Believe it: Big Ten for Big Red
Before the other dominos start falling, before the race begins to see how far east the Pac-10 will grow, whether Texas will choose to save the Big 12 or put it to pasture, and whether the SEC or Big East will step in to claim the leftovers, we should really stop to pause and reflect on what is, by itself, a monumental moment in the history of college athletics.
Folks -- Nebraska is about to join the freaking Big Ten.
Nothing will be official until Friday at the earliest, but the fact that Nebraska's Board of Regents has added an item to its official agenda for that day entitled "Resolution regarding UNL athletic conference alignment" marked the first sign that the school intends to respond to the Big 12's reported stay-or-go ultimatum. And its expected answer was confirmed Wednesday night by the
(Big Ten commissioner
The Big Ten has not added a new member since approving Penn State in 1990. Prior to last December, there had been nary a hint that the league was looking to get bigger, and even then, when it authorized Delany to begin exploring the topic, few guessed it would lead to a day where the Cornhuskers ditched the Big 12. (Though, it should be noted,
Nebraska, for its part, has been competing alongside some of its old Big 8 counterparts -- Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Colorado -- since as far back as
It is both stunning and completely logical.
Once you get over the sentimental part of it -- which, mind you, Kansas isn't about to do anytime soon -- Nebraska's decision is a no-brainer. The fact is,
No, Nebraska is leaving the Big 12, a highly competitive but highly dysfunctional marriage of the old Big 8 schools with four Texas schools from the scandal-savaged Southwest Conference. At the time of the league's 1996 inception, the Huskers were kings, in the midst of their amazing run of three national titles in four years. A decade later, the center of power in the Big 12 had shifted squarely to its South Division lynchpins Texas and Oklahoma and, while third-year coach
Enter the Big Ten, which in many ways is the antithesis of the Big 12. On the field, its teams have struggled to gain national respect, and, not coincidentally, the density of top-shelf recruits in its home states appears to be waning. Off the field, however, the 115-year-old conference is a model of stability. It boasts the shrewdest commissioner in the sport, the richest television deals in the land (highlighted, of course, by its ground-breaking cable network) and the high academic standing of its institutions.
In the coming days and weeks, Nebraska will inevitably be pinned with blame for the possible demise of the Big 12 and ensuing ruckus nationally, but that's not entirely fair. No one's putting a gun to Texas' head and telling it to fly to the Pac-10. It's believed Texas had its own chance to be courted by the Big Ten but felt happy where it is, which is fine.
But Nebraska did not. And no one can question the fact that it's moving to greener pastures. It isn't even really leaving behind storied rivalries. The Big 12 divisional format disrupted its Oklahoma series, leaving Colorado as its closest thing to an annual rival. In the Big Ten, it walks into one ready-made rivalry with border foe Iowa (which it hasn't faced in 10 years) and will actually be geographically closer to Minneapolis and Madison than it was Boulder. More importantly for the Big Ten, the addition of Nebraska gives the league three of the sport's five all-time winningest programs (No. 1 Michigan, No. 4 Nebraska and No. 5 Ohio State) and, along with No. 9 Penn State, four of the top 10. Not even the mighty SEC can match the new league in terms of sheer star power.
It does beg the question: Is that really what this was about?
At various times over the past six months, Delany and other league administrators have espoused a variety of motivations behind expansion. Quite frankly, Nebraska doesn't seem to satiate any of them.
While it's entirely possible the Huskers will be joined by two to four other newcomers by year's end -- be it Notre Dame, Rutgers, Maryland, Missouri or Syracuse -- for now, Nebraska's addition appears to be largely Delany's way of making a splash. Tired of being overshadowed by the SEC and threatened by a possibly even bigger splash by the Pac-10, there's no question the Big Ten will be rejuvenated the first time ABC or ESPN airs a Nebraska-Ohio State clash with Rose Bowl implications. And you better believe a big chunk of the Huskers' rabid national fan base will soon be calling their cable operators or switching to DirecTV so as not to miss the Indiana or Illinois game on the Big Ten Network.
The rich kids on the block are about to get even richer.
And as strange as it seems that Nebraska will no longer be coming through Ames, Iowa or Lawrence, Kan., every other year, in many ways, the Big Ten is its logical home. Huskers football in its glory days was synonymous with the same type of blue-collar toughness preached by Woody, Bo and JoePa. Its current coach, Pelini, is even a native Ohioan. A Nebraska-Penn State game played under a gray sky in mid-November just seems more natural than a sunny trip to Austin.
Admittedly, there will be nothing natural about the awkward, clunky months to follow as the consequences of Nebraska's move reverberate through the rest of the Big 12 and college football. There will be bickering. There will be bitterness. There could well be burned bridges from Piscataway to the Pacific Coast by the time all is said and done.
But Nebraska didn't win all those games over the years with sympathy. At the Huskers' peak -- think