The winds of change yesterday went from cool breeze to Hurricane Tom (as in Osborne, as in "adios", as in "How's that taste, Kansas?"), with Nebraska apparently accepting an invitation from the Big Ten to become its twelfth member.
It remains to be seen if Nebraska is the twelfth and FINAL member of the Big Ten -- Syracuse, Pitt, and Rutgers have their troops amassed at the border, Notre Dame is still sitting up in the ivory tower waiting for it all to play out, and Missouri is the college equivalent of a homeless person trying to see if their relatives will let them back in ("We were just joking, Big 12!!")
Meanwhile, it is now official that Colorado has accepted an invitation to join the Pac-10 conference, an intriguing chess move on the part of the Buffaloes basically saying to the Texas schools "You guys can come if you want, but we're jumping..." The move also effectively ends any hope that Baylor has of joining a potential Pac-16. The Pac-10 needs five schools to get to 16 now -- there are six teams in the Big 12 South. The math is easy. Sorry, Baylor. Holler at Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State and see what their plans are for the next 30 or 40 years.
It's almost futile to do anything in print that assesses the landscape because the landscape changes so quickly, but if my body of work in 41 years on this earth tells you anything, it's that I am the master at diving head first into futile projects. So let's assess, shall we?
First of all, it was quite a banner first 24 hours for the new Pac-Integer To Be Determined Conference. I mean, if you have a league that is going to be essentially some dissimilar parts brought together for a common cause, you need to create a culture, right? Well, yesterday started off with suspended Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli getting arrested for possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license, which violated his probation that he received for breaking and entering (and lying). But a former Heisman Trophy candidate from a BCS Bowl team flushing his career down the drain was not even close to the biggest story in the conference.
The biggest story came down when USC was handed its punishment for Reggie Bush's family essentially being provided free room and board (like kick-ass room and board) from some dude who thought it would be a good idea to hitch his wagon to Reggie Bush's star. Not always the wisest career move, by the way. According to reports, the Trojans will not have to make bowl plans for the next two seasons, and (this is the big one) they will have 20 scholarships taken away.
I don't know if they're trying to make a statement, or if they're bent out of shape because a program with institutional control issues hired Lane Kiffin as its head coach (which is like hiring Kirstie Alley to run Quick Weight Loss), but make no mistake, the NCAA kicked USC square in the balls. (And yet, after all this, it's still a coin flipper to me that Reggie Bush's 2005 Heisman Trophy supplants Orenthal's 1968 Heisman as Most Tainted USC Heisman Trophy. I mean, do NCAA violations trump the fact that O.J. tossed his trophy up on eBay to liquidate during his civil suit for liberating the skulls of two people from their torsos?)
Appropriately, amidst violations that happen when a school either (a) falls asleep at the wheel or (b) turns a blind eye (or both), there is literally nobody on campus today at USC to answer for any of these peccadilloes.
Mike Garrett, Althletics Director? Out of the office. Pete Carroll, head coach at the time? Coaching the Seattle Seahawks. Reggie Bush? Who the hell knows. (And yet, to me, none of the blatant disregard/naivete/jackassery that these three have shown comes even close to Tim Floyd's prowess in all three areas. I mean, was Floyd the only one that didn't think his "recruitment" of O.J. Mayo was a little weird?)
Finally, whatever acumen the Colorado's leadership was able to show by choosing (wisely) to head to the Pac-10 was clearly not reflective of the academic chops of their football team, who managed to become the first team in the new Pac-Integer To Be Determined to have scholarships taken away (five in all) because they failed to meet APR minimum standards. (That's code for "dudes haven't been going to class.")
So in the first day in the new digs, the new Pac-ITBD has managed to get a legitimate arrest (a "cuff" as SEC Guy calls it), NCAA sanctions, and an academic deficiency punishment. Quite the trifecta!
So, keeping score, Nebraska to the Big Ten and Colorado to the Pac-10 are the only moves so far, but the storm clouds rolling in are the five Big 12 South schools (sans Baylor) trying to decide whether or not to make the move to the Pac-ITBD. This is where we find out about Texas and what Texas' self-assessment of its strength on the college landscape yields.
By any financial measurement, there is no beast bigger than the University of Texas. You would think that a Big 12 conference with the Longhorns as the headliner should be able to survive the loss of Nebraska (albeit a significant loss) and Colorado (not nearly as significant), especially if the upper-mid card contains Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and Kansas and you are judicious in who backfills Nebraska's and Colorado's spots. (If Big 12 commish Dan Beebe hasn't called Arkansas just to take their temperature, he's not doing his job.)
I wrote earlier this week that Texas is even more of a true independent than Notre Dame. I really believe that; that said, a choice to go to the new Pac-16 is no less a forfeiture of said independence than Notre Dame's entry into the Big Ten would be. Texas has a perfect situation in the Big 12 -- the cache and stroke of being the marquee school, the biggest fish in a pretty big pond, with the security of a 12-team conference with schools who are familiar to them. Go to the Pac-16, and you'll be one of a few big fish (even with the USC sanctions) in an even more muddled pond with a lot of new playmates -- unfamiliar playmates.
Texas still doesn't have a bad outcome in this whole thing, but what they decide to do with the Big 12 (and make no mistake, this is Texas' decision now) will go a long way to telling us how truly all-powerful the Longhorns feel and/or how desirous they were to ever keep the Big 12 together to begin with.
Good time for a Pendergast Realignment Strength-o-meter check, where on a scale of 1 to 100 I subjectively assess the relative "hand" the major players in realignment all have right now. Here we go....
SEC -- 12 teams, sitting back counting their money, deciding whether or not to invade the ACC or pilfer Texas and/or Texas A&M, the latter of which is a rumor that is picking up significant steam PRS RATING: 100.0
TEXAS -- Controls its own destiny in that if they choose not to go to the Pac-10, then the Big 12 will survive in some form and still remain strong with UT as the focal point. Barring a major screwup, they have no bad options in this whole thing. It's STILL good to be king. PRS RATING: 99.6
BIG TEN -- Nebraska is a great fit and they are now in the fold so if the Big Ten stopped right now at 12 teams they'd have had a good realignment season. Now comes the decision to go to 14 or 16 teams, which will likely hinge on Notre Dame PRS RATING: 98.9
PAC-10 -- Their first salvo has been fired with Colorado accepting a bid to become the 11th team, which (a) established that the Pac-10 is going to at least 12 teams, and (b) they won't be strongarmed into Baylor being part of their league. Floor option right now is pilfering a Mountain West team (BYU, Utah) or Boise State, ceiling is the annihilation of the Big 12 as we know it (five Big 12 South schools). Larry Scott making early bid for college sports Executive of the Year. PRS RATING: 95.2
NEBRASKA -- They landed where they wanted to, and in the process may have set the wheels in motion to severely cripple half the former Big 8 schools and make Texas ultimately look like the bad guy! Not a bad day to be a Husker! PRS RATING: 93.4
COLORADO -- Kudos to the Buffs for handling their potential political squeezing from the Pac-10 mix in a dignified way. They just waited it out and eventually made a decision that was right for their school. Now hopefully the new TV money will give them enough to buy out Dan Hawkins. PRS RATING: 91.8
TEXAS A&M -- All of a sudden, the SEC is in play for the Aggies giving them an option which would be intriguing, if nothing else. The SEC would be ecstatic to get a window into Texas' fertile recruiting ground, and the Aggies get to branch out a little bit. Trips to SEC country would be fun roadies for Aggie fans, to be sure. Politics may get in the way. But it's good to have options. PRS RATING: 86.3
NOTRE DAME -- The Nebraska entry to the Big Ten doesn't really impact Notre Dame as much as you'd think. My guess is the Big Ten is still very much in play for the Irish if they choose to go there, it will just now be as a 14- or 16-team league. And until the first 16-team conference becomes agreed to, the Irish are probably still in decent shape as an independent, my thinking being the 16-team uber-conferences have a better chance of squeezing the Irish than do a handful of 12-team conferences. PRS RATING: 82.5
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ACC -- 12 teams, but could get pilfered any minute by the SEC (they're like the field mouse being circled by the hawk on the Discovery Channel), and if A&M is truly in play then it's almost a lock that the ACC gets ransacked to bring the SEC to 14 or 16 teams. Conference with major identity crisis brought together in its current format solely to make money at football. PRS RATING: 52.5
BIG EAST -- Only 8 teams, none of them football powers that can carry a conference. The Big East's non-football roots may catch up to it this go-round. News items Big East fans are watching -- does the Big Ten go to 16 teams (which would almost assuredly include at least two Big East teams)? If the ACC gets hit by the SEC, does the ACC come after Rutgers, West Virginia, South Florida? Where does Notre Dame stand in all of this? PRS RATING: 24.1
BIG 12 -- The fat lady is halfway through a medley about and has maybe two songs left. There may be a ten bell salute for the league by week's end. PRS RATING: 15.2
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 PM weekdays on the "Sean & John Show" and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.