It appears that the dust has settled, for the time being, in the great college conference realignment of 2010, so I can finally try to put some thoughts together. I’m not promising anything particularly well organized or original. Consider yourself warned.

What a strange couple of weeks it has been. There were multiple times during that span in which I stopped reading any e-mails, message board posts, Tweets, etc. that had anything to do with what was going to happen to the Big 12. Some of the scenarios were difficult enough to consider, and when you throw in hysterics from some people, it was easier just to avoid it for awhile.

I was concerned about what would happen to KU, for sure. But I was also confident that they would land in another big conference. My position all along has been that this is going to be a multi-year process, and whatever gets resolved this summer will just be the first step and will be followed by more changes down the road. Because of that, it was perhaps easier for me than some to believe that KU would end up in a conference comparable to the Big 12 rather than the Mountain West or something like that.

There are still many details that need to be revealed, but for the most part I’m happy with the Big 12 surviving as a ten-school conference. However, had you told me months ago that the conference would lose two schools this summer, I don’t think I would have put Nebraska on the list. That was a pretty amazing and shocking move. We were out at dinner when that news broke, and as I saw it flash on the ESPN crawl at our restaurant, I think that may have been the lowest moment in the who process for me. If Nebraska was leaving, the conference was toast, I thought. I bear no grudge towards any school that makes a move that it believes is best for its students, athletes, faculty, fans, donors, and alums. But it is disappointing that a school that KU has been playing since 1907 and featured one of the defining athletic programs of the old Bog 8 would cut-and-run.

Now is the Big 10(12) going to wuss out and go to an east-west split that gives Nebraska a huge advantage in football, or will they find another way to mix the schools up so that Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State aren’t stuck in one division?

I could give a shit about Colorado. They haven’t been a player in the conference in years and are under immense financial stress, from what I’ve read. Enjoy the Pac-10, Buffs. I hear trips to Pullman, WA are awesome in the winter.

I should not mock. KU could have ended up going west had things worked out differently.

So now the Big 12 is down to ten schools. I think my view of the current set-up will be similar to that of fans of most of the rest of the conference: I’m not thrilled being hooked to Texas and having my school make concessions to keep them happy. But the reality is it takes a cash cow like Texas (or Ohio State, Florida, etc.) to keep a conference afloat. I don’t trust the administration at Texas at all. I’m afraid we’ll be going through this again when the next TV contract runs out. If giving Texas some more freedom generates more revenue for the rest of the conference, allows a major conference to have a northern hub in Kansas City, and keeps KU in a BCS conference, I suppose I’m for it.

It’s difficult to weigh in on the possibilities had the Big 12 totally imploded, since most were based on rumor and speculation rather than any concrete news from the schools involved. Had KU needed to find a new conference, though, my first choice would have been one that did not include Texas as a member. Ideally the Big 10 would have come to KU and Missouri and asked them to join. That would have been the most geographically convenient option, plus I’d suddenly see every KU football and basketball game on the Big 10 network, not to mention annoy the hell out of my Big 10 alum friends.

I think my second choice would have been the Pac-10, assuming Texas did not go west, too. The Big East seems like the next conference that is going to have membership issues, and I’d hate to move there and see it break apart immediately. It would be interesting, though, if the Big East was secure and KU did have to pick between it and the Pac-10 what the school would choose.

Thankfully, for now, we don’t have to worry about that.

I think it’s also interesting that the conference seems content to eschew the football championship game. That’s such a money maker that even with a fat new TV contract in the future, I’m surprised they’re so willing to set the game aside. I know coaches don’t like it, but that’s a big chip the ADs and presidents are giving up. Then again, perhaps that’s just talk in favor of the new reality, and they are in fact looking at schools they can poach to get the league back to 12 teams sooner rather than later.1

As for the two money making sports, the Big 12(10) is going to be a beast for football, especially for the teams in the second division. With the elimination of divisions, it’s going to be awfully tough for some schools to get six wins. That’s why it would not surprise me if the schedule gets adjusted and they go to a Big 10(12) style of playing a core of rival schools and rotating through the rest. Giving each school four non-conference games increases the odds of maximizing the number of bowl bids the league receives.

In basketball, you can argue it’s the toughest conference, top-to-bottom, in the nation. Colorado and Nebraska brought nothing to that side of the ledger. There are no pushovers left. And with the return to the round-robin schedule, I doubt you’ll see too many teams getting through the season with only one loss. Big 12(10) teams will either enter the NCAA tournament as tested as anyone in the country, or completely wiped out from beating the hell out of each other for two months.

Hopefully things will calm down for awhile and we can all get back to worrying about games and recruiting and coaching changes rather than where and who we’ll be playing in two years.

  1. Speaking of which, why this dumb rule that you need 12 teams to play a conference title game? How does that make any sense? And how can the NCAA mandate that kind of thing when they don’t control how a national champion is selected? Maybe that’s the other answer: that rule will go away to prevent conferences from raiding each other to get to the magic number.