Mon Apr 26 07:58pm EDT
For the rest of the offseason, last week's BCS mini-convention in Arizona will probably stand as the high point of hypothetical conference expansion buzz and the moment the speculation began to wane: By now, all of the potential scenarios for Big Ten and Pac-10 growth have been explored ad nauseum, and both conference's commissioners went out of their way to pour cold water on the runaway gossip, Larry Scott by openly questioning the need for Pac-10 expansion and Jim Delany by denying reports that the Big Ten was accelerating the timetable for announcing its plans (or lack thereof). As it stands, the Big Ten probably won't move until December, if it decides to move at all.
One school apparently willing to keep its doors open, though, is Nebraska, which made clear in February via athletic director Tom Osborne that it was willing to listen to overtures from other conferences trying to lure the Huskers away from the Big 12. Chancellor Harvey Perlman reiterated to the Omaha World Herald over the weekend that the Huskers are "in the swirl of things," and the door is still wide open to, you know, whoever:
Perlman wants Husker fans to know one thing — the first hat he wears in any conversation about conference realignment will be red and white with an N on it. He and Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne are solidly together on potential courses of action. “My instinct and Tom's instinct isn't just to sit around and wait to see what bad things happen to you," the chancellor said. “We're certainly talking about what options we have."
Perlman said he wants the Big 12 to succeed. But that doesn't mean a move by Nebraska to any other power conference has been ruled out.
"I don't think anyone can dismiss anything out of hand," he said. "If you take the wildest predictions about mega-conferences — 16 is the number you see most, but 24 has been floated though not publicly — we certainly have to act in the interest of Nebraska."
(Note that, yes, the notion of a 24-team conference has been raised -- publicly -- by a directly interested power broker, and lay there like a bomb waiting to blow all previous assumptions to smithereens. I'm not going anywhere near it.)
In this case, "what's right for Nebraska" may almost certainly be translated as "whatever makes the most money for Nebraska." On that front, the Big Ten seems like the obvious winner, offering to potentially double the Huskers' annual conference take-home from roughly $11 million in the Big 12 to $22 million or more in the Big Ten, just like that.
Perlman insists there are other considerations -- academic fit, travel costs of sending the field hockey team to Penn State, or even to Rutgers if the conference expands to the East Coast, etc. -- but the general impression is that only a strong backlash by "the American public and forbearance of the congressional folk" re: a colossal superconference could keep him from leaping into Delany's arms if the Big Ten extends a formal offer at some point in the not-too-distant future. When it comes down to the bottom line, Nebraska couldn't afford not to leap at Big Ten money -- and that's even more true for potential expansion targets Missouri, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, et al, which stand to gain even more from a move than Nebraska.
That, in a nutshell, demonstrates the wild success of the Big Ten Network, beyond what anyone outside the conference imagined when the idea was floated in 2006 -- the general reaction then, if I recall, ran along the lines of "Who wants to add 60 cents to their cable bill to watch Purdue volleyball?" Less than four years later, the BTN is already the giant in the room in the Expansion Chronicles, without which the likes of Nebraska and Missouri (and Notre Dame, to the extent the Irish even remain in the discussion at all) would have no practical incentive to abandon their century-old rivalries in the Big 8/12.
In fact, the BTN is in all likelihood the catalyst for the Expansion Chronicles, because a growing beast must be fed new cable markets to ensure its annual allowance of revenue. Whether or not it was founded with imperialist ambitions, the network was a farsighted, far-reaching stroke that has already put the Big East essentially at the Big Ten's feet and cast much longer shadows than anyone could have imagined across the Big 12, a demographic lightweight when it comes to potential television audiences. Talk about exploiting a natural resource.
Of course, with the glacial pace of the "investigation" process and Delany's studied refusal to toss the media any scrap of news, rumor or speculation, the exact reach of the Big Ten's imperialist push is uncertain, potentially vastly overblown and possibly, in the end, much ado about nothing. But it is safe to assume that we wouldn't be reading Nebraska's top brass so insistent on keeping its options open, or Missouri's head coach describing his conference's uneven television plan as "staggering" and "a problem" five years ago.