The first domino in this volatile game of college football conference realignment is beginning to tilt ever so slightly downward.
And, if you check out the back, you'll see a huge red "N" gleaming prominently, as if to say, "Yeah, we're Nebraska. And we're the ones who finally got the ball rolling."
The Omaha World-Herald reported late Tuesday evening that according to a faceless "executive at a Big 12 school," Nebraska could officially become a member of the Big Ten Conference as early as Friday.
According to the paper, school officials were not available for comment, including chancellor Harvey Perlman, who has declined to discuss conference expansion.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Nebraska Board of Regents, which holds exclusive power to approve such a move, is expected meet in Lincoln on Friday.
And judging by what one particular board member had to say about the well-publicized angst within the Big 12 to another Nebraska media outlet, the vote among the regents could be an overwhelming majority.
The paper also reported that during his monthly appearance on the Husker Sports Network, Nebraska athletics director Tom Osborne said Tuesday that the pace at which conference realignment will occur has been quickened, though he did stop short of implying whether that meant a Nebraska defection to the Big Ten has already taken place behind the scenes.
“There's a lot of information we really don't have right now," Osborne said, according to the World-Herald. “Hopefully we'll get these put together in the next few days.
“Anything I would say regarding Nebraska's position or other schools in the Big 12 would be pure speculation. And I don't think that's very helpful."
There's that word again: speculation. It's been tossed around like a limp rag doll ever since the Big Ten opened this can of worms in December, when it announced it would explore options to expand its membership, possibly adding as many as five teams to the fold.
Well, if the reports hold true, one is already in the books, though I would advise anyone to dilute their zeal with a little caution.
As of now, it seems expansion candidates Rutgers and Syracuse are still anxiously (or, perhaps, "seemingly" is the better adjective) awaiting an invite from the Big Ten.
To the southwest, Notre Dame knows it has an invitation—one that's been open for the last 20 years.
Yet, Notre Dame continues to dilly-dally as it determines whether its precious independence and marriage with NBC is worth the risk of missing out on residence in one of what could be four money-hoarding superconferences.
If Nebraska is indeed in, that means the Big Ten is on the prowl for more, which only increases the likelihood that the Irish will be put in a position where they can't refuse. If invited, the Orangemen and Scarlet Knights will commit in a heartbeat.
But how soon will the Huskers be willing to set off the chain reaction?
The World-Herald report said Nebraska could announce this whole deal "as early as Friday," which means the Huskers could (and should) use discretion, make Texas and the rest of its uneasy Big 12 strongholds sweat it out a little bit, and drop the bomb, say, closer to the witching hour so unceremoniously outlined in the conference's ultimatum to both them and fellow Big Ten target Missouri.
In other words, if Nebraska is holding the trump card that could draw Texas out on its bluff of bolting to the Pac-10 at the slightest hint of Husker disloyalty toward the Big 12, why not sit on it?
Especially when said ultimatum doesn't require Nebraska (or Missouri) to say anything at all?
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on Tuesday that the Big 12's deadline, as it relates to Missouri, has been set at June 17.
The Austin American-Statesman reported last week that the ultimatum to Missouri and Nebraska included a deadline of 5 p.m. CT this Friday , with a possible extension to June 15.
The Post-Dispatch report mentioned nothing as to whether the Huskers' moment of truth had been pushed back as well.
But does it really matter? The hammer could drop as early as Friday, thus meeting the stipulations contained in the ultimatum, or Nebraska could realistically wait for its unlikely partner-in-crime in all of this, Missouri, which some speculate (there's that word again ) may already be sitting on a Big Ten invite.
Together, both schools could theoretically synchronize their farewells to the Big 12, in the form of a harmonized FU that would reverberate down through the Great Plains, across the Texas panhandle, and right up the backsides of Longhorn athletics director DeLoss Dodds and his personal hand puppet, commissioner Dan Beebe.
While there are no reports coming out of Columbia that indicate a Tigers' defection is rapidly forthcoming, it should be noted that MU's Board of Regents is scheduled to hold meetings beginning on Thursday, when members will undertake the uncommon step of holding closed-door discussions.
According to ESPN.com, the Missouri board, which has already alerted the media via an agenda released Tuesday that it will not answer questions related to conference expansion, will meet again in private on Friday, as is customary.
So, apparently, things are happening. I think. And that's good, because the talk, scenarios, nameless sources, propaganda, and message board wars were just starting to get tiresome.
Let the first domino fall, and fall hard, so that each in the sequence may be affected and we can end this cash-driven charade.