The following will attempt to explain what is happening in college football right now regarding conference expansion. If this all seems to make no sense, that is because none of it does, and may not for quite a while.
WHAT IN THE NAME OF ROY KRAMER IS GOING ON HERE?
Only the biggest realignment of the college football conference landscape since SEC expansion in 1990. Driven by television revenues and changing demographics (especially in the Big Ten,) the shuffling has already changed the lineups in the Pac-10, Big Ten and Mountain West, and may result with the disintegration of the Big 12. The ripple effect will spread all the way down the food chain as conferences cannibalize each other.
HOW SERIOUS HAS THIS ALREADY GOTTEN?
If serious is defined as brand confusion, then very, very serious indeed. The Big Ten, already playing with eleven teams, became even more inaccurately named by adding Nebraska on Friday. The Big 12 now stands at 10 teams after the defection of Nebraska and of Colorado, which announced on Friday their acceptance of a membership bid from the Pac-10, which now stands at 11 teams. The only major conference currently exercising any truth in advertising is the Southeastern Conference, since the Big East is more like the Medium East and everyone else is busy failing basic math.
DO YOU HAVE A VISUAL AID THAT COULD HELP ME UNDERSTAND ALL OF THIS?
A few of them, actually. This is Day Zero of the new college football calendar, represented in handy map form.
WHY IS THE BIG 12 LITERALLY AND FIGURATIVELY ON FIRE HERE?
Because of the compelling financials being offered by its competitors and its own odd revenue-sharing agreement, which shares money unequally based on the number of television appearances; because the Big 12 North has become precisely what Tom Osborne predicted it would be early in the Big 12's history, a bottom heavy conference anchored around Texas that demographically would tilt unevenly toward the Lone Star state and its programs; because competitively, both Nebraska and Colorado stand a better chance of being financially and athletically competitive in their new arrangements; because without Nebraska and Colorado, the Big 12 North ceases to be a viable second division.
DOES THIS SUMMARIZE WHY THE BIG 12 HAS COLLAPSED IN TOTAL?
No. The principal at work here is a variation of the prisoner's dilemma, last seen by the American public illustrated in the film The Dark Knight, where the Joker rigged two ferries with explosives and gave each boat one detonator with a key.
"One school leaving a conference does not break up a conference," Osborne said. "Two schools leaving a conference does not break up a conference. Six schools leaving a conference breaks up a conference."
Rather than wait for the six schools in question -- Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Colorado -- to flee into the arms of the Pac-10, Nebraska decided to detonate the bomb first and flee the conference intact before becoming a refugee.
THIS SIX TEAM FLIGHT: A VISUAL AID WOULD BE NICE.
Well, yes it would be, wouldn't it?
This represents what would be the largest number of teams currently in play, and follows Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott's proposal merging the six teams into the Pac-10 to create what we like to call The Manifest Destiny conference: two eight team divisions comprising the old Pac-8 (USC, Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State, and UCLA) in one division with the Arizona schools in the other with the newcomers.
Note that the Big Ten picks up either Rutgers or Maryland. These are hypotheticals, and do not include Notre Dame, which has been removed from consideration here because even in rumor the role of Notre Dame has been small and shadowy at best. They have shown no indication they are going anywhere, and thus the Big Ten in our guesswork opts for Rutgers or Maryland. There are numerous other possibilities, however.
HOW LIKELY IS THIS?
Increasingly more unlikely thanks to the vicissitudes of Texas politics and recruiting bases. The Texas legislature already tried to get its lame friend Baylor into the party even though its name wasn't on the list, and may not have given up on the effort entirely in negotiating with the Pac-10 this weekend. The historical ties between Texas and Texas A&M matter here; so do the rivalries between Oklahoma and Texas, especially since Oklahoma declared its intentions last week to follow Texas wherever it went.
SO IF THAT DOES NOT HAPPEN, WILL THE BIG 12 BECOME THE BIG TEN WHILE THE BIG 12 BECOMES THE BIG TEN?
Yes, and it would look something like this:
The Big 12 would tweak its revenues a bit, roll with 10 teams, and stop the bleeding by holding onto its remaining members. Keep this in your head: the road of least resistance rules here. Texas already holds several programs in orbit all by itself, and would like to keep it that way. This morning, per Chip Brown, that seems to be the way things are drifting.
The Pac-10 would go to an even twelve teams by picking up another school, in this case most likely Utah, and everyone stands pat for the moment.
SO WHO HOLDS THIS TOGETHER RIGHT NOW?
Not Texas, or at least not the Longhorns directly. Texas A&M spent the better part of the weekend entertaining SEC Commissioner Mike Slive and the notion of joining the SEC, something Texas A&M regent and former Alabama head coach Gene Stallings is pushing for hard in College Station. The move could be more lucrative for A&M than its current deal, but has several political drawbacks: a break with tradition, the creation of a suddenly acrimonious relationship with its bigger older brother in Austin, and the possibility of East Texas recruits becoming another recruiting dominion for the SEC.
None of these address the possibility of Texas A&M being even less competitive in the SEC than they've been in the Big 12 South. Since winning the Big 12 in 1998, the Aggies have not appeared in the title game or seriously threatened for the Big 12 South title. Faring any better in an SEC West with LSU, Ole Miss, and Alabama waiting in the same division is doubtful.
If the Aggies stay -- and for domestic harmony, they most likely will -- then the current round of expansion will likely end.
COULD THE BIG TEN STILL UPEND THIS PROVERBIAL APPLE CART?
Certainly, but it would be the equivalent of hitting a straight royal flush on the river in Texas Hold 'Em. This still could happen:
This would involve the Pac-10 picking up Utah, the Big Ten somehow talking Texas and Oklahoma into joining, and then an enactment of the Aggie secession sequence combined with the addition of a 14th team to the SEC (represented here by the Virginia Tech Hokies.) Then the ACC replaces their Appalachian loss by subbing West Virginia, the Big East threatens to implode without a proper sub, and we have total anarchy and cannibalism all over again.
BUT THIS ISN'T HAPPENING, RIGHT?
We cannot say this for sure. Then again, we cannot say this won't happen, either:
Both are equally likely at this point in reality, which is to say only in the mathematical sense of probable can these things happen.
HOW LONG IS ALL THIS INFORMATION VALID?
Oh, this is good for at least the next 15 minutes. Rush to the betting windows to make your wagers accordingly, because all information is not final and has the shelf life of raw chicken left outside on a hot day.