With multiple news outlets reporting today that Nebraska is ready to exit the Big 12 Conference and become the newest member of the Big Ten (pending an official application, a vote to approve said application, and other administrative details, of course), the average sports fan is left to try and figure out what it all means.
(Key word being "try".)
What does the new-look Big Ten mean for college athletics as we know it? How does Nebraska fit in to one of the most traditional leagues in all of sports? And what, pray tell, is a Cornhusker?
So without further ado, here is a list of 12 questions that have been rattling around in this Big Ten fan's mind during the last few crazy days of expansion-mania.
1. What is a cornhusker and why name a team after it?
A cornhusker is a person that husks corn. Duh.
Wait, I can't use the word in the definition? Never mind then.
A cornhusker is a football player that wears red and white, plays in front of a sellout crowd, and runs the option.
Actually, it turns out that both Iowa's and Nebraska's teams had been referred to as Cornhuskers many years ago. Nebraska wanted an official nickname, and the Iowa folks gravitated towards calling themselves Hawkeyes. That settled it, and the Huskers have been the Huskers for 110 years and counting.
Oh, and in case you wonder why the fine folks of Lincoln chose such an interesting term as "Cornhuskers", they had been previously referred to as "Antelopes", "Rattlesnake Boys", and "Bugeaters".
The current moniker doesn't sound quite as strange anymore, does it?
2. How long before Nebraska cable systems add the Big Ten Network?
On to more serious questions. Conference expansion is all about wallet expansion, and Big Ten conference expansion is all about wallet expansion via Big Ten Network footprint expansion.
Don't be surprised if BTN president Mark Silverman is on the phone with cable distributors in Nebraska the same day that Tom Osborne and company sign on the dotted line with the Big Ten. The conversation might go something like this:
"Hello there, Mr. Cable Provider. Did you know your favorite university is now part of one of the country's greatest conferences? You didn't? Well, that's because the press release won't actually be distributed for another hour or two. But why waste time?
You see, we can help your customers watch more Nebraska football games than ever before. Do you happen to have your checkbook nearby? I'll wait."
3. What does Notre Dame do now?
The Big Ten wants Notre Dame. The Big Ten has always wanted Notre Dame. The Big Ten will always want Notre Dame.
Forget all this talk about deadlines, timetables, and everything else. If the Irish are ever ready to sacrifice their independence, their most fervent suitor will welcome them with open arms. It doesn't matter if the Big Ten has 12 teams, 14 teams, or 16 teams at the time.
I'm serious. Should symmetry be a problem (Hey, how can we make 17 teams work anyway?), the conference might just boot somebody out--they want the Irish that badly.
But, as you're well aware, Notre Dame doesn't want to give up their independence. They want to have their cake, eat it too, and go on playing sub-par football on national television every weekend.
The only thing that will force the South Bend powers-that-be into finally joining a conference is the threat that the football world could leave them out, pass them by, and make them irrelevant.
Four 16-team conferences.
Replacing the BCS with a playoff that Notre Dame, independents, and mid-majors are not invited to.
Getting moved from network television to TruTV.
(Oh wait, that was the NCAA basketball tournament. My mistake.)
With the Big Ten expanding, the Pac-10 possibly growing by 60%, and every other conference in the country on nuclear alert, Notre Dame has to realize they're closer than ever before to ending up on the outside looking in.
And trust me, Jim Delany will pick up the phone if the Domers ever decide to call.
4. Can the Big Ten stop at 12 teams?
If Notre Dame chooses to jilt the Big Ten at the altar yet again (anyone else remember that Runaway Bride movie?), will the conference be content to stop with a nifty dozen teams?
I'd argue that the Big Ten with Nebraska is a better product than the Big Ten without Nebraska...so technically, the league accomplished what it needed to do.
But the guess here is that when Delany and company start adding up the television sets in New York City, Missouri, and the eastern seaboard, they won't be able to sit still.
Who knows if the final tally will be 14 teams or 16, but I'd be shocked if the expansion train screeches to a halt now.
5. How nervous are the folks in Columbia, MO?
Nebraska as good as gone. The Big 12 as good as dead. Texas and friends appear to be loading up and heading West.
Anyone else think the Missouri Tigers are on high-panic alert?
If Mizzou gets handed a golden ticket to the Big Ten, their world is happy once again.
And no one can argue that Missourians aren't trying, from the governor on down.
Should Delany decide he has bigger fish to fry (or perhaps no more fish at all), the alternatives in Columbia could be downright devastating.
Mountain West Conference? Um, sure--they have their own network.
But good luck making money with it.
Remember what I said about the Big Ten wanting Notre Dame and being willing to do anything to reel them in?
Multiply that by about 13 (and no, that number's not a coincidence)...and that's how the Tigers have to be feeling about the Big Ten right now.
6. What will the league's name be after the new member(s?) come on board?
Big 12? (Since the current holder of the name is about to go belly-up, the existing logo and trademark should be available for a nice discount.)
Big 14? Maybe.
Big 16? Texas and USC have probably already reserved that one for their new super-league.
Three yards and a cloud of dust? (Sorry, that's not very clever, but I encourage you to submit your best Big Ten-themed nickname in the comments section. I've still got six more questions to answer.)
My prediction is that if the league can hold on to its "Big Ten" name with 11 teams, they won't have a problem keeping it with 12, 14, or 16 members. But we'll see.
7. Who is Chip Brown's source?
Orangebloods.com--and specifically reporter Chip Brown--have scooped the entire sports world on every aspect of this story for the past week. From reporting that the Pac-10 was ready to become the Pac-16...to predicting the ramifications and responses of Nebraska, Notre Dame, the Big Ten, and everyone else involved...Brown has made a big-time name for himself in the reporting world in literally seven days.
Color me curious, but I can't help wondering who his super-source is. A coach? (Mack Brown?) An athletic director (Tom Osborne?) A commissioner? (Larry Scott? Jim Delany? Dan Beebe?)
Not sure we'll ever know, but if Nebraska does in fact go north and Texas heads to the Left Coast, Brown deserves every bit of credit a reporter can earn...and then some.
8. Where will this move rank among Tom Osborne's greatest accomplishments?
The Nebraska athletic director is one of the great coaches in college football history (how about a 60-3 record with three national titles in his last five years on the sidelines alone?) and served six years as a U.S. representative once he finally hung up his whistle.
For someone who's made history nearly his whole life, Osborne's careful steering of his home-state university into one of the country's most powerful conferences could go down as one of his shrewdest and most successful moves yet. Nebraska is picking up BTN dollars, Midwestern recruits, and new rivalries with historic powers Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, etc...all the while positioning itself for the next century of athletic success.
When it's all said and done, will this week's apparent triumph be what the legendary coach/politician/athletic director is most remembered for?
Time will tell.
9. How will the league's football divisions be aligned?
Big Ten North and Big Ten South?
Big Ten East and Big Ten West?
Much will ultimately depend on whether the league stops at 12 schools or not, but regardless of the size, the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry may be the single determining factor that shapes the formation of the league's soon-to-come divisions.
Should the Wolverines and Buckeyes play in the same division?
If they don't, could their perennial clash be too-often repeated in the next weekend's league championship game?
So many rivalries to protect (although the Michigan-OSU game is obviously Numero Uno).
So many ramifications.
I wish Commissioner Delany all the luck in the world trying to split the league in such a way that honors competitive balance and doesn't destroy the traditions that make his league special.
Because he's definitely going to need it.
10. Speaking of the Big Ten Championship Game, where will it be played?
The Big Ten title game, brought to you by RO*TEL (sorry, I couldn't resist), will obviously need to be played in a neutral location in Big Ten country.
(Of course, the league would probably put the game in Dallas if it thought that help bring the Longhorns into the fold.
I wonder if they'd consider Notre Dame Stadium.
But I digress.)
The obvious options are NFL venues in Detroit, Indianapolis, and Chicago. That's two domes and Soldier Field if you're scoring at home.
Both Indy and the Windy City have worked well for the league's basketball tournaments over the past dozen years, even though both the men's and women's events are currently housed in Indiana.
I wouldn't be surprised to see the league set up a football championship game rotation through all three cities, although my personal opinion is that once the calendar turns to December in Big Ten country, climate control is very underrated.
But hey, if they can play the Super Bowl in a New York blizzard...
11. Can Nebraska hack it on the hardwood?
Bringing up the Big Ten basketball tournaments makes me wonder if the league's cellar will be permanently filled by the less-than-impressive Cornhusker men's basketball team for the foreseeable future. NU hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since...well...ever...
But then again--come to think of it--neither has the conference's other NU.
Who cares about basketball anyway? When it comes to expansion, football is king.
At least the new hoops arena will be nice...for the visiting teams to win in.
12. The most important question: did the Big Ten succeed by adding Nebraska?
Of all the questions, this one has stuck with me the most. I already said I'm convinced that the Big Ten with Nebraska is better than the eleven-member version the league's held on to for the last 20 years or so.
But I still think if the Big Ten can't land Notre Dame or Texas (the "hr additions", as Jim Delany would call them), this whole expansion drive has been a failure for my favorite conference.
A few months ago, with the league's network raining money and the world at its fingertips, I'd have argued there wasn't a conference except maybe the SEC that could boast more success than the Big Ten.
And yes, adding Nebraska makes the league even stronger.
But tipping the domino that sends Texas and Oklahoma likely scurrying west to join up with the likes of USC and Oregon might come back to bite Mr. Delany.
Sure, the old equation (SEC>B10>everyone else) is history
And if the Irish cave in, the Big Ten might just own the college sports world like they've always dreamed of.
But if both home run attempts fall short on the warning track, and Delany has to "settle" for the likes of Missouri and Rutgers instead of Texas and Notre Dame--or maybe stand pat at 12 teams instead--the new equation doesn't look as pretty.
Would that qualify as a strikeout?
Or maybe a bloop single?
For the latest Big Ten football coverage, follow Tim Cary on Twitter at @TimCary.