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Bye Bye Big Ten

W. Ross Clites
Your City Sports - Cleveland

Kent, OHIO--Without a doubt, I am going to be that senile grandfather that sits in the corner and traps his grandchildren with inescapable rants about the past. I can almost here them screaming now, "Mom! Grandpa is rambling about the Big Ten again!"

I will inevitably be old someday, reminiscing about a simpler time. A time when the Big Ten was not only a collegiate conference, but the only one that could not accurately count. What fun will this new super conference be without the hidden "11" in the text? If the Big Ten adds 3 teams, I motion to call the league "The Big Thirteen" out of principle. The trouble will be embedding that "14" in there somewhere.

There is rampant talk about an eager Pac-10 commissioner, Larry Scott, who will add teams at all cost. He evidently has been given the authority to do so from his school presidents. However, there is no reason for him to shake things up without a need. He has an even number of teams in his conference; Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney does not.The way I see it, here in June of 2010, the Big Ten should be the first to step up to the proverbial college Jenga tower.

If Scott cannot land the University of Texas, then there is no economical sense in adding anyone. A phrase I thought I would never say ("thanks to Texas legislation...") no commissioner will be able to take one Texas school without taking them all. That might actually help the Big XII fend off contraction. And the Big XII will not fold if the Big Ten does not raid some of its teams. Thus, it all begins with the Big Ten. They truly hold the fate of college football--as we have come to know it--in their hands.

There is one stubborn Jenga block that the Big Ten has had its eye on for years: Notre Dame. It is in an precocious position, but if this piece comes out cleanly, the panic of grand realignment fizzles out before it ever truly gains steam. Delaney would walk away from the table, making the only move he truly wants, and other commissioners would (should) subsequently abstain from pulling anything out of whack. The tower would still be upright, conferences would have even-number balance, and it would be better off to leave things be.

It is simple arithmetic: a conference of 11 wants 12. There are bundled teams that would require a cracking apart; these are obviously not the first choices to fill that void of one team. Crack open one bundle and the madness will spill over like water into the compartments of the Titanic. One team gets taken away, one stays--now without its in-state rival for protection and support.

The alternative is taking both teams. But if you are the Big Ten, that does not solve the issue. You continue to have an odd-number league. Instead, Delaney needs to seek out a stray independent piece laying around. Notre Dame is the logical choice (and only choice) for Big Ten expansion and no one else needs disturbed.

The Big Ten would have twelve teams, two divisions, a new powerhouse in terms of revenue, a geographical fit, a team with experience playing several Big Ten teams every year, and--most importantly--an annual conference championship in football.

In this, I would not have to be that cranky old grandpa. I would not have to lament about a conference called the Big XII that used to exist "in my day." If the Big Ten gets Notre Dame, they will stop flirting with Missouri or Nebraska. Currently, these two Big XII schools are better on-field football programs, but pale in comparison to the money stream that Touchdown Jesus can provide.

So Missouri and Nebraska would both stay and keep the Big XII alive. Then the expansion-crazed Pac-10 would lose its leverage to sweep in and take the entire Big XII South Division. If Scott still wanted twelve teams and a conference championship of his own, he could move on to the Mountain West. Just stay away from my traditional power conferences.

It seems like too many schools have their fingers on the trigger, itching to pull so they are not left out in the cold. There are ultimatums and time tables being thrown around. Hopefully cooler heads prevail and no one unnecessarily burns a bridge. But if Missouri tells the Big XII they are parting ways, and then the Big Ten grabs Notre Dame and no one else, what will Missouri do? 

Furthermore, if Missouri severs their Big XII relationship, the Big XII South teams may assume a falling out is on the horizon and become members of the Pac-10 before anyone can blink. Mizzou needs to slow its role. It cannot step up to the Jenga game first. If they do, they may overplay their leverage; assuming a Big Ten invitation is in the mail, they may topple the tower.

The Big Ten is the only conference with a need to fill. The others, and the teams affiliated, need to relax. This assumes that the ACC and the Big East will not do anything crazy. With their recent expansions, they each have a healthy thing going. No team should even consider a move until Notre Dame makes a decision.

One easy move has the potential to keep greedy commissioners from taking an Etch-a-Sketch approach to the college football landscape. So, Notre Dame, join the Big Ten. Get over yourselves and your NBC contract; the Big Ten has its own network and is showcased on ABC/ESPN every week. Having that chip in your corner has lost its luster. Everyone is on TV now; you are no longer unique and special because of that. Plus, a shot at the BCS becomes easier when you start playing Indiana and not USC.

If Notre Dame enjoys their independence too much and declines, the expletive will hit the fan. The Big Ten will start a chain reaction with their Jenga move. The tower will become unstable, requiring others to compensate with knee-jerk maneuvers. It could get ugly. We could see the Kansas Jayhawks playing basketball in Conference-USA. [Groan]

Super Conferences will reign supreme and athletic directors will have to get used to the idea of traveling 1,800 miles for a road game. This is not ideal, but acceptable, for a sport that plays once a week and on weekends. But what happens for the other sports that are played between Super Conference foes? How much school will be missed when the Texas A&M Aggies field hockey team travels to play the Washington Huskies in Seattle on a Tuesday night? And at what cost (for non-revenue-generating sports)?

But if this whole thing is inevitable--as all change is--I might as well have a say as to how it should go down. That way I will not be able to complain... as much.

The day after Notre Dame says "no," the Big Ten should employ plan B. In my mind, that should be Missouri, Iowa State, and Nebraska. Then, Iowa would join the state of Michigan in having both of its largest state schools in the same conference--a natural rivalry.

Big Thirteen
or Great Midwest (14):

Iowa State

Penn State

Ohio State
Michigan State

Seeing it laid out, it is more attractive to fans than a Notre Dame addition. The Fighting Irish would do very little to boost the on-field perception of the conference, and would potentially drown in mediocrity. Adding three former Big XII teams at least gives the league a competitive balance geographically. The Big Thirteen (Great Midwest) Championship Game would be a guaranteed thrill to watch; played in either historic Lambeau or Soldier Field.

So after the Big XII North is partially pillaged, the Pac-10 would be next up at the Jenga tower. As expected, they would go full bore after the 6 members of the South.
What was once the Pac-8 would grow into the newly-minted Pac-16; a stupid name because Texas is light years away from the Pacific Ocean. 
Alas, the "Pac-16" should look like this:

Oregon State
Washington State

Oklahoma State
StateTexas A&M
Texas Tech
Arizona State

The one positive side effect about this western Super Conference is that will act as indirect antithesis to the BCS--a mini college football playoff. The Big XII South is notorious for being far superior in football than the Big XII North. So, if those South division teams are now part of the former Pac-10, one conference will hold several National Championship contenders each season.

Thus, the Pac-16 Conference Championship would act like the SEC Championship--an unofficial National Semifinal. For example, if Texas, Alabama, and USC all went undefeated in a regular season, computers would decide which two would meet for the title. More things settled on the field is always a good thing. Still not a fan of the travel distances, however.

So where do the other Big XII North teams find a home? This is where the Mountain West needs to step in and become the unexpected savior. In turn, the Mountain West would project its status for mid-major to one of the most powerful leagues in the nation.

Mountain West

Utah State
Boise State

New Mexico State
New Mexico
Colorado State
Air Force
Kansas State

Unfortunately, San Diego State would get the boot, as a California outlier. This would make room for WAC teams Boise State, Utah State, Idaho, Nevada, and New Mexico State to finally join a significant conference. They make the most sense to shift over because they would be joining schools, from their similar states, already established in the Mountain West. 

Expect underrated success out of this group, one that would be really fun to watch every Saturday. Eight of these teams were in a bowl game last season, and the 2010 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl could become an annual meeting in a Mountain West Championship Game between Boise State and TCU.

The domino effect would then leave the WAC in shambles. Ironically, this would possibly be the best news the NCAA has heard in a long time. The Western Athletic Conference is the biggest joke in sports. Hawaii and Louisiana Tech are in the same conference. This hodgepodge of teams needed to be fixed a decade ago.

My solution for that madness is to make the WAC as close to a California-only club as possible. Let it be absolved into the Big West. This is the last play that can be made in the Jenga game. Any more moves and the tower will surely fall.

Big West/WAC collaboration (14):

San Diego State
San Jose State
Fresno State
Cal State Fullerton
Cal State Northridge
Long Beach State
UC-Santa Barbara
Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

This conference is absolutely stacked... if we are talking about baseball. In football it would definitely have some quirks. I agree it feels like an after-thought conference, but it would at least clean up some geography issues in the NCAA.

This conference's realignment comes with heavy football stipulations. Only Hawaii, San Diego State, San Jose State, and Fresno State have Division I-A (FBS) football programs. The University of Denver has a Division I-AA (FCS) football program in the Sun Belt. It would be the time for that program to jump up a level and make it a five-team D-I conference. The way to handle this efficiently is to give them something I call "semi-independent" status. The five must play each other, but are free to schedule any other teams they see fit.

As for the loneliest team in the nation, Louisiana Tech. They will swap with the University of Denver in the Sun Belt and drop down to play FCS football. It is a natural fit and the world would finally be at peace.

Talk about a Butterfly Effect; if the Big Ten goes after Missouri it will affect teams like Hawaii, currently minding its own business thousands of miles away. If the moves are all quick and clean, no one will feel a painful sting. If we slowly rip the band-aid, it will sting hurt for years to come. 

The NCAA needs to oversee this plan or greedy men will muddle it up. That will put me in my rocking chair when I am 70 years old, crotchety and angry about what happened to "my" college football.

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