Leaving 'em in the dust, as usual.
Everyone knew it was coming, but advance notice doesn't make official word from Lincoln on Friday that Nebraska's Board of Regents has voted the Cornhuskers out of the Big 12 and into the Big Ten any less of a nuclear bombshell for the Big 12. The 'Huskers plan to begin play as the 12th full-fledged member of the Big Ten by 2011, a year earlier than expected.
Yes: At the moment, the Big Ten has 12 teams, while the Big 12 has ten. If the fallout progresses as expected, the Pac-10 could have 16 teams by the end of next week, and the Big 12 will be on the verge of having zero.
Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman confirmed to reporters that the defection comes on the heels of a conference-wide ultimatum, issued last week after news broke of a dramatic poaching effort by the Pac-10, to commit to the Big 12 through 2016. Perlman said he and athletic director Tom Osborne both considered that a weak commitment and opted instead for the big payout of the Big Ten Network and "stability that the Big 12 cannot offer." Osborne said he twice asked coaches and administrators whether they would prefer the Big Ten or Big 12, and the vote came back unanimously for the Big Ten both times.
Big 12 North rival Colorado became the conference's first official defection on Thursday, voting to become the 11th member of the Pac-10, where it should be joined shortly by five members of the Big 12 South. With Nebraska's decision to leave, Texas has scheduled a meeting of its Board of Regents for Tuesday, when it will meet for "Discussion and appropriate action regarding athletic conference membership" – in other words, to announce its plans to join the Pac-10.
Conventional wisdom over the last week has held that the Longhorns will be followed by Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and (assuming its flirtations with the SEC bear no fruit without Texas en tow) Texas A&M. This would result in a 16-team behemoth encompassing the entire Western half of the U.S., including television sets in seven of the country's 20 largest markets.
At that point, the Big 12 will likely be left with five teams – North Division leftovers Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Missouri, and the only remnant of the South, Baylor – and a flickering neon sign directing surrounding conferences to put the 15-year-old conglomerate out of its misery. The Big Ten may be interested in Missouri, depending on the success of its longshot negotiations with Notre Dame. The Big East (itself wary of being poached by the Big Ten) has reportedly expressed interest in all of the North Division holdovers, a potential boost to its already strong basketball focus with the addition of Kansas. The Mountain West, having already strengthened its case for BCS admission Friday by adding Boise State, will also be in the mix, and may have the luxury of being somewhat selective. Conference USA, too, is "rapidly preparing to compete for the remaining Big 12 members." This is according to a surprisingly frank letter to supporters by East Carolina athletic director Terry Holland, saying "if the meltdown continues to full implosion." With word of Texas' pending announcement on Tuesday, "full implosion" officially became the most apt description for the Big 12's state of affairs.
That's the course of the next few days. In the meantime, Nebraska will begin the process of severing century-old ties with Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri – not to mention its old Big Eight nemesis, Oklahoma, the other half of an epic rivalry that stands as the single greatest casualty of the Big 12's decade-and-a-half existence. Against these opponents, the Cornhuskers rolled up more than 40 conference championships, five national championships and hundreds of mangled bodies beneath the thundering option attacks of the '80s and '90.
For all the Big Eight and Big 12 players, fans and especially coaches through the years who wished they'd never have to play Nebraska again, this probably isn't how they envisioned their wish coming true.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.