What? Baylor, Nebraska May Decide Fate Of Big 12

All hell has broken loose since I noted a report last week from a Texas-centric athletics website that claimed the Pac-10 was set to invite six Big 12 schools to join the conference.

Big 10 President Jim Delany As Pontius Pilate

(Delany’s All-Powerful Sceptre Controls Fate of Nebraska, Pac-10 Expansion?)

The site originating that report, Yahoo’s Orangebloods.com, has since added that Nebraska has been given an ultimatum by the Big 12 to state its intentions in the next two weeks. If the Cornhuskers remain on the fence or pledge allegiance to the Big Ten, six Big 12 schools will reportedly move to the Pac-10.

Missouri has also been given a similar deadline, but MU moving to the Big Ten is now reportedly a foregone conclusion. Nebraska though appears to be the trigger that could set the demise of the Big 12 in motion if it also defects to the Big Ten.

In the wake of that originating report, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany acknowledged today that the timetable of his league’s expansion is likely to be affected by the Big 12’s new deadline for Nebraska and Missouri.

Teddy Greenstein of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE has the commissioner’s reaction to the Big 12 ultimatum today:

  Jim Delany: “The timeline could be affected.” In other words, it will be affected.

The ASSOCIATED PRESS also reports from this afternoon’s Pac-10 meetings:

The Pac-10 concluded its meetings Sunday by giving commissioner Larry Scott the authority to pursue any possible expansion, while not committing the conference to adding any more schools.

In the preceding months, Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne has alternately professed his openness to joining the Big Ten while also playing coy about the prospect. Most recently, he’s been mum on the subject but today it was revealed that after Osborne met with Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel in late April, he sent an email to Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman that read, “I think it would be a good time if we met sometime soon regarding the expansion landscape.”

So why is Nebraska so important to the future of the Big 12?

Other member schools of the Big 12 reportedly believe that Missouri leaving for the Big Ten is likely inevitable. Despite that potential loss, Big 12 membership apparently is willing to soldier on with the rest of the conference remaining intact. But if Nebraska was to bolt for the Big Ten too, then six prominent Big 12 schools, including Texas and Oklahoma, would reportedly be willing to strike a deal to join the Pac-10.

Since that initial report of Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech seriously considering an invitation to the Pac-10, 15 members of the Texas State Legislature have reportedly mobilized and are set to demand that if Texas, A&M and Tech plan to bolt for the Pac-10, Baylor must be taken by the Pac-10 as well.

Before Texas legislators got in involved, last week’s report had Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado making the move.

If Baylor was somehow forced into the process, that could take out Colorado or Oklahoma State. More likely the Buffs, which is ironic considering CU was the first Big 12 school to reportedly express a desire to move to the Pac-10.

It isn’t known what legal machinations Texas politicians could employ to prevent the merger without Baylor’s involvement, but based on a report today from George Schroeder of the EUGENE REGISTER-GUARD, that in-state movement is definitely real:

If any doubt remained as to the serious substance behind the wild, wacky stuff we’ve all been hearing about imminent Pac-10 expansion, confirmation popped into my inbox at 7:11 p.m. Saturday.

The e-mail contained a link to a story about how Texas politicians are pushing for Baylor — and not Colorado — to be one of the teams leaving the Big 12 and heading west.

The e-mail came from a Baylor official, who offered an immediate interview with the school’s athletic director.

Also, he provided the A.D.’s cell number.

If you believe the reports — and take it from Baylor, you should believe — the Pac-10 is about to become the Pac-16.

Keep in mind the Baylor talk is coming from a Texas-based website and for all we know is merely wishful thinking emanating from inside the state. If the other Texas schools have a chance to score $20 million in annual revenue plus a Pac-16 conference championship game every other year at Cowboys Stadium, I’m not too sure Baylor is going to be able to hold that deal up.

But it’s out there.

Today all of the Pac-10 schools are meeting in San Francisco as are all of the Big Ten member schools in Chicago, so perhaps there’s a chance we’lll know more about the future of all three conferences before the day is out.

From following the reporting of this entire process the past few months, along with the oft-contradictory rhetoric, my gut tells me Nebraska will stay in the Big 12 and the massive exodus to the Pac-10 will not happen.

Why do I think that? Three reasons.

1) Big Ten Commissioner Delany has made clear that his conference’s expansion plan is primarily based on the acquisition of large television markets not already occupied by Big Ten member schools. (Hence schools like Rutgers being targeted.) Nebraska doesn’t bring much to the table in that respect.

2) Friday I reported an email between Delany and Ohio State President Gordon Gee that showed Delany’s preoccupation with “hr additions” to the conference. That more than likely is a reference to “home run additions” to the league, which of course would be schools like Texas and Notre Dame.

Though Nebraska brings a hefty football tradition to the table - and a fantastic fan following - I wouldn’t classify the Cornhuskers as a “home run” for the Big Ten.

There’s lots of other factors you could speculate about that could point to NU’s inclusion or exclusion to the Big Ten, but television markets and “home run” additions are the two factors we absolutely know are driving Delany in the process - something that doesn’t bode well for Nebraska.

3) In the last week, Univ. of Oklahoma Athletic Director Joe Castiglione has been vocal about his lack of appetite for breaking up the Big 12. After Texas, OU is the second most powerful player in the Big 12 and its AD has made clear that breaking up the league would only come as a last resort.

Finally, my instinct in following the Big Ten expansion process is that Nebraska has never been a serious candidate under consideration by Delany unless the Big Ten was looking to add up to five schools - taking team membership to 16.

With Notre Dame and Texas not likely to make the move, it appears that Nebraska’s prospects to get into the Big Ten are dim.

Also contributing to the rampant speculation about Nebraska joining the Big Ten is NU AD Osborne. It’s well known that Osborne has never been happy with the Texas schools wielding the most power when it comes to Big 12 conference politics. That simmering resentment I believe caused Osborne to perhaps misrepresent the Big Ten’s interest in the Cornhuskers from the beginning.

Expect more leaks - as soon as today - on the Pac-10 expansion plot. Bob Condotta of the SEATTLE TIMES reports Sunday:

Looking like today’s conclusion to the Pac-10 meetings in San Francisco could be pretty momentous.

There are varying reports that the Seattle Times has confirmed this morning that Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott will recommend to the Pac-10 presidents and CEOs a variety of expansion options.

Word is the preferred one will be the so-called Pac-16, adding six Big 12 teams to the mix. What Scott will apparently hope for is that he will get approval to begin talking to those schools with the intent of soon issuing official inivitations. OrangeBloods.com is reporting that such an expansion could be worth $20 million per school

One person told the Times that the “conversations could start immediately” if Scott gets the approval today.

While the Pac-10 is starting to sound jazzed about the chance of welcoming six more (square) dance partners to their party, it appears all that talk will remain just that, talk, if/when the Big Ten shoots down news of Nebraska’s possible inclusion to the league.

UPDATE (5:22p ET): Chip Brown of Orangebloods.com reports Sunday afternoon:

Another athletic director tells Orangebloods.com Big Ten trying to work things out with Notre Dame before addressing Nebraska or Missouri.

UPDATE (5:24p ET): More from Brown at Orangebloods.com:

A Big 12 athletic director told Orangebloods.com the Pac-10 has indicated it might be willing to invite Baylor instead of Colorado to avoid a political storm that could hold up the other Big 12 South schools from joining the country’s first 16-team super conference.

It appears the only way Texas and the other Big 12 schools aren’t headed west is if they get assurances from Nebraska in the next 10 days that the Cornhuskers are committed to staying in the Big 12.