Tonight on NET's Big Red Wrapup, co-host Adrian Fiala expressed opposition to Nebraska joining the Big Ten. He liked the Big Eight, and wished it didn't go away. He'd like to see Nebraska continue to play in the Big XII. Certainly the Big XII makes sense for Nebraska; we have traditional opponents that the Huskers have played for years: Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, and Missouri. We still play Oklahoma, just not as often as we'd like. It's comfortable.
Problem is...this isn't about liking the conference you are in, but rather liking the conference you will be in after college football gets realigned. And frankly, I just don't see how the Big XII survives in anything even closely resembling it's current form. Assume for a minute that the Big Ten decides to go to 16 teams, and Nebraska turns down an invitation. Does the Big Ten scuttle all their plans, or do they go to a Plan B? My guess is that they've already got plan B...and C...and D.
So what's likely to happen. Missouri is already halfway across the Mississippi, waving adios to the Big XII. Last December, Missouri governor Jay Nixon already expressed his preference for the Tigers to head east. So that's one team down. It's also been rumored that the Pac-10 is still interested in Colorado...that could be two teams down.
Would the Big Ten go after Kansas as a Nebraska alternative? Doesn't have the marquee value of Nebraska in football, but brings one heck of a pedigree in basketball. Then, let's remember that the SEC has said they won't sit idly by and watch the Big Ten get bigger than them. So they'll be looking to add teams. Florida State and Miami, perhaps? I'll give you that. But who else? Virginia Tech? Maybe. What about Texas and Texas A&M to restore the old rivalry with Arkansas? Maybe Oklahoma as well.
In this world, Nebraska might be back in the Big Eight...but now Baylor and Texas Tech have replaced Missouri and Oklahoma. Then consider the possibility that the Pac-Ten decides to go to 16 teams as well....and pulls in Kansas, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech.
Conference realignment looks to me like a huge game of musical chairs. You refuse to play at your own risk. If everybody else plays and you don't...you lose.
The Big XII really doesn't have any cards to play in the game of conference expansion once teams start defecting. For every team you lose, the Big XII is going to have to step down to find a replacement. Colorado State? Wyoming? BYU? Boise State? I suppose the Big XII could try to make a run at a Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Arkansas in retaliation...but that's unlikely considering that the Big Ten and SEC have better television deals than the Big XII. What could the Big XII offer that they don't have in their current conference home?
Behind the scenes, there are a lot of conversations going on right now in college athletics. When the Big Ten decides to act, this will all happen very quickly. Notre Dame will have the first chance to make a call, and if they say no, the dominoes will fall...and fall quickly. In fact, it seriously could happen the same way UNO joined the WCHA. The discussions happened behind the scenes, and the deal was sealed and approved in one fell swoop. Schools like Nebraska, Missouri, and Rutgers don't want to be seen as disloyal, and conferences don't like to be rejected publicly. The Big Ten won't ask anybody (other than Notre Dame) who will say no...and nobody will say yes if there is any chance the Big Ten could say no.
When people say they'd like to stay in the Big XII, that's a noble, but potentially naive viewpoint. You could elect to stay in the Big XII, but the Big XII likely is not going to exist in anything resembling it's current form. Once these dominoes start to fall, the Big XII is likely to be flattened.
And no matter what you think about the Big XII or Big Ten today...the Big Ten is a better home for Nebraska than the alternative, which could be something like the WAC, Mountain West, or Conference USA.