Last week, our collective jaws hit the floor when Chip Brown of Orangebloods reported that the Pac-10 was considering extending invitations to six Big 12 schools to join what would apparently become the Pac-16. This report followed months of speculation that Missouri and Nebraska were candidates to be invited to apply for Big 10 membership, and much commentary from Mizzou and Nebraska administrators that they would be interested in such an invitation.
Today, the Armageddon scenario inched closer to reality as the Pac-10 has apparently green-lighted a six-team expansion, so long as one of those teams is Texas. Also, the Big 12 presidents have apparently told Nebraska (and maybe Missouri) to meet them at high noon on Friday with the following decision: in or out*. In one of Brown's excellent reports on this issue, he notes that nine of the 12 Big 12 schools emerged from last week's conference meetings committed to the conference. The three that would not commit are Nebraska, Missouri and Colorado. Interestingly, Texas is one of the schools that appears fully committed to the conference, both because of last week's vote and because they've said all along that this is where they want to be.
Therefore, the implications are clear. If Missouri and Nebraska are confident that they will actually be invited to join the Big 10, they are free to pursue that option, and if they do, the Big 12 as we know it will cease to exist, as Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and either Colorado or Baylor -- depending on how the political situation in the Texas Legislature plays out -- will be on their way west to the Pac-16.
Conspicuously absent in any of this discussion is any mention of K-State, KU or Iowa State. Quite clearly, none of these schools are being considered by any of the other major conferences as possible additions, although some KU fans are clinging to a belief that has no basis in reality that someone will take them because, you know, they're freaking KU! Anyway, it's time to consider the scenarios for K-State, and any of the other schools that may be left.
Scenario 1: Nothing Happens
With all the news lately, it may seem hard to believe that nothing will happen, but that's still a distinct possibility, especially after today's events. Big 10 commissioner Jim Delaney indicated today that their expansion timetable "could be" affected by the Pac-10's actions and the Big 12's ultimatum, which almost certainly means the Big 10 will accelerate from "molasses in winter" to "sloth on sedatives" speed in expansion. If the Big 10 really does have interest in adding Missouri and Nebraska -- and I believe they do based on information I've informally acquired -- they are going to have to move more quickly than they had planned. Nebraska, and maybe Missouri, have to decide, in or out, by Friday, and there's no way any administrator from either school can vote "out" in good conscience unless they are assured beyond any reasonable doubt that they will be invited to apply to join the Big 10. Thus, if the Big 10 decides it can accomplish what is still probably its primary goal -- adding Notre Dame -- without Missouri and Nebraska, it can probably bide its time. Meanwhile, Mizzou and Nebraska will have to reaffirm their commitment to the Big 12. If that happens, then short of Texas yelling "just kidding" and selling everyone else in the conference down the river by taking its six-team contingent to the Pac-10, the Big 12 will remain as is.
Scenario 2: Nebraska reaffirms, but Missouri bolts
In this case, it's hard to say what Texas and the six-team contingent will do. Brown has seemed to indicate that Nebraska is the key player in this, so what Missouri decides is largely irrelevant. My gut feeling is that if Nebraska stays, Texas and the others will stay, too, and the Big 12 will continue on, slightly altered.
Scenario 3: Armageddon
Nebraska and Missouri leave, Texas and the rest go west, and K-State, KU, Iowa State and either Baylor or Colorado are left in the cold. What happens at this point?
The best option in this situation would be to work out something with the Mountain West. It appears the Mountain West, with its recent surge of success in BCS bowl games, is on the verge of moving into automatic-qualifier status. Indications are that Boise State will be invited to the MWC soon, pushing the conference to 10 teams, and giving it yet another boost toward AQ status.
Assuming the MWC is interested in working with at least some of the schools remaining when the Big 12 dust settles, the question becomes: do some/most/all of the MWC schools join the Big 12's remainders in a reconsituted Big 12, or do some/most/all of the Big 12's remainders join the existing MWC? This is where some assumptions are required. If ESPN/ABC can't cancel its contract with the Big 12, and the Big 12 wouldn't automatically lose its AQ status so long as it were able to continue on as an 8-12 team conference, then it would seem the best move would be for the remaining Big 12 schools to invite some combination of MWC and C-USA teams to join up. The conference could get on its feet for a few years, sustained by the TV contract that continues through 2015. At that point, we hope, the conference would have demonstrated its ability to compete on the BCS stage, and would contine on as a BCS AQ conference (assuming, of course, that the BCS still exists after conference realignment).
Or, if ESPN/ABC can get out of its TV contract and we lose BCS AQ status automatically, which I doubt, then K-State and the rest would be in a bidding war to get into the MWC. If we assume the leftovers are K-State, KU, Iowa State and Baylor, then the Sunflower State schools would seem to be in pretty good shape if the MWC is interested in expanding (and I would have to think the prospect of adding two current major-conference schools, with a solid TV market in Kansas City and, in KU's case, a recent BCS bowl win), then K-State and KU would likely win the sweepstakes. Such a move would get the MWC a conference title game, too.
Now, if Colorado gets screwed by the Texas legislators who apparently are trying to force Baylor on the Pac-10, then it gets a little dicier. Just from a geographic and TV standpoint, the Buffs would probably trump both K-State and KU as a candidate for the MWC. At that point, would the MWC be interested in going beyond 12 schools by adding K-State, KU and someone else? Who would that/those someone else(s) be? Houston? SMU? UTEP?