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The Pac-10 didn't fail, Texas isn't the bad guy; more Mailbag

I received more than 600 reader e-mails this past week -- more than during most weeks of the actual football season -- and at least 90 percent of them were outdated by the time I sat down to write this week's Mailbag. Sorry that you wasted your time, folks. If it makes you feel better, at least 90 percent of the many words I've written about realignment over the past several months are now moot, too.

As things seemingly have calmed down for the time being, hopefully this week's edition will hold up for longer than 24 hours.

Yesterday (Sunday), in my excitement about the possibilities, I sent three brilliant e-mail questions to you regarding the new Pac-16. Today, I feel like a kid waking up on Christmas morning expecting a Red Ryder BB Gun who instead got a hand-knit sweater from my least favorite aunt. Colorado and Utah sure ain't Texas and Oklahoma. Is there a silver lining to all of this for the Pac-10?-- Michael Kurtz, Roseburg, Ore.

I don't consider the Pac-10 a loser in this by any means. For one thing, its fans now know definitively that there's a new sheriff in town, that Larry Scott is in fact the type of aggressive, forward-thinking leader the league has lacked for decades. When the Pac-16 story originally broke, I lauded Scott's moxie while noting it would be a minor miracle if he got all 16 schools on board. It turns out he came awfully close.

Everyone has his or her own theory or version of what exactly went down at the 11th hour, but one thing is clear: Neither Texas (the key to the whole plan) nor the Pac-10 anticipated Texas A&M breaking from the pack and opting for the SEC as its backup plan had the Big 12 collapsed. There were presumably several other factors behind Texas' sudden cold feet, but I imagine this was a big one.

From the outset, Scott said he'd be equally comfortable with a 12-team league. While it's not nearly as big of a splash as the proposed Pac-16, it still allows the conference to start a championship game (which Scott very much wants), adds a very solid football program (I personally believe Utah, once it gets its expected invite, will contend for the league title within two years of its arrival) and a top 20 television market (Colorado/Denver) in advance of next year's contract negotiations. As the Big 12 learned this week, there is a lot of television money to be had out there, and Scott will undoubtedly elicit a bidding war.

I've been following this conference realignment thing with great interest. What I can't believe is the arrogance that Texas showed throughout this entire process. I can understand that Texas has a huge following and hence has a lot of clout and influence in football circles, but the way it handled the whole process is damn near extortion. They pretty much blackmailed the Big 12 to get a bigger pie, better contract and Dan Beebe's firstborn child by flirting with the Pac-10. Then they went back to the Pac-10 to see if they could get a better deal. People go to jail for less than this and Texas did it in front of everyone and people lauded it as an amazing move. This is crap. Who the hell does Texas think it is?-- Andrew

That's a popular perception out there today, and while I've taken little digs at the Longhorns myself, no, this wasn't extortion. The school may very well be "arrogant," but there's nothing in the rulebook against that. Amid a very complex, very fluid situation, Texas, like everyone else, was looking out for its own best interests and happened to have more leverage than any other involved party. Four different conferences -- the Big 12, the Pac-10, the SEC and the Big Ten -- showed interest. That gave Texas a whole lot of clout and thereby created the perception that it was calling the shots. It's like I always tell people who complain about Notre Dame's NBC deal -- if your school had that clout, it'd do the same thing.

However, Texas was not operating in a vacuum. As conditions changed last weekend, the school came back to the Big 12 on Monday, and thanks to some apparent miracle money from Fox and some serious concessions by Kansas/K-State/Missouri/Baylor/Iowa State, Texas now has the best of all worlds: every bit as much revenue as it would have gotten from the Pac-10, plus the freedom to start its own network, plus a much easier path to the BCS. It's still hard to believe how it all came together, particularly the part where Fox agreed to a renegotiated deal reportedly worth nearly seven times as much as its old one. (Someone was clearly worried about losing Texas and Oklahoma to another league and, potentially, another network.) However, if it's true that Oklahoma State nearly got left out at the last second, it lends credence to the theory I originally threw out on Twitter on Tuesday: Boone Pickens bankrolled the whole thing.

So basically, the Big Ten added the 46th-biggest metro area (Omaha), a football team that has only been to one BCS game in the last 10 years (and then by dubious circumstances), will get nothing from basketball, failed (as of now) to attract Texas or Notre Dame and will now have to split up their bowl checks and TV money even more. So what was the point?-- Kyle, Chicago

Well first of all, we don't know if the Big Ten is finished expanding. But even if it is, I think you're grossly underestimating Nebraska's selling power as a national brand. Upon the Huskers' arrival, the Big Ten immediately adds at least two or three more marquee national games -- the kind that ABC likes to air in prime time -- whenever Nebraska faces Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State. Meanwhile, even a game against New Mexico State in September is going to draw a large, loyal audience of Huskers fans to the Big Ten Network, which in turn entices advertisers.

Nebraska is one of the 10 to 15 programs nationally with a strong enough pedigree to survive any short-term bouts of mediocrity. In fact, everything Kyle described, you could just as easily have applied to Alabama as recently as two years ago, or Oklahoma in the 10 years prior to Bob Stoops' arrival. My only concern about Nebraska would be ...

I see nothing but trouble for Nebraska based on the article in SI last year regarding proximity of recruits. They'll be on the periphery of a league in which they have no experience or natural recruiting territory. Right now they have about 25 recruits from Texas on their roster (by far their biggest out of state). I just don't see those recruits leaving to go to the Big Ten.-- Ted, Edmond, Okla.

There's no question Nebraska will have to alter its recruiting philosophy, because that Texas pipeline is definitely going to dry up a bit now that the Huskers won't be playing in Texas. Nebraska, by the nature of its surroundings, has always had to recruit nationally, and that's not going to change. I would expect Bo Pelini to continue to mine states like California (much like Tom Osborne always did), Arizona (where it found star cornerback Prince Amukamara) and Florida (where most Big Ten schools now have footing).

But realistically, for Nebraska to succeed in the Big Ten, it's going to have to start making inroads in the Midwest. Ohio, Pelini's home state, is a logical starting point, but it's tough to beat Ohio State for the top in-state kids, just as it's tough to beat Michigan and Michigan State in Michigan. My guess is you'll see Nebraska zero in on the state of Illinois, which could spell bad news for the Illini and Northwestern.

Would you please post a link to the column where you say the Big Ten would like Nebraska more than any other school. You know, the one from like three years ago, where you basically predicted exactly what happened. Thanks bro.-- Kevian, Chicago

What? I would never thump my chest over anything so ... OK, yes I would.

The irony of the conference realignment is the following: The Big 12 can't play defense (loses two teams), the Pac-10 is wild and crazy (tried for a royal coup), the Big Ten is slow (took six months to complete the acquisition of one team), the SEC only cares about itself (didn't really care if it got a team or not) and the Big East and ACC were not even present in national discussion. Will this ever change?-- Nicholas Brunelli, Atlanta

Darn it. You've debunked my everything-is-cyclical mantra once and for all.

Stewart, what is the "real" skinny on USC players with this latest ruling? Do this year's recruits have to honor their commitment to the school, or can they be recruited by other schools? I've heard that upperclassman can change schools and the NCAA has waived the requirement for them to sit out one year. When speaking of "upperclassmen," is that with one year, or two? Please clear the air.-- Wes Davis, St. Augustine, Fla.

The only real provision is the one you listed: Due to the bowl ban, any Trojans player with only two years of eligibility remaining is basically a free agent, so long as he's not heading to another Pac-10 school. (That's a conference restriction, not the NCAA's). So far, the only player to take advantage of the option is junior linebacker Jordan Campbell, a backup who had reportedly fallen into coach Lane Kiffin's doghouse.

I wouldn't expect some mass defection. Bowl games are just one small part of a college player's experience, and I would imagine any USC junior or senior who likes the school and/or has NFL aspirations would want to stay and play for the current staff rather than try to start over somewhere else. The one obvious candidate most people thought might bolt was terminal backup quarterback Mitch Mustain, but he immediately made it known he has no intention to leave. (Perhaps he learned his lesson the first time as to the possible pitfalls of transferring.)

There are no special provisions for USC's incoming recruits. They can certainly ask to be released from their letters of intent and thereby reopen their recruitment, but so far none have indicated they will. Kiffin better hope that remains the case, because he's going to need every one of those guys the next three years when his classes are severely limited (15 scholarships instead of 25) and depth inevitably becomes a problem for the Trojans.

Do the harsh sanctions handed to USC change your opinion about what additional sanctions might be handed to Michigan?-- Brian B., Austin, Texas

Michigan should be fine. In fact, the two schools have pretty much offered a textbook clinic on how a school should and should NOT handle an NCAA infractions case.

As a public school, Michigan knew its various NCAA reports were accessible under open records laws, so it beat the media to the punch and self-published both the notice of allegations against it and its accompanying response, with its athletic director, Dave Brandon, offering just the right conciliatory tone in discussing them. The school has been quick to admit fault in its self-policing measures, taken steps to correct them and basically placed itself at the mercy of the NCAA. The Committee on Infractions may assess some extra, minor penalties, but nothing close to USC territory.

Contrast that to USC, which, as a private school, shielded all NCAA correspondence from the public throughout the process while continually downplaying the potential consequences. Only after the sanctions came down did the school release its original response to the allegations from last December -- the equivalent of a defense lawyer waiting until after his client's murder conviction to tell his side of the story. And once it did, we found out just how brusquely defiant the school had been in its insistence that it did nothing knowingly wrong with regards to Reggie Bush. Rather than accepting responsibility, it fixated on picking apart the credibility of the various witnesses and evidence. That might make sense in front of a third-party arbiter, but when the NCAA serves as both prosecutor AND judge, your best strategy is to beg for mercy.

I fully believe USC could have landed itself a significantly lighter sentence -- maybe a one-year bowl ban instead of two, maybe 15 scholarships instead of 30 -- had it showed any sign of remorse or made any substantive changes to its practices. But as its mentally unhinged athletic director, Mike Garrett, demonstrated with his bizarre "nothing but a lot of envy" comments, he never took these allegations seriously. The NCAA said: Well, you should have.

So in the four years it has taken for the NCAA to punish USC, Reggie Bush has made millions in the NFL, Pete Carroll made millions at USC and now is making millions in the NFL, USC has enjoyed year after year of high-profile play and top recruiting, and the AD continues to keep his job. If it always takes the NCAA this long to lay down the law are they really going to be sending anybody a message? Short of damaged legacies all of the main culprits came out ahead and I don't see this scaring any other school or player from doing the things that USC did.-- Cristian, Washington D.C.

I don't disagree, but at the same time, what else can the NCAA really do? It can't have its people out patrolling campuses across the country on the lookout for players mingling with shady associates. Rarely does it get evidence of such indiscretions handed to it by a scorned whistle-blower and some terrific investigative journalism by Yahoo!, either. All it can do is pick its spots and "make a statement" that it's taking these things seriously. It's certainly unfortunate that an entirely new group of players must pay the price six years later, but the NCAA's job is to penalize the school -- where, as mentioned above, the same incompetent athletic director is still running the show. Mostly, the message goes out to administrators at other schools who, should they notice something fishy, would best be advised to notify someone ASAP or pay the price later.

Mailbag etiquette question: Am I allowed to use the pronoun "we" when referring to USA soccer in the World Cup?-- Caleb, Baltimore, Md.

Hell yeah, you are.

(And yes, I do realize the hypocrisy of the double standard I just created.)

So -- now what are we going to talk about until August?!!!-- Carlos, San Antonio

Actual football. Sweet, sweet football.

(Hopefully I didn't jinx it.)

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