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Pac-10 Realignment: Big 12 Falling Apart As More Schools Jump Ship

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Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott went on a come-join-us mission across Texas and Oklahoma over the weekend, a trip that could officially doom the Big 12 and set in motion another round of conference jumping.

Colorado and Nebraska have already left the rapidly disintegrating conference and five more could be on the way out, too, if Scott has his way.

The next shockwave could hit Tuesday, when the Texas regents meet to discuss the Longhorns' place in the conference tilt-a-whirl that started with Colorado's defection to the Pac-10 last week.

If Texas heads west, then Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas A&M would likely follow, all but securing the Big 12's fate and leaving the five remaining schools in the lurch.

Conferences are building and blowing up, rivalries are being conceived and killed, and the structure of college athletics could be on the verge of a major shift.

"College sports, a lot of it is about traditions and rivalries and things like that, and there'll definitely be some changes," said Joel Maxcy, a sports economist at the University of Georgia.

The almost-hourly changes have been hard to keep up with and the future possibilities are complex, so it's time to look at what's happened, what could be coming and what the implications will be.


What's happened so far?

The conference jumble started in December, when the Big Ten said it was looking at expansion. Nebraska and Missouri indicated they'd be interested in switching allegiances and were given a leave-or-stay deadline of last Friday by the Big 12.

Nebraska left, breaking ties with Big 12 schools that dated, in some cases, to the 1890s. The Cornhuskers will join the Big Ten in 2011.

Missouri, once thought to be a perfect fit for the Big Ten, begrudgingly decided to stay in the Big 12 after failing to get a Big Ten invite, though school curators left open the possibility of leaving if another opportunity pops up.

Colorado didn't wait for Nebraska and Missouri, firing a pre-emptive strike by leaving the Big 12 last Wednesday. The Buffaloes will begin Pac-10 play in 2012.

The Big 12 got all the attention, but there was another conference switch last week.

On Friday, the same day Nebraska left the Big 12, Boise State packed up for the Mountain West and left the smaller Western Athletic Conference behind for the chance at a clearer path to Bowl Championship Series games. The Broncos have already done well in getting through to the BCS, winning two of the past four Fiesta Bowls. Boise State officially joins the Mountain West in 2011.


What's up next?

The big-ticket agenda item is the five-team defection from the Big 12 to the Pac-10.

Texas, the kingpin of the Big 12, is the hinge to this swinging door; the Longhorns leave, the four others will likely follow, though Texas A&M has reportedly drawn interest from the Southeastern Conference.

If the mass defection does take place, five schools will be searching for a place to land. Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Baylor and Iowa State could try to pick up the pieces and pilfer from other conferences or look for a new place to call home.

But with so much at stake, don't think they've just been sitting around, waiting to see what's going to happen before making a move.

"We are going to be in a BCS league, I'm totally confident about that," Kansas basketball coach Bill Self said. "If something were to happen where we weren't, we'd adjust."

The Big Ten also might not be done. The conference has the 12 teams it needs to hold a football championship, but it might have designs on joining the 16-team mega-conference trend. Proudly-independent Notre Dame has been rumored to be a target, as could teams from the Big East.


What rivalries are dead and what have been created?

Oklahoma and Nebraska once had a heated rivalry, but some of the luster faded when the Big 12 split the two schools into separate divisions. Still, it was a big game every two years. The Cornhuskers also had an under-the-radar rivalry with Colorado that will no longer exist.

The Boise State-Idaho rivalry appears to be dead, too. The Broncos don't have many openings in their schedule over the next few years and the game will no longer be in conference, as it was in the WAC.

Also, one of the nation's most intense rivalries could come to an end if Kansas and Missouri end up in separate conferences. The hatred there dates to the Civil War.

As for new rivalries, Texas-USC could be an exciting one. Seeing the two programs from the classic 2006 national championship game play every year or two is sure to draw interest, not just locally, but around the country.

Nebraska-Minnesota could be a good one in the Big Ten, with the schools close enough for fans to travel back and forth and a history that dates to 1900. Oklahoma-Oregon, Texas Tech-Arizona and California-Colorado could be intriguing, too.


How will realignment affect the NCAA tournament?

There shouldn't be a huge impact. The NCAA voted to restructure the tournament earlier this year, expanding by three to 68 teams. There will have to be some reshuffling of automatic bids, particularly if the Big 12 or the Big East are gutted and scrapped, but the current structure would only have to be tweaked, not overhauled.

The NCAA's Division I men's basketball committee plans to get feedback from its member institutions and is scheduled to meet at the end of the month to determine the future structure of the tournament.


What's next for the BCS?

The BCS maintains it's still in a good position despite all the shifting.

There will have to be some adjustments if the conference chaos continues; the current format with the automatic tie-ins won't work if the Big 12 – and possibly the Big East – dissipates.

Should the shuffling concentrate schools into 16-team conferences, the BCS would have to reformat, possibly adding another conference or two into the fold. The Mountain West would be a likely candidate if it lands Kansas, Kansas State or any two of the potential Big 12 leftovers.

Of course, the mega-conference scenario would also reopen discussion of something the BCS doesn't want to hear: playoffs. With 64 teams amassed in four conferences, it would likely be an easy transition from the current format.

"I think the institutions that support the BCS system will continue to do so," BCS executive director Bill Hancock said. "The consensus supports the BCS, a strong consensus. There are people who would like to try something different, but 80-90 percent among universities want to support it. I don't see them changing their minds."

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