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Conference realignment shifts to readjustments

Tuesday, June 15, 2010 | 10:11 p.m. CDT; updated 11:12 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 15, 2010

NEW YORK — Now that the Big 12 has survived the storm, the massive upheaval that many in college athletics have been bracing for seems far less likely.

"I felt like there was either going to be very significant change or very little," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "Now I feel like we're trending toward relatively small change for the moment.'

A potentially huge change was averted Monday when Texas declined an invitation to the Pac-10. With the Longhorns committed to the Big 12, the rest of the league's remaining teams fell in line and decided that life without Colorado (heading to the Pac-10) and Nebraska (off to the Big Ten) would be fine — and profitable.

Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe held a conference call with reporters Tuesday and provided some details about how he went about saving his league. He also said something that might give a hint to where college sports is — or is not — heading in the future.

"This process resulted in so many people in our business and our enterprise telling me that it would not be beneficial to what we do to have these mega-conferences," he said.

All this expansion angst started back in December when the Big Ten announced that it would explore the possibility and make a decision in 12-18 months.

Commissioner Jim Delany and the Big Ten's hierarchy seemed perfectly fine with taking their sweet time until Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott decided to raid the Big 12.

"What was surprising was the effort on the part of the Pac-10 to go to 16 teams," said Neal Pilson, president of the Pilson Communications media consulting firm and a former president of CBS Sports. "That was a tsunami that would have had serious consequences for college football. The domino effect of doing that would have impacted the ACC, the Big East as well as the Big 12. "

Big East commissioner John Marinatto has to feel better than he did 48 hours ago, because if indeed there is another uprising in the works it could be his league fighting for survival.

"The more we can maintain the status quo, the more we can continue to maintain the status quo," said Nick Carparelli, senior associate commissioner in the Big East.

With the Big 12 scrambling to decide which members were in and which were out, Nebraska said goodbye to that league and became the Big Ten's 12th member.

Delany has said the Big Ten might not stop at 12. But the league didn't swoop in to save Missouri from a Big 12 collapse. If Delany is thinking along the lines of Scott, he's going to have pry some teams from the Big East and maybe, finally, get Notre Dame to join the Big Ten.

While just a few days ago anything seemed possible — Texas and Oklahoma in the Southeastern Conference! — the Big East being sacrificed for the Big Ten's benefit does not seem likely.

"I applauded Dan Beebe for not giving up and trying to put something together, something that might have a major impact on the future if intercollegiate athletics," Western Athletic Conference commissioner Karl Benson said.

Benson is in the market for at least one team these days, with last week's departure of Boise State to the Mountain West Conference.

Benson said he expects to invite one or two schools to the WAC before the summer is out.

Meanwhile, Craig Thompson's big move of landing Boise State in an effort to make the MWC the seventh conference with an automatic bid to the BCS, could lose some of its luster if the Pac-10 plucks Utah from the Mountain West to complete a 12-team lineup and allow the Pac-10 to have a football championship game.

But those forecasts of a college football Armageddon, where four 16-team conferences lead to the NCAA being squeezed out of the sport completely, seem to have been premature.

"Everybody got out real fast, real quick, maybe got the cart a little ahead of the horse with some of this," Thompson said.

Still, the climate in college athletics is volatile. While super conferences are not imminent, stability is just as unlikely, Swarbrick said.

"I do think the days of an extended period of the status quo, we're probably not going to see that any more," he said.


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