Posted: Monday June 7, 2010 5:33PM ; Updated: Wednesday June 9, 2010 5:51PM
Stewart Mandel
Stewart Mandel>INSIDE COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Sweet 16: Exploring scenarios for how expansion dominos may fall

Story Highlights

This could be the most earth-shattering week in college athletics in decades

Series of interconnected decisions loom for Nebraska, Notre Dame, Texas, etc.

In honor of possible Pac-16, here are 16 scenarios for how dominos may fall

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Today is Monday, June 7, the first day of what could be the most earth-shattering week college athletics has seen in decades.

It's hard to believe that less than a week ago, hardly a soul outside of the parties involved had any inkling the Pac-10 might be on the verge of inviting Texas and five other teams. But with The Conference Realignment Texas Hold 'em Game suddenly moving at breakneck speed, we could be sitting here a week from now looking at a radically altered landscape. A series of impending, interconnected decisions currently being made in the offices and board rooms of a select few universities -- most notably Notre Dame, Nebraska and Texas -- could unleash a sweeping tidal wave that impacts nearly every Division I-A member.

Or, nothing could happen. Despite all the leaked e-mails, feverish politicking and frantic Twitter updates these past 96 hours, there remains a very real possibility that the "Pac-16" will fail to become reality, that only a couple of schools nationally will change locales and that college football come 2012 will hardly look any different than it did in 2010.

Whatever the case, much will be decided over the coming week. Speculation runs the gamut as to where exactly things stand, but the general consensus can be summed up thusly: The Pac-10 is expected to officially issue invites to Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and either Colorado or Baylor; those Big 12 schools are waiting on answers from Nebraska and Missouri, which have reportedly been given an in-or-out ultimatum that expires this weekend as to whether they'll re-up or hold out for an invite to the Big Ten; and those schools, in turn, may be waiting on the Big Ten to make yet another push for Notre Dame, which, should it finally forsake its independence, could complete that league's expansion at 12 teams.

Still with me?

In honor of the proposed Pac-16, here are 16 scenarios for how the dominos from this week's decisions may fall, ascending from the most conservative to the most radically far-fetched.

1. Notre Dame stays put (for now), Nebraska and Missouri pledge loyalty to the Big 12 and the Big Ten and Pac-10 go back to the drawing board.

It cannot be stated enough that Texas and its fellow reported South Division defectors would prefer to keep the current Big 12 intact. Sources say the league will command plenty of increased television revenue (albeit still not split equally) the next time it renegotiates its contracts. If Nebraska and Missouri officials decide it is either too risky to wait on a Big Ten invite (long assumed to be their preference) or plain have a change of heart, Texas and Co. stay put, too. We go back to waiting to see if the Pac-10 makes a more modest expansion (Colorado and Utah?) and/or the Big Ten turns its attention East (Rutgers? Syracuse?).

One immediate domino: The Mountain West -- currently waiting to see what happens with the Big 12 -- goes ahead and invites Boise State.

2. All of the above holds true, with one exception: Missouri holds out.

Great. The Big 12 plucks a team like TCU to replace the Tigers and life moves on. (And Missouri sits and prays it's not making a gigantic miscalculation as to the Big Ten's interest.)

3. Notre Dame ends 120 years of independence, joins the Big Ten.

Don't get me wrong -- this would be a gigantic development. It would probably cause riots on Notre Dame's campus, for one thing, and it would give the Big Ten a fourth national brand-name team to go with Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. However, it would also likely put a kibosh on most other potential conference shakeups. Most believe the Big Ten would be content to end its expansion push with Notre Dame, which would in turn preserve the Big 12 and Big East.

Personally, I don't see this one happening. Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick previously indicated the school would only consider joining a conference if its hand were forced -- and that hasn't happened yet.

4. Nebraska bids the Big 12 adieu.

There goes the conference. Nebraska AD/former coach Tom Obsborne has been at odds with Texas nearly since the league's inception, what with much of the conference's policies seemingly tailored to the Longhorns and their Lone Star counterparts. The Big Ten offers more money, equal revenue sharing and a fresh start. If an invite appears imminent, the Huskers head north.

A Big 12 without one of its three marquee franchises will no longer be palatable to Texas. The 'Horns will accept their invite to the Pac-10, and the other five will follow. (The only question is whether Colorado or Baylor, the latter of which is politicking hard for inclusion, would get the sixth bid.) The remaining holdovers -- Kansas, K-State, Iowa State and the Colorado/Baylor loser -- begin scrambling for a new home.

Every remaining scenario from here includes this component as a starting point.

5. The Mountain West pounces.

Seizing an opportunity, the Mountain West -- to this point facing an uphill climb to gain a BCS automatic berth -- would suddenly find itself in a position to reconfigure itself as a bona fide player. With the Big 12 out of the picture, the MWC could invite any or all of the following -- Colorado, Kansas, K-State, Iowa State and Boise State -- to move to 12 teams.

If not, a team like Iowa State could be left completely out in the cold. Conference USA, anyone?

6. Kansas becomes a LeBron-like free agent.

One of the great mysteries amid the ongoing Pac-16 speculation is what will become of Kansas, which, while not necessarily a football power, has a huge alumni base, sits in a decent TV market and, most notably, boasts one of the nation's most prestigious basketball programs. It's seems hard to believe the Jayhawks will fade into the wilderness.

Kansas has pledged its loyalty to the Big 12, but if the league implodes, who's to say the Big Ten wouldn't couple KU with Missouri? For all we know, Jim Delany prefers the Jayhawks. If not the Big Ten, what about the basketball-centric Big East, which knows no geographic bounds (see: Marquette)? It could be that KU can't go anywhere without K-State, thus diminishing its appeal, but if not, another major program could be changing major conferences.

7. The Big Ten pulls a power play, snags Texas.

We know from e-mails obtained by the Columbus Dispatch that the Big Ten has coveted the Longhorns all along. While it's assumed Texas is more interested in the Pac-10 (hence, the imminent invitation), Delany could still pull off one last sell job. He could point out that his league's TV network has a four-year head start on the Pac-10's proposed venture and/or he could invite buddies Oklahoma and Texas A&M. (We already know Texas has a "Tech problem.")

Nebraska -- which for this to unfold would have to fail to commit to the Big 12 -- may be left out of the Big Ten, to boot (yet another kick in the stomach by Texas). Perhaps the Pac-10 would come calling for the Huskers and/or Colorado, or perhaps Nebraska would try to start a new league with Kansas, Kansas State, et. al.

8. The Big Ten adds Nebraska -- and Notre Dame.

Why is this more radical than Big Ten/Texas? Because of the ripple effect it would cause back East.

And as stated before, Notre Dame's sole motivation for joining a conference would be the imminent destruction of the league (the Big East) in which all of its other sports teams participate. With that in mind...

 
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