College Football's Worst Kept Secret: Nebraska To Join The Big 10
Like the Piedmont and Northern freight train crawling up the backside of the Appalachian Mountains in some long ago Faulknerian epic, it appears judgment day for the Big 10 expansion movement will finally arrive.
Whether compared to the little engine that could, or the big pot boiler on the "Old 97" that strained to make its run on time, the Big 10 has finally accomplished what it set out to do–improve the conference geographically, academically, and numerically.
The idea the league would exponentially enlarge its influence among the college football world with a legendarily powerhouse program comes as the cherry on top.
The addition of Nebraska allows the Big 10 to look the SEC square in the eye with 12 teams and sets the table for a conference championship battle each December: one with a potential viewing audience that could dwarf all of the other league title games.
How did this happen and what does it mean to the future of college football as we know it?
Let us start with what has been learned to this point.
What Has Actually Happened So Far?
Pictured is Jim Delany, Commissioner of the Big 10. He is the wizard behind the curtain of the BCS and is the person who broke the Conference mold when he led Penn State into the league nearly 20 years ago.
Delany is from New Jersey and played college basketball in the ACC so, he knows a product that can be promoted when he sees it.
With the respected status of the Big 10 in 2010, he has got something to sell.
By expanding to 12 teams, the conference will be able to split into two divisions and create a league championship game.
Rumors have circulated concerning the addition of three teams to bring the total to 14. Among those discussed most often we find Notre Dame, Rutgers, Missouri, Nebraska, and Texas.
So why does it appear the ball will bounce Nebraska's way?
Nebraska Is Sitting On "Go"
Pictured is Tom Osborne, currently Athletic Director of the University of Nebraska.
For those too young to remember Osborne (He retired from coaching 13 years ago) he was known in his coaching days at Nebraska as Dr. Tom.
He achieved this nickname because of his advanced degree in Psychology.
The proverbial "sources inside" the University stated Osborne informed school employees on Wednesday that "Nebraska is going to move to the Big 10" and left it at that.
We do know an advisory meeting was scheduled and the Executive Committee will recommend to the University Board on Thursday, June 10, that some action take place on the following day.
What that action is will require patience on the part of all who are interested.
The First Two Letters Of Notre Dame Are "NO"
For several decades, there has been an undercurrent of interest in adding Notre Dame to the Big 10 Conference.
The problem with this scenario is the South Bend school doesn't have any real desire to become part of a football league.
Irish administrators believe they have the best of all worlds as a member of the Big East Conference for basketball while remaining an Independent for football purposes.
Add to this the Notre Dame connection for Bowl invitations with the Big East and it is small wonder the people in northern Indiana want the status quo.
In this strange set of circumstances, The Big 10 may be like the boy who asked the prettiest girl for a date over and over with no success, so he finally went out with someone else, who is looking better and better all the time.
What Changes Will Need To be Made In The Big 10?
If the Cornhuskers join the Big 10, and one of the purposes of expansion is to set up a conference football championship game, then where does Nebraska fit into all of this?
Four areas have to be addressed concerning future developments:
The first is the name of the conference. Will the league continue to use the name "Big 10" if there are 12 teams?
Secondly, since there will apparently be two divisions with six teams in each, will the Big 10 simply divide into "East" and "West" for identification purposes?
Third will be the determining of who is in which division and what "natural" rivalries will remain intact. Will the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry be affected?
Lastly, where will the Championship game be played?
For years, the Big 10 supporters have made light of the SEC schools for not being able to play in cold weather late in the season.
Is the Big 10 up for a title game in Chicago? Or will they also take the easy way out and conclude the indoor stadiums of Detroit and Indianapolis are too attractive?
Who Goes Where?
Home to some of the greatest players In the history of college football, the brutally physical Big 10 would seem just like home to the rugged Cornhuskers of Nebraska.
If the conference is divided, the most reasonable situation would be to place the western teams on one side and the eastern in the other.
Following this line of thought we would find Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, and Nebraska in the west.
The east would be home to Penn State, Ohio State, Purdue, Indiana, Illinois, and Northwestern.
The reason for this breakdown is for more reasons than meet the eye. It preserves the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry by keeping the two titans in a position where they could also meet for the Big 10 title.
Additionally, it provides the Buckeyes with a consistently top notch divisional opponent in Penn State.
Along with these positives, the Purdue-Indiana rivalry will be maintained and Illinois can continue their intrastate competition with Northwestern.
In the west, Nebraska would seem to be an obvious future rival for Iowa, and the Cornhuskers have a long running series with Minnesota, whom they have met 51 times through the years.
The Michigan-Minnesota, Michigan-Michigan State, Wisconsin-Minnesota, and Iowa-Minnesota rivalries are also left intact.
Epilogue: What Becomes Of The Big 12?
In discussing conference expansion, we must always be sure to look at the effect on a league who loses a member.
If this is the first phase of a nationwide expansion, then the Pac-10 must act to preserve its competitive base. Simply put, they will need to expand.
With the Big 12 taking a hit to the chin by potentially losing Nebraska, the only option is to band together and circle the wagons.
The integrity of the conference must be preserved for the sake of the other schools and sports if nothing else.
Unfortunately for the Big 12, unless they can keep it together by adding some additional teams, the league runs the risk of being raided by some opportunistic conferences. The PAC-10 becomes a central figure in this discussion.
This action could result in the demise of the Big 12 as an automatic qualifier under BCS regulations.
So there it is, we will know for sure by the end of the weekend if all of this adds up to hysteria or is just the precursor to another round in the evolution of college football.