history majors, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was an enormous chunk right in the middle of Europe for several centuries, comprising as it did much of the current-day nations of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Albania, and yes, Austria and Hungary.

Oregon and Oklahoma State in the same conference? Not much in common besides the 'O'. (Getty Images)  
Oregon and Oklahoma State in the same conference? Not much in common besides the 'O'. (Getty Images)  
What you notice here are two things. One, that's a lot of countries. Two, none of them seem to speak the same language. What you can infer from No. 2 is that they also didn't like or trust each other all that much.

And that is your new Pac-10. Somewhere between four and seven separate cultures, and a brand new world where only one guy has the hammer to get things done (commissioner Larry Scott) but everyone else has a loud, persistent and annoying say.

In other words, with all due deference to Comrades Dodd and Parrish, who have been on this tale since its bizarre inception, the real fun isn't in Nebraska bolting to expand the Big Ten brand, but further west, where nobody ever met an argument they couldn't take all the way into next Tuesday.

And why is that? Because Nebraska's sensibilities are pretty much those of the rest of the Big Ten. Oh, maybe those wacky kids at Northwestern are a little out of the mainstream, but not much.

But if you can find the common thread that binds the 16 projected members of the new Pac-10 without mentioning the word "money" or any of its 300 or so synonyms, then you are 110 years old. Or a history major.

Or nuts.

Texas A&M and Cal? Let's see, they are both attended by carbon-based life forms, and the two football bands dress relatively alike. Southern California and Texas? Football is the be-and end-all of campus life, at least until the NCAA releases its report on misdeeds at SC sometime in 2016. Arizona and Texas Tech? Tucson and Lubbock look a little bit alike from a hazy distance. Baylor and Oregon, or Oklahoma and Stanford? School colors. Oregon State and Oklahoma State? School colors and initials.


Gary Parrish
An executive at a Big 12 school told the Omaha World-Herald that he expects Nebraska to become a member of the Big Ten as early as Friday. More

Dennis Dodd
Tom Osborne was a brave coach. Now, as Nebraska's AD, he is charged with deciding the Big 12's fate, and the rest of college sports. More | Finally closure?

Related links

Nebraska regents to discuss

Kansas hopes Nebraska stays put

And frankly, Baylor isn't even in yet, and would only be in if the Texas Legislature blackjacked them in as some misbegotten favor to new university president Ken Starr, who doesn't want to end up explaining to his alums why they have to develop a whole new rivalry with TCU in an expanded Mountain West or worse, have to reacquaint themselves to Rice and Conference USA, or even worse than that, start getting jiggy with North Texas and the Sun Belt.

In which case, we would be trying to find a logical dancing partner for Colorado. Washington? Because dogs and buffaloes are part of some hidden branch of the evolutionary tree?

Who the hell knows? This is a lot like Risk, as the good people at Every Day Should Be Saturday have explained, but it's a lot more like Monty Python's International Wife-Swapping sketch. And not only is wife-swapping more interesting than Nebraska joining the Big Ten, so is Risk, if you involve enough liquor.

In short, Larry Scott has just bitten off more than Emperor Franz Joseph could chew, and he ran the Austro-Hungarian Costco of Nations for 68 years.

The culture clash will be extraordinary, and delicious. And it will either serve as a completely bizarre and unforeseen binding mechanism for California and Texas, two states whose citizens don't get each other at all, or it will reinforce and exacerbate all those differences. I swear to you, the first time Cal and A&M play for something meaningful will be a pie fight for the ages.

What we have here, then, is the most spectacular gamble in collegiate sports/business history. There is no other scenario in Comrade Dodd's Expand-O-Meter that brings such unlike minds together. Not Notre Dame, Nebraska and Missouri to the Big Ten. Not Syracuse and Rutgers and Pittsburgh to the Big Ten. Not the SEC eating the lower chunk of the ACC just to show it still has utensils. Not a newly expanded Mountain West with the two Kansases, Iowa State, Colorado (or Baylor) and Boise State making another super conference.

No, this is where the fun is, because this is the real marriage (well, wife-swap) of convenience. And if you can't see the Bizarro World fun in that, then you hate fun.

And wife swapping, too.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.


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