Suddenly with a few minutes to kill, figured I’d tap out a few of my final thoughts on Expansion-palooza, in handy winners-and-losers format:
WINNER: Texas. The Longhorns emerge as the biggest winner of all. They got the money they wanted, the power they wanted, and they don’t have to deal anymore with the one school that was most apt to put up a fight in Big 12 matters — Nebraska (and word all along was that Texas didn’t really want to go anywhere if it didn’t have to).
In fact, Texas so came up aces (getting approval for its own TV network, for one) that some wonder if the Longhorns maybe didn’t orchestrate all of this (Jon Wilner makes a convincing case for that very scenario). I’ve had several people tell me that was the underreported story in all of this, how Texas was pushing all the buttons, and ultimately got its way in just about everything.
And after it was all over, Texas could claim to have “saved” the Big 12 (as well as Dan Beebe), though with all the apparent heart of a loan shark.
LOSER: Tradition. At least in the Pac-10. We can’t totally judge how this will all look for the conference until we see the end result, obviously. Still, the round-robin football schedule is gone, as is the 18-game home-and-home conference basketball schedule that has been around for 30 years. One of the great things about the Pac-10 had been how neat and tidy the scheduling was — easy to understand, producing true regular-season champions in the major sports and creating lots of rivalries that weren’t all that natural (Arizona-UW in basketball the last 5-6 years has been as good as any around, helped greatly by the guaranteed twice-a-year meetings). Word is the conference will do what it can to preserve all its best rivalries. But inevitably, some disruption will occur.
WINNER: Colorado and Utah. While reports remain tonight that Utah has not been officially contacted about moving, there’s nothing to indicate it won’t happen, and probably soon. When it does, it will elevate the Utes to a long-desired standing in college athletics — though it will be interesting to see how the Utes respond to playing a Pac-10 schedule.
UPDATE, 7:10 p.m. — Comcast Bay Area is now reporting that Utah has been officially invited to the Pac-10 with an announcement set for Wednesday.
UPDATE 9 p.m.. — The Salt Lake Tribune, however, reports that that Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott is denying having yet invited Utah.
UPDATE 10 p.m. — The Las Vegas Review-Journal, citing its own Mountain West Conference source, says Utah is on its way to the Pac-10 and that it will be announced Wednesday. Again, what we’ve heard all along is Utah is coming so not a surprise.
Colorado, meanwhile, just seemed like it never really hit its stride in the Big 12. Financially, moving may prove to be a wash for the Buffs. But you get the sense that for Colorado, this is like one those baseball “change of scenery” trades — that a new conference might revive an athletic program that has seemed to consistently underachieve the last 15 years.
LOSER: Missouri. There was a lot of bold talk from the Tigers about moving to the Big Ten. Funny thing was, the Big Ten didn’t want them. So Missouri had to go slinking back to the Big 12, hoping like heck it survived. It did, but not before Missouri found out a little about where it stands in the college athletic food chain.
WINNER: Iowa State, Kansas State, Baylor, Kansas. All four also learned some hard lessons about where they stand in the college food chain — Kansas surprisingly so, given its storied basketball history. But a week after all four appeared having uncertain and likely non-BCS futures, all now appear to be settled in the Big 12 for years to come.
LOSER: College basketball. The twisting-in-the-wind of Kansas only further reinforced how football rules everything in college sports. March Madness may be the best event college sports can offer, but without football to support it, it would apparently die on the vine.
LOSER: USC. The sanctions are obviously the biggest reason USC is in the loser category right now (and if you want to read the first real full explanation from Pete Carroll, Danny O’Neil supplied it all today on his blog). But with expansion putting at least a lot of intrigue (and in some corners, some new-found excitement) about a new era for the Pac-10, the Trojans are left having to deal with some of the stiffest penalties in NCAA history and wondering what kind of shape they’ll be in when expansion takes hold.
TOO SOON TO TELL: Larry Scott. The new Pac-10 commissioner deserves kudos for aggressively pursuing the wishes of the rest of the conference leaders to expand (the easiest way to add much-needed moola to each school’s coffers). That he didn’t pull off the Pac-16, however, mutes the excitement a bit (and worth remembering that his predecessor, Tom Hansen, also made an effort to get Texas the last time the Longhorns appeared available — that they hadn’t been since then wasn’t really Hansen’s fault). Expanding at all, however, only puts that much more pressure on Scott to fully maximize the TV dollars of the new alignment when he goes to negotiate new deals next year, and off-set any disgruntlement with some of the changes to scheduling that will inevitably occur. This expansion will undoubtedly define Scott’s Pac-10 commissioner-hood. Whether it was a success won’t really be known for years.