NEW YORK – Now that the Big 12 Conference has survived the storm, the massive upheaval that many in college athletics have been bracing for seems far less likely.
“I felt like there was either going to be very significant change or very little,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “Now I feel like we’re trending toward relatively small change for the moment.’
A potentially huge change was averted Monday when Texas declined an invitation to the Pacific-10 Conference. With the Longhorns committed to the Big 12, the remaining teams fell in line and decided that life without Colorado (heading to the Pac-10) and Nebraska (off to the Big Ten) would be fine – and profitable.
Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe held a conference call with reporters Tuesday and provided some details about how he went about saving his league. He also said something that might give a hint to where college sports is – or is not – heading in the future.
“This process resulted in so many people in our business and our enterprise telling me that it would not be beneficial to what we do to have these mega-conferences,” he said.
Some of the conference’s smaller schools are giving up cash for the promise of keeping the league together and more money later.
Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Iowa State and Missouri – who were in danger of being left homeless if the conference dissolved – agreed to give up their share in buyout penalties to be paid by Nebraska and Colorado for leaving the league, Beebe said.
All this expansion angst started in December when the Big Ten announced it would explore the possibility.
“What was surprising was the effort on the part of the Pac-10 to go to 16 teams,” said Neal Pilson, president of the Pilson Communications media consulting firm and a former president of CBS Sports. “That was a tsunami that would have had serious consequences for college football. The domino effect of doing that would have impacted the ACC, the Big East as well as the Big 12. “
While just a few days ago anything seemed possible – Texas and Oklahoma in the Southeastern Conference! – the Big East being sacrificed for the Big Ten’s benefit does not seem likely.
“I applauded Dan Beebe for not giving up and trying to put something together, something that might have a major impact on the future if intercollegiate athletics,” Western Athletic Conference commissioner Karl Benson said.
Benson is in the market for at least one team these days, with last week’s departure of Boise State to the Mountain West Conference.
Meanwhile, Craig Thompson’s big move of landing Boise State in an effort to make the MWC the seventh conference with an automatic bid to the BCS, could lose some of its luster if the Pac-10 plucks Utah from the Mountain West to complete a 12-team lineup and allow the Pac-10 to have a football championship game.
Thompson says he was told Monday by Utah’s athletic director the university had not been contacted by the Pac-10.