As recently as, like, two months ago, the Big 12 seemed to be on solid ground. As people published their college football season preview magazines, they debated on how high to rank Texas, Oklahoma, and emerging Nebraska.
Oh, my how things change.
The Big 12 is as good as dead, and the potential orphans left by its demise are quite surprising.
Thursday, Colorado announced it was bolting for the Pac-10 Conference, starting in 2011. This came amid reports that other Big 12 schools -- Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State -- were all going to be Pac-10 bound before too long.
Oh, and Nebraska is heading to the Big Ten.
The league is dead.
But look who the free agents are. No one is surprised by Iowa State or Baylor. Neither generates much revenue, and their football programs are really struggling. Former football power Kansas State isn't as good there as they used to be, and their overall revenues aren't impressive. It could be argued that none of these three should automatically find a home, considering where they are in terms of revenue and performance in football, obviously the most important sport to the business of college athletics.
Want to be shocked?
Kansas and Missouri are currently without a guaranteed home.
How is this possible?
Kansas has one of the best basketball programs on the planet. Lawrence has been the home to a slew of hardwood legends, including James Naismith and Phog Allen. The football program stunk for most of the 1990s, and was eventually rescued by Mark Mangino, who ran the program and led them to a few bowl games before it got out that he was (allegedly) abusing players.
Either way, Kansas shouldn't be orphaned because their conference imploded from within. They're too strong overall in the world of athletics.
Missouri isn't as good on the court, but their football program is in better shape, and they are a very good academic institution. In short, Mizzou is a perfect fit for the Big Ten, should that league look to expand further beyond Nebraska.
While the Big Ten is at it, they should forget any flirtation with elitist Notre Dame, who would probably want revenue-sharing concessions before they would consider joining. If they want to return to an even number of teams, look at Kansas.
The Big Ten is already strong in football. Ohio State is a perennial national contender, while Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Nebraska give them a solid top tier of programs capable of making serious waves nationally most seasons.
Nebraska's volleyball program is the best in the country, an annual contender for the national title. Watching them go at it with fellow contender Penn State should be fun.
Where Nebraska doesn't help the Big Ten is in the other revenue sport: men's basketball.
They're awful at men's hoops, and they don't make the Big Ten better or more competitive. Kansas and Missouri would. Add KU and Mizzou to a top tier that includes Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue, and sometimes Illinois, and you are talking about (maybe) the best college basketball conference in the country.
Of course, Missouri is a possibility for the Big Ten, but we've heard nothing of Kansas. Instead, there's chatter about the Jayhawks joining the Mountain West. Great for the Mountain West, but how does KU's hoops program get stuck playing in that league?
This is an incredible development. We all knew the conference structure we've seen for a while now wouldn't last forever. There's too much money in the power conferences, and if the Pac-1o launches a TV network like they want to, you're looking at a league that will only grow. Look at what the Big Ten Network has done for the league. The impact is easily seen.
Hell, they wouldn't be adding Nebraska without it.
Imagine the ratings for The Mtn network when they televise that first KU basketball game. If they play their cards right, adding KU for hoops and Boise State for football makes them a definite player in the college sports arms race.
When Nebraska slogs their way to another sub-.500 season, the Big Ten might look at KU and wonder what might have been, had they only thought of other sports besides football when deciding to expand.