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Expansion Apocalypse: Rumors

(Updated 6/11) Since I started working on Friday's post, "Expansion Apocalypse?" in earnest, a lot of rumors have been flying through the intertubes like Scud missles over Baghdad, circa 1990. This week, Chip Brown of Orangebloods.com/Rivals has been leading the charge in a series of rumors about the interaction between the Big Ten, Pac-10 and everyone else.

At the end of last week, there were rumblings that the Pac-10 was planning to throw the first stone at the Big XII's glass house by inviting six schools to join up. This would include the three public schools from Texas, the Oklahoma schools and Colorado. This rumor was flatly rejected prior to the conference's meetings.

What do we actually know? The Associated Press reported that Larry Scott, the Pac-10 commissioner, was given permission to "explore expansion options," during the meetings.

Since then, more and more rumors have been tossed around. Almost all of them have been confirmed by some anonymous sources, and denied in less-than-believeable fashion by anyone commenting on-the-record.

If we are to believe the rumors, and it's all rumors at this point, then the following is the current state of conference expansion:

The Big XII, fearing a breakup, has demanded that Nebraska and Missouri either declare their intent to seek a spot in the Big Ten or announce their loyalty to the XII. Mizzou's would love to switch conferences since they are very dissatisfied with their place in the Big XII, but currently has no offer to go elsewhere. Nebraska would love to get a larger payout and has been exploring their options with the Big Ten.

Alternating reports have Nebraska just waiting to make the official announcement of their move or still waiting for an invite from the Big Ten. Their Board of Regents is set to meet on conference alignment issues on Friday, however, so if a Big Ten offer IS out there, we could see them become the 12th Big Ten school soon. It is not clear if they would be able to make the switch before the college football season begins or if they would have to wait a year or two to get out of the Big XII.

On thing that could have an affect on that notice period, is the intention of the other schools.

The Pac-10 is still rumored to be inviting 6 more schools. ESPN is reporting that Colorado has already been invited and Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech should also be invited soon. That doesn't mean that they would all accept, however, but the rumors seem to think that Texas thinks that the Big XII isn't worth their time without Nebraska around, and if Texas jumps ship the rest of the schools will all likely seek greener pastures as well.

Texas A&M is in an enviable position as well. While Texas might be the most coveted team in this round of conference expansion, A&M has options of it's own. The SEC has been in discussions with Texas A&M for the past few months, since the winds of expansion started blowing. Rumors suggest that the Aggies prefer to go to the SEC, but it's not clear if Texas would come with them. The Texas state legislature might prefer that the three state flagship schools stay in the same conference.

Regardless what happens, the rumors reported seem to lean toward the Big XII disbanding should Nebraska opt out. Representatives from Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor, are planning to meet today to discuss their options both in and out of the Big XII.*

As for the Big Ten, they are likely to add Nebraska if they can reach an agreement with the Huskers. The rumors make it sound as if the Big Ten is happy to stop at 12 for the moment. Instead of completing their expansion now by adding whomever might be available, they may return to their longer-timeline and discuss their next move.

Other rumors have mentioned that the Big Ten's first priority was Notre Dame, who they may still be trying to recruit. Notre Dame was reportedly considering it's options, and may have told the Big Ten commissioner, Jim Delany, that if they were to join, they would not want to be part of a conference that was bigger than 12 members. More recently, Ted Greenstein at the Chicago Tribune noted that a source at Notre Dame, "indicated that the school likely has 'moved on,' with another saying that a top Notre Dame official assured the Big East that it intends to keep teams such as men's and women's basketball in the league."

Notre Dame will remain a target for the Big Ten, who will continue to pursue them, at least over the next few weeks. Dennis Dodd at CBSSports.com believes that the Big Ten may use Syracuse as a step in their plan to woo Notre Dame. Other sources suggest that the Delany would rather try to out-wait Notre Dame than to load up on Big East schools to force their hand.

ESPN.com has reported that Nebraska was the Big Ten's second highest priority, with Rutgers and/or Maryland third on their list. Any offers for other Big East schools would presumably be further down on the Big Ten's to-do list.

While many have reported that Pittsburgh would also be a target, the Big Ten does not seem interested in expanding it's presence in Pennsylvania.

On the other hand, at least one blog is reporting that offers may have been made by the Big Ten already to Notre Dame, Rutgers, Maryland and maybe Syracuse. The loss of just one or two football schools in that scenario would not necessarily cause the imminent end of the Big East, but if the ACC were to replace Maryland with a Big East program like Pitt or UConn, it could be a problem to re-stock the conference.

Whether Missouri finds a new home in the Big Ten seems more questionable now than it did before, but assuming all of the rumored offers currently extended to Big XII schools are accepted, there would be four or five programs looking for a new home. Among those could be strong basketball schools like Baylor, Kansas State, and even the blue blooded Kansas Jayhawks.

While the distance may cause high travel costs for the Kansas teams, the Big East might be a landing spot for the Jayhawks and those other Wildcats. Kansas has not been mentioned in any rumors as a target for the Pac-1o or Big Ten. Their undesirable nature for the other conferences is based on the weak revenue of their football programs, but just as Notre Dame has a national audience for football, Kansas brings a national audience for basketball.

For the Big East, adding one of the oldest and best programs in the history of the sport would be a coup. A rumor from an Iowa Hawkeye messageboard has suggested that not only is the Big East interested, but that an invitation has already been extended. If Kansas is looking to protect it's golden goose of basketball (and perhaps to bring along their rival, K-State), the Big East is a better option than accepting a bid to the Mountain West.

If the Big East were the target of a notable raid, the remaining 5 or so football schools would have to seek new homes to remain BCS programs. They might go their separate ways, but they might also join with the remnants of the Big XII to form a merged conference of nine or ten schools.

The Big East might also look to reload by conducting another raid on Conference USA. The likely candidates there are Memphis and South Florida.

Update (11:20am): The San Jose Mercury is now reporting that Colorado will accept it's invitation to the Pac-10 today. This could cause the Texas and Oklahoma schools to announce their intentions this week as well.

If Kansas really DOES have a Big East invitation, now would be the best time to start taking it seriously.

* Update (12:12pm): The purpose of the meeting between the Texas schools might be to discuss the option of moving to the SEC (reportedly A&M's preference) rather than the Pac-10. Such a move would drastically change the Pac-10's expansion plans.

Update (12:33pm): Colorado's move to the Pac-10 is now official. The conference announced the move around noon.

Update (3:33pm): Rumors suggest that Texas A&M has an unconditional invitation to join the SEC (with or without Texas), and Virginia Tech may have been invited as well.

Update (4:07pm): A Kansas City TV station is reporting that Texas and Texas A&M are negotiating with the Big Ten for membership and that Oklahoma may move to the SEC if they can bring a partner. Oklahoma State would go to the Pac-10 in that scenario. [Chip Brown from Rivals.com disputes this rumor]

Update (8:39pm): A football reporter from Columbia, MO reports that once Nebraska is announced as the 12th Big Ten member, Rutgers might be next in line to become 13th. He also tweeted that while Mizzou is not a high priority for the Big Ten, it is still in the picture. If Rutgers goes to the Big Ten, the Big East will need to line up a replacement almost immediately.

Update (1:20am): 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City reported that University of Kansas officials met with Big East representatives in Lawrence, KS today.

Update (Fri 12:42pm): According to a reporter fromKXnO Des Moines, the "old standing Big East members" (meaning "Villanova, Providence, Georgetown, etc.") want "no part of a league with Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State and Mizzou." They would rather break up than add more football schools.

If this is true, then it is almost entirely certain that the Big East will break up if it is raided again for more than one (possibly two) schools.

More to come...?