Wednesday, June 09, 2010

NU Re-View: Realignment Watch

OK, my World Cup preparations are being disturbed by this noisy conference realignment story. I had intended to put my 'Husker coverage on the back burner until mid-July, but it doesn't seem like things are going to wait.

As it sits now, NU has been presented with an ultimatum by Texas - declare your commitment to the Big XII or we're leaving for the Pac-10 and taking the South Division with us. I understand the logic behind the move from Texas. The Big XII is very good to Texas, as they pretty well control the conference and still have the option to start their own television network. Losing Nebraska would significantly damage the viability of the conference, simply because the rest of the North teams don't carry enough football attraction nationally. If, as it appears, Nebraska does not yet have a Big Ten invite in the pocket of its' scarlet blazer, then it's smart for Texas to make a power play to force NU to make its' decision now.

At least, in the short term, it's smart. Whether this kind of hardball will ultimately spell the end of the awkward coupling that has been the Big XII remains to be seen. The question right now remains, what is Nebraska's best option? Here's my thoughts, in order of preference.

I know that's a surprise to a lot of people, as I have been excited about getting out of the Big Longhorn conference ever since the Big Ten first announced expansion plans. But the more I think about it, the more I think cutting a new deal with our "friends" to the south makes sense.

As insufferable as they may be, Texas is the single most powerful force in college athletics. While they've made a huge bluff (they don't call it TEXAS Hold 'em poker for nothing) about going to the Pac-10, Texas would much rather stay put where they are and put the finishing touches on a Longhorn Sports Network. For the first time since the inception of the league, Nebraska is in a position of power to dictate terms.

So what should Nebraska get to stay in the league? First of all, they would need an iron-clad guarantee that ALL members of the conference are staying put. Texas columnists are already pinning the black hat on Tom Osborne for NU's flirting with the Big Ten, but the truth is that Texas was doing just as much flirting with the hussy from up north. Texas has shown repeatedly that it will do what is in Texas' best interest, and if that means bolting for the Pac-10 in two years after the Big Ten expansion has completed, don't doubt for a second they'd go. If NU is going to give up going to the Big Ten, then the poison pill to keep NU in the Big XII needs to be big enough to keep Texas on the farm for the foreseeable future as well.

There's other things that should happen, including returning the football championship to a North Division site every other year, and modifications for the decision-making process to give northern teams more of an equal footing.

I'm also at least a little sympathetic to the plight of Kansas, Kansas State, and Iowa State. The death of the Big XII would spell big trouble for those schools. Kansas and Kansas State could end up in a geographically-unwieldy expansion into the Big East if they want to remain in a BCS conference, or in the up-and-coming Mountain West. Iowa State looks almost certain to end up in a non-BCS conference such as the MAC or Conference USA. While the marriage between Nebraska and Texas is far from healthy, there's a little argument to be made for staying together for the sake of the kids. I don't think 116 years of history is something to be thrown away lightly.

IF Nebraska doesn't get what it wants from Texas, and IF the Big Ten makes an offer, Nebraska should go. The extra dollars Nebraska would receive from the Big Ten Network would make an immediate impact, and Nebraska would be a good fit geographically in the conference.

It's not a perfect match, though. Gone would be the day-trip road games to KU, KSU, and ISU, and it would be more of a strain on the smaller sports. And, 'Husker fans, if you think you're sick of Texas arrogance, wait until you get a load of Big Ten administration arrogance. Really, the main difference between the two is the size of their belt buckles.

Still, if the offer is on the table, Nebraska almost has to go. Given the ultimatum that's been laid down, if Nebraska knuckles under without getting anything in return, then Nebraska will officially cede all authority in the conference to Texas. Kiss the basketball tournament in KC goodbye after the current deal expires. Kiss goodbye any thought of moving the football championship game from Dallas. The only thing left would be to add longhorns to the side of the conference logo.

No, it's not a Monty Python "there is no third thing" reference. IF Nebraska doesn't get the concessions from Texas, and IF there is no offer from the Big Ten, Nebraska should ignore the ultimatum and do nothing. If Texas follows through on its' threat to leave and take the division with them, the results will be catastrophic for the Big XII North schools.

Except for Nebraska. Of all those schools, Nebraska is the only one with the ability to generate viewers nationwide to make itself an attractive target for a big-time conference. I would ultimately be stunned if the Big Ten did not invite NU, although a "no other team" deal to get Notre Dame in could potentially block that move. NU could end up in the Big East. NU could also lead the North into a resurgent Mountain West conference. Currently the Mountain West is not a automatic BCS qualifier. But they're on the doorstep as things sit currently. If the BCS adds a national marquee team like Nebraska, plus the rest of the North, plus Boise State, all of a sudden the Mountain West Network (yes, Virginia, there is such a thing already) becomes a much more attractive prospect.

I really have no idea how this is all going to sort out. I suspect there's stuff going on behind the scenes we can't see and don't know about that will ultimately decide everyone's fate. If I had to guess, I would say that Nebraska will be in the Big Ten as of next week. But until we know, we don't know.

All I know is that just about my entire family on my wife's side are crazy Hawkeye fans. If NU goes to the Big Ten, and the Nebraska-Iowa game becomes the day after Thanksgiving traditional matchup, there's going to be some tense conversation over mashed potatoes and gravy over the next few years.

GBR, baby.

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