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Let me preface this post by stating in no way would I compare the tragic quagmire of World War I with the current environment swirling in college athletics. But to draw a historical comparison between the two situations, it was the entanglements and alliances before Gavrilo Princip's shot to Franz Ferdinand's heart on June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo that caused World War I, not the shot itself.
So, in this current head-on-a-swivel version of realignment source-gate, who fired the shot that propelled the recent chaos? Was it the Big Ten in December 2009 by announcing plans to expand? Was it the Pac-10/12/16 by inviting six Big 12 schools in early June 2010? Was it Colorado, which jumped from the Big 12 to the Pac-10/12? Was it Nebraska, which jumped from the Big 12 to the Big Ten? Was it Texas A&M, which wiped its hands of Texas and the Big 12 and will head to the SEC when Baylor is pacified? Was it Pittsburgh and Syracuse, which stealthly bolted from the Big East to the ACC this weekend?
Or was it the Big 12 by creating a destructive financial model that allows an annual divide between the have-sos and have-nots? Was it the SEC which refused to say no to Texas A&M? Was it Texas by making everyone in every circle kiss the ring? Was it the NCAA, which has no power to stop realignment from taking place? Was it the college presidents and administrators by eschewing a playoff system for a head-scratching system called the Bowl Championship Series, which allows "non-profit" bowl games to dictate which major team plays the another major team where? Or is it ESPN, which owns all things college football?
Take a deep breath and concede that each of these events are part of chaotic college sports landscape this morning. The shot has been fired, and college athletics will change. But will the genre look like once the smoke clears?
For reference, here's where potential realignment sits as of Monday morning:
[naviga:li]Texas A&M has announced it will leave the Big 12, and SEC officials have voted unanimously to accept Texas A&M as its 13th member, provided the league won't get sued. Baylor, Iowa State and other Big 12 schools have not waived their rights to sue either Texas A&M or the SEC. This remains in a holding pattern.[/naviga:li]
[naviga:li]Board of Regents at Oklahoma and Texas meet today to discuss future conference plans and likely give their presidents the right to negotiate with other leagues, presumably the Pac-12. Oklahoma State and Texas Tech will follow their states' flagship institutions to whatever league Oklahoma and Texas ultimately pick.[/naviga:li]
[naviga:li]Pittsburgh and Syracuse were unanimously accepted as the ACC's 13th and 14th members Sunday morning. Officials at Big East members UConn, Rutgers and West Virginia have publicly spoken about looking at other leagues.[/naviga:li]
The speculation wheel is spinning like a windmill in a tornado. Who moves where next? I think first you have to look at the power players, and that starts with the Big Ten.
If you still are buying the World War I analogy, I'm looking at the Big Ten as England. The Big Ten has what it wants now, but can it afford to stay out of mix? If the Pac-12 becomes the Pac-16 with Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, if the SEC adds schools in Texas and Missouri, if the ACC snags UConn and West Virginia (or Rutgers), the Big Ten's options for growth are limited. The Big Ten with 12 teams has less influence than the other three leagues (unless Commissioner Jim Delany is waiting for the other three to implode, which means he's the smartest man in the room).
But before we get to the Big Ten possibilities, let's look at the immediate situation.
It appears Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas will head west to join the Pac-12. I like the discussions of four, four-team pods rotating schedules among the pods and the best two schools meeting for the championship rather than two rigid divisions. It's flexible enough so schools can get into Los Angeles and preserve long-standing (and new natural) rivalries. It also allows the league to become one, cohesive unit - until it breaks apart in eight or 10 years.
Here's how the Pac-16 pod system would look:
[naviga:li]California Division: USC, UCLA, California, Stanford[/naviga:li]
[naviga:li]Northwest Division: Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State[/naviga:li]
[naviga:li]Mountain Division: Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, Colorado[/naviga:li]
[naviga:li]Plains Division: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech[/naviga:li]
The SEC will add Texas A&M once the litigation clears, and I think the league picks Missouri over West Virginia as its 14th member. Both schools have a mix of Southern culture and Midwest/Mideast roots. But Missouri has the population advantage (6 million to 1.8 million), it is the only FBS school in its state, it boasts two major metro areas and it borders three SEC states (Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas). Missouri also is a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities (which would lift the SEC's total to four - Vanderbilt, Florida and Texas A&M). Missouri also was ranked 90th by U.S. News and World Report's best national universities, while West Virginia is tied for 164th. West Virginia does have a slight edge in athletics department revenue ($62 million to $55 million based on 2009 figures).
Rather than shred some of college football's best rivalries for the sake of perfect geography, I see the SEC putting Missouri in the SEC East and Texas A&M in the SEC West.
[naviga:li]EAST: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Missouri[/naviga:li]
[naviga:li]WEST: LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M[/naviga:li]
[naviga:li]Crossover football games: Auburn-Georgia; Alabama-Tennessee; LSU-Florida; Arkansas-Missouri; South Carolina-Texas A&M; Vanderbilt-Ole Miss; Mississippi State-Kentucky[/naviga:li]
The ACC appears committed to looking northward and adding quality basketball schools with academic standards in major markets that have football potential. That's the profile of Syracuse and Pittsburgh and likely Connecticut, which I see as the league's 15th member.
As for No. 16, I think it's an even fight between Rutgers and West Virginia. The ACC has academic prestige with five current (plus Pittsburgh; Syracuse was booted this spring) AAU members. Rutgers is an AAU institution with heavy alumni in the New Jersey market. But it has no tradition of athletic success. West Virginia boasts programs that annually compete for major bowl games and the Final Four in basketball. It would fit nice with long-time rival Pittsburgh and border state schools Virginia, Virginia Tech and Maryland. I see slightly more value with West Virginia than with Rutgers.
The football split is perfect North-South - geographically, historically and competitively. The only rivalry the league may have massage - if it protects one - is Virginia-North Carolina. True, it doesn't carry weight nationally, but it is one of the nation's oldest at 116 games.
[naviga:li]NORTH: Virginia, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Boston College, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, UConn, West Virginia[/naviga:li]
[naviga:li]SOUTH: North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke, Wake Forest, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami, Florida State[/naviga:li]
BIG EAST/BIG 12 BREAKDOWN
Unfortunately, the holdovers of the conference shuffle have nowhere else to go but into the arms of each other. Although it's appears to be a bulked-up version of Conference USA, it does have a few advantages. Television networks will look for cost-effective inventory outside the four major conferences. The Big East/12 gives it to them. That may mean Tuesday or Friday night football games, but financially it will be worth it. I also think - mostly to avoid Congressional involvement - the league will hang on to its BCS standing.
I do see a split between the Big East basketball schools and its football brethren. The basketball version still will rank among the best, while the football league will be decent.
[naviga:li]EAST: Rutgers, South Florida, Louisville, Cincinnati, Memphis, Central Florida[/naviga:li]
[naviga:li]WEST: Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor, TCU, Houston, SMU[/naviga:li]
[naviga:li]BASKETBALL-ONLY: Villanova, Georgetown, St. John's, Seton Hall, Marquette, DePaul, Providence, St. Louis[/naviga:li]
Which brings us to the biggest question of all ...
BIG TEN BREAKDOWN
For nearly 20 years, Delany resisted the urge to add a 12th school for the sake of a lucrative championship game. Then when Delany fired the shot (yes, it's him and the Big Ten) heard round the college athletics word in December 2009, he did it to add value. The league considered jumping to 14 or 16 schools and sought home-run additions like Texas and Notre Dame before Larry Scott's Pac-10 upstaged him in June 2010 by inviting half the Big 12. Delany altered the 12-to-18-month time frame, picked up national brand Nebraska, and the league stopped at 12 schools.
Now, Delany has told multiple reporters the Big Ten has no plans to be reactive in the recent realignment discussion. He's interested in adding value and extending the league's brand, not expanding just to add schools. But I see two schools that add value and enhance the league regionally and nationally. Those two schools are Kansas and Notre Dame.
Notre Dame long has resisted Big Ten overtures for expansion. The school flat-out turned down the league in 1999 and gave a quiet, "Thanks, but no thanks" response in 2010. Notre Dame values its football independence more than Republicans like tax cuts. But Notre Dame's other sports are in danger of irrelevancy in the fading Big East. There's no question Notre Dame would want the Big Ten for every sport but football, but it's an all-or-nothing deal. I think with the shifting national landscape, Notre Dame could be left without its BCS exemption. If the Big Ten, SEC, ACC and PAC-16 close ranks on the bowls, Notre Dame would have to jump to avoid becoming irrelevent in football, a modern-day Fordham. I think the Irish make that jump.
The Kansas situation is interesting because comparing it to Missouri is like comparing Indiana to Illinois. Illinois, like Missouri, has more overall value. But Indiana, like Kansas, has a national brand in its basketball program. Kansas basketball, outside of Oklahoma and Texas football, is the most compelling national brand in the Big 12. It adds value to any league, especially the Big Ten. Kansas benefits Big Ten newcomer Nebraska with short travels and long-time familiarity (not necessarily a rivalry because in both sports it's hammer vs. nail). Kansas basketball gives an instant bump in TV ratings when it plays at Michigan State, Indiana, Illinois or Wisconsin. It would bring to Big Ten basketball what Nebraska brings to Big Ten football.
The league would have to revamp its divisions again, but geography would work this time.
[naviga:li]EAST: Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State, Illinois, Indiana, Purdue[/naviga:li]
[naviga:li]WEST: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Northwestern, Notre Dame[/naviga:li]
The Big Ten might have to get creative to allow Michigan-Notre Dame and Illinois-Northwestern to play annually. Otherwise, it's competitively equal, just about geographically balanced, keeps nearly every rivalry intact and with the above exceptions, there's no need for crossover rivalries.
Now, when realignment ends and shuffle stops, is it possible to keep the leagues and schools from a Treaty of Versailles ending? Highly doubtful. The leagues eventually will implode with 14 or 16 schools are too unwieldy. The league's have-sos will try to break away from the have-nots and we'll have smaller, easier to manage leagues in 10 years. But for now, the storyline is realignment, the Big East and Big 12 are collateral damage and the trenches will be littered with