We may know within a week whether college athletics is going to experience a couple small tremors during the next few months or whether we should prepare ourselves for a massive shake-up.
Two highly placed officials at Big 12 schools told the Austin American Statesman that the conference has ordered Nebraska and Missouri to decide by Friday whether they want to remain in the Big 12 or entertain the idea of joining the Big Ten. If both leave open the possibility of departing, it sounds like that may be enough to convince Texas to look elsewhere as well, paving the way for the destruction of the Big 12 and armageddon throughout college athletics.
Texas' ideal scenario reportedly is to remain in the current Big 12 and launch its own TV network, but losing Nebraska and Missouri might convince the Longhorns their future is more secure in a 16-team Pac-10. The other five Big 12 teams that Orangebloods.com reported Thursday that the Pac-10 will invite would likely follow Texas wherever it goes to preserve their rivalry with the Longhorns or remain partners with college athletics' biggest cash cow.
The fate of the Big 12 likely rests on Nebraska's shoulders because Missouri hasn't shown any signs that it will turn down an invitation from the Big Ten, even if it means damaging or giving up its longstanding rivalry with Kansas. More than doubling their current $8.4 million a year in TV revenue is plenty of incentive for the Tigers to leave behind a conference they felt favored the Texas schools.
Nebraska's scenario is more sketchy because the TV markets it brings are less attractive to the Big Ten, making it less of a certainty the Huskers will receive an invitation to join the conference. If Nebraska doesn't commit to the Big 12 by Friday's deadline and then doesn't receive an offer to join the Big Ten, the Huskers could be without a seat in this game of high stakes musical chairs.
Also potentially in that predicament are Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Baylor, the remaining four Big 12 teams that the Pac-10 reportedly will not invite. Already the lobbying has started, with Orangebloods.com reporting that 15 Texas legislators "will work to make sure Baylor, not Colorado, is invited to the Pac-10."
The Texas legislators taking up for Baylor are pointing to the political and economic importance of keeping the Texas members of the Big 12 South together as well as Colorado's recent athletic struggles and lack of sports such as baseball, softball and men's tennis.
(The CU football team is 16-33 the past four years, and the hoops team has made the NCAA Tournament twice in the last 41 years. Baylor's football isn't much better at 15-33, but the Bears' hoops program is on the rise.)
"Denver as a television market doesn't really support Colorado," the source said. "And the weather can also be an adventure."
That a school with the basketball pedigree of Kansas could also be left out of this discussion speaks to the lack of weight placed on hoops during the entire expansion process. A school's attractiveness to a new conference is based on TV revenue and football success, with every other factor a distant third.
It's difficult to imagine the Jayhawks being left out of the major-conference picture entirely when this is over, but these are definitely nervous times for them and their Big 12 peers. Expansion is about to shake up college athletics, and you don't want to slip through the cracks.