Sun Apr 18 12:49pm EDT
Big Ten expansion was pitched last December as a glacial exploration process scheduled to span more than a year, at which point a recommendation on whether to formally pursue new members "may or may not be made." That timetable has been slightly adjusted, according to the Chicago Tribune, which said Saturday -- after just four months of premature speculation, visions of unlikely coups and unwieldy grandeur and the first specters of grim death beginning to hover over more than one other conference in the media -- that recommendation could be made today:
High-ranking Big Ten representatives will meet Sunday in Washington to discuss expansion. The timing and location of the session make sense considering the Association of American Universities has its semi-annual meetings there through Tuesday and all 11 Big Ten schools are AAU members.
If the conference can emerge from the meetings with a mandate to expand, Commissioner Jim Delany could take a substantial step next week at the annual Bowl Championship Series meetings outside Phoenix.
As laid out in the Big Ten's Dec. 15 statement, Delany would "notify" the commissioners of the affected conferences before "engaging in formal expansion discussions with other institutions."
In this case, "affected conferences" almost certainly means the Big East, which stands to lose Pittsburgh or Rutgers (and possibly Syracuse and/or West Virginia) in a Big Ten power grab, as well as the great white whale, Notre Dame, in basketball and non-revenue sports. Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe may also expect a call regarding Missouri in the next few weeks. Assuming the recommendation is "expand" (there is no indication from anyone anywhere that it won't be) negotiations with targeted schools should be well underway by the time conference presidents and chancellors meet in Chicago on the first weekend in June.
Under that timeline, the Big Ten -- and the Pac-10, too, which wants to have its new configuration in place when it goes into negotiations for its new television contracts this summer -- could send the first domino in the great Conference Realignment Wars of 2010 tumbling before the start of the season, a potentially torturous process depending on how many teams the Big Ten decides to poach. By the end of the year, the chaotic march toward the long-envisioned age of the superconference, already responsible for the death of the old Southwest Conference and dozens of other eruptions that have shaped the landscape over the last 40 years, is likely to resume in full force as the SEC mulls its counterattack and the "affected conferences" sramble for their lives.