I had every intention of sitting down and penning a thoughtful, detailed perspective on Jim Delany fiddling while college football burns. While the ACC, SEC, and Pac 12 were all appearing to make moves to expand to 16 teams and reach SuperConference status... the Big Ten was sitting on the sidelines. Think about the madness we've seen in the last few days and imagine the impossibility of the Big Ten, the torchbearer of realignment, being involved in none of it.
Pitt and Syracuse are moving from the Big East to the ACC. UConn and maybe even Rutgers were rumored to be going too. West Virginia was and then wasn't going to the SEC. Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech were all heading westward to the Pac 12. What was left of the Big XII and the Big East were going to come together. But, if the Big XII was going to be killed off, then Missouri was going to get a coveted SEC invite to be team #14. Even Conference USA and the Mountain West wanted to get in on the action and merge, because hey, everyone else is doing it! Due to contractual obligations with the BCS, Notre Dame's name has been tossed around as an expansion target, this time for the ACC. Seemingly everyone including Cumberland College was involved in some sort of realignment rumor.
And yet, the Big Ten was nowhere to be seen. Was Jim Delany too busy straining to come up with more stupid looking trophies or figuring out if he was more of a legend or a leader? Was he having a staring contest with himself? From afar, it was a strategic plan that didn't make a lot of sense...
With the impending era of the SuperConference, why wouldn't Jim Delany be proactive in expansion like he appeared to be during the first chapter of this drama? What happened to the visionary behind the Big Ten Network and the upheaval of the NCAA? In being passive through realignment, the B1G could get caught on the outside looking in. What if Delany lost Notre Dame, Texas, Pitt, West Virginia, Maryland, Missouri, Kansas, and Rutgers as viable options. (I never understood the Big Ten's reported infatuation with Rutgers and the New York media market... like Manhattan is populated with nothing but Scarlet Knights fans? Really?) If the SEC, Pac 12, and ACC and even the Zombie Big XII/East all reached 16 teams first, wouldn't Jim Delany and the Big Ten be forced to follow suit? And if so, why settle for reacting to what the ACC does? Why not make the other conferences react to you and strike with a vengance?
I was all ready and willing to question this baffling lack of movement from the Big Ten and declare their future as the SuperConference version of the Little Sisters of the Poor. Who would they grab to fill out the four slots - Iowa State? Toledo? Temple? Mount Union???
And then, Delany's kindred spirit, Larry Scott, cut the red wire and disconnected the nuclear realignment bomb and by some sort of weird, twisted, detailed logic, made Delany look like a genius. But we'll get back to Delany in another 800 words or so. First, Scott announced the Pac 12 shockingly wasn't expanding in a message delivered late last night. This statement was released...
In light of the widespread speculation about potential scenarios for Conference re-alignment, the Pac-12 Presidents and Chancellors have affirmed their decision to remain a 12-team conference. Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said, “after careful review we have determined that it is in the best interests of our member institutions, student-athletes and fans to remain a 12-team conference. While we have great respect for all of the institutions that have contacted us, and certain expansion proposals were financially attractive, we have a strong conference structure and culture of equality that we are committed to preserve. With new landmark TV agreements and plans to launch our innovative television networks, we are going to focus solely on these great assets, our strong heritage and the bright future in front of us.””
- Pac-12 -
What the #$%# is going on?!? In a snap, the Pac 12 now isn't taking Texas, OU, Ok St, or Texas Tech? What could possibly stop this no-brainer from happening? Why, it's the big, ugly, burnt orange elephant in the realignment room...
The Longhorn Network. That's why the Pac 12 pulled the plug. The Longhorn Network doesn't fit in with the business model the Pac 12 seems to have built - its multilayered networks and megadeal with ESPN and Fox. As Pete Thamel of the New York Times reported, Texas didn't fit in the Pac 12's "culture of equality." Texas doesn't want to move into a situation where they are 1/16th of the pie. They're Texas after all, dad gum it. Why would Texas give up or share any of the piles and piles of money and exposure that will come rolling in with the Longhorn Network?
With that simple declaration from the Pac 12, Larry Scott may have ended realignment (for the time being) and saved the Big XII in one swoop. Texas, OU, and the breakaway schools of the Big XII have no other real alternative than to stay put and try to make it work... again. You can read the tea leaves and see the Big XII's resurrection is ultimately in the cards. Oklahoma is already trying to squeeze out Dan Beebe and gain concessions from Texas regarding the Longhorn Network to keep the league together. No realignment article can be complete without Chip Brown reporting something from his network of government spies sources, and Brown has Texas and OU already discussing a five year commitment to the Big XII.
This is the conference just won't die. We've reached some sort of surreal extra dimension where nothing seems real anymore, people wear shoes on their hands, and hamburgers eat people. To fully grasp the insanity of it all, consider Missouri's situation...
First, they shout to anyone who will listen they want to join the Big Ten with Nebraska. That didn't exactly work out. For the last few months, they've been stuck in limbo as no conference of significance wanted them as a part of their SuperConference plans. Conference USA and the MWC were on the horizon. So was statewide depression. Suddenly today though, the SEC reportedly gives them a golden ticket to join the biggest of the big boys. AND YET, as reports break about Mizzou's deal with the SEC, their president Brady Deaton (chair of the Big XII board) is working to keep the Big XII together.
While that's going on in the western half of the country, the ACC and Big East aren't playing nice. The ACC poaching Pitt, Syracuse, and possibly even others was bad enough. But when ACC comissioner John Swofford publicly dreamed of an ACC basketball tournament in the Big East's home of Madison Square Garden, things got personal. The Big East is going to keep Pitt and 'Cuse until 2014, which should make the next three years nice and awkward, and who knows if anyone else will follow one way or another sooner or later.
How in the world does one begin to break all this down if this is indeed our latest realignment checkpoint. Here's where things appear to stand at the moment, or until Memphis finally decides to throw their hat into the ring and really shake things up...
The ACC looks like it may have eventually won the arms race to acquire the highest number of teams, but Pitt and Syracuse aren't adding anything to the conference's already low national profile. The ACC doesn't need mediocre Big East teams to boost the league - they need FSU, Virginia Tech, Miami, and others to contend naitonally.
The SEC may be awkwardly stuck on 13 teams for the time being. The addition of Texas A&M is undoubtedly peculiar, but it provides a win-win scenario for both university and conference. A&M comes out from underneath the shadow of Texas (at least they think) and the SEC moves their turf into the Lonestar State. If Mizzou hops aboard too, the SEC's position as national powerhouse only becomes stronger.
The Big East is hurting with football numbers, losing Pitt and Syracuse, and is down to seven members (TCU included). In fact, they may be the most hurt from realignment depending on who they can bring in on the football side (everyone from Navy to Air Force to East Carolina has been rumored). While they will continue to be a basketball powerhouse, it is clearly evident the Big East didn't have the foresight to see realignment being all about football and money.
Through some sort of voodoo spell that I thought only Les Miles had the power to access, the Big XII will survive once again. Don't even begin to ask me how or why.
The Pac 12 ultimately comes out as the biggest winner in this round of realignment. Not only do they have big bucks, but they look like the only grown up in the room thanks to their refusal to expand to 16 teams. The Pac 12 has it really good at the moment and adding Texas would only add headaches. Let the Big XII blow up in six weeks again over the Longhorn Network and continue to rake in the dough and grow your western empire.
And then... there's the Big Ten, who might have made the smartest move of all by sitting out this messy round of realignment. If anything, the Big Ten is completely unified in what they are doing. There aren't teams racing out the door (Big East). There aren't teams turning conferences against them (hello, Texas) or trying to oust the commish (hi, Oklahoma). There aren't panicked additions of averageness (ACC) either.
Did Jim Delany possibly see this outcome before it happened? Right now, I'm willing to believe every possible scenario. Perhaps he knew Texas and the Longhorn Network would never cede to Larry Scott and the Pac 12, thus stopping the falling dominoes of realignment. Texas has always been the key to realignment, but perhaps now they are simply too big and obnoxious to move anywhere but the Big XII.
Think about this - Delany has his 12 teams, his conference championship game, his national network, humongous flows of revenue, and nine of the top thirty most popular programs in the country including the top three (OSU, Michigan, PSU). As long as the conference starts actually winning some meaningful games again in January, life is good for Jim Delany and the Big Ten.
Come to think of it, maybe I was the one that couldn't see the forest through the trees from the Big Ten's perspective on realignment. Maybe he was serious when he said that the conference wasn't looking further into expansion. Maybe Jim Delany and the Big Ten have been in pole position this entire time and none of us realized it.
Maybe there's a method to Jim Delany's fiddling after all...