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Published: Wednesday, 6/9/2010

Big Ten should move quickly on expansion

This all started as a Big Ten thing and the commissioner, Jim Delany, insisted it was going to be a deliberate, careful process.

Now, suddenly, conference expansion and realignment, driven by football, is conceptually moving like a runaway train and if the Big Ten doesn't hurry, it won't be the one finishing what it started.

My gut feeling is the Big Ten wanted to expand by three schools to a 14-team league. And the two it most wanted, understandably, were Notre Dame and Texas.

The Fighting Irish appear to once again be immune to any thoughts of abandoning their independent football status. And Texas seems reluctant to abandon not necessarily the Big 12 but certainly its chief conference rivals, Oklahoma and Texas Tech in particular.

Now comes the Pac-10, which proactively is set to create a mega-conference and leave the Big 12 as little more than a carcass for circling buzzards and hungry conference coyotes.

The athletic director at the University of Washington, Scott Woodward, says everything is speculation, but he admitted to the Seattle Times that "with the Pac-10 anything is possible all the way from the status quo, where we are today, to a full merger with the Big 12, and anything in between."

The latter is what seems to be taking shape. Presuming two or even three Big 12 schools are drawn to the Big Ten, the Pac-10 would be willing to absorb six of the others, which would give Texas and its traditional rivals a home with divisional alignments that would still make some geographical sense.

If you imagine that leaves a few schools - Kansas State and Iowa State obviously come to mind - nervous about being left out in the non-BCS cold, you're correct.

Oklahoma's AD, Joe Castiglione, says the Sooners are still "passionate about the Big 12," but gave an interesting answer when asked if Oklahoma was talking to the Pac-10. Instead of just saying "No," which apparently would have been a fairly truthful answer, he said, "Not yet."

That's because, regardless of passion, he knows the conversation is about to begin, perhaps within 48 hours.

The Big 12 has given Nebraska and Missouri, two schools that have expressed a willingness to be courted by the Big Ten, a Friday deadline to indicate their intentions. Both are expected to make the jump.

A year ago, each Big 12 school received between $7 million and $10 million, depending on the number of appearances from the league's television contracts. The Big 10, meanwhile, distributed $22 million to each of its 11 members. Thus, Mizzou and Nebraska are very interested.

Yes, the Big Ten Network has been a rousing success and don't think the Pac-10 hasn't noticed. Whether it does it primarily on its own, ala the Big Ten, or in tandem with a cable giant like Fox or Comcast, the Pac-10 is about to dive in head first to a super-regional TV network.

A conference that already dominates media markets like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and all of Arizona has its eyes on the mammoth Dallas-Houston-San Antonio triangle, not to mention Denver and the Oklahoma City-Tulsa region.

The Big Ten should abandon its "slow and careful" mandate and create its own mega-conference - while Nebraska is small potatoes, market-wise, Missouri and Kansas rule the St. Louis-Kansas City corridor - while drawing new members from both west and east.

The Pac-10 is considering two eight-team divisions. Shouldn't the Big Ten be doing the same while still holding the upper hand?

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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