Only in college football could the Big Ten actually have 12 teams while the Big 12 represents 10 schools.
But as we sit here Monday afternoon, that is exactly the situation we face as college football fans — at least until Texas decides essentially whether the Big 12 is worth saving.
If the Longhorns leave the conference, say goodbye to Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, as well. And say hello to a new era in college football, where teams like Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa State and Baylor become temporarily homeless.
Nebraska’s decision Friday to leave the Big 12 and join the Big Ten for the 2011 season was a tough blow for the league, but it is Texas that holds all the power in whether the Big 12 can survive in this new world of conference realignment. After all, Austin, Tex. has essentially been the capital of the Big 12.
When the Cornhuskers entered the Big 12 in 1994, they were the dominant force entering the league from the old Big Eight conference. For a long time, if you knew nothing about college football, you were aware that, more times than not, New Year’s Day meant Tom Osborne would have his Cornhuskers playing a pretty important game in the Orange Bowl.
Sixteen years later, Nebraska isn’t the same dominant force — for many reasons. Now, however, an opportunity exists for the Huskers to get some of that powerhouse swagger back.
What does being in the Big Ten mean for the Nebraska program?
Well, most importantly the Cornhuskers achieve stability. When Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe asked Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman for a commitment to the league just through 2016, Perlman and Osborne knew that closing a deal with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was the most logical option at that point. The Huskers, much like when Colorado decided to bolt for the Pac-10, chose long-term security — as well as money, of course.
While the bonus for Nebraska is netting a stronger academic environment for its university, bigger bucks still rule the day in any sport. The sooner we’re okay with that even in college sports, the easier it will be to understand why and how realignment is changing the football landscape.
But besides money, Nebraska will get a chance for a rebirth. While the program was a power in the Big Eight, a chance for a stronger brand and more games on more television sets led the Huskers and their Big Eight brothers to join up with Texas and its Southwest Conference siblings in 1994. But from that point forward, the Big 12 was always about the state of Texas.
As head coach at the time, Osborne couldn’t get the league to allow acceptance of academic non-qualifiers under the NCAA’s requirements for incoming freshmen. He also couldn’t prevent the league from holding a championship game, with Nebraska being the lone conference member to vote against it. While the NCAA would ban non-qualifiers from all FBS schools shortly after the Big 12 vote, it was clear that Osborne was no longer the face of his conference.
“Some of those [Big 12 members] we've had an association with for over 100 years,” Osborne said on Friday. “If some of them end up in unpleasant circumstances, we are really sorry for that. We do have good feelings about the conference and its membership. But we are really looking forward to the Big Ten.”
Whatever the future holds for the Big 12, Nebraska is moving on. And while optimism is high in Lincoln, Neb., following the news of its arrival in a new league, the Cornhuskers do face some questions.
How will the move to the Big Ten affect its recruiting paths, particularly in the state of Texas now that they won’t be playing conference games down there? Texas, along with California and Florida, is an “it” state when it comes to finding high school talent. And how will some of the founding members and recent powerhouse teams in the Big Ten accept the boys from Lincoln?
Nebraska fans have a lot to be excited about under the direction of Osborne and head coach Bo Pelini as the program prepares to enter a new league. Should the college football world prepare for a return to dominance by the Cornhuskers, complete with lopsided scores and incredible home winning streaks like the 47-game stretch the Huskers had in the 1990’s?
The atmosphere in Lincoln is very Big Ten-like to begin with, so fitting in with the likes of Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan will be a seamless transition. In addition, the presence of Nebraska should only make the weaker conference members raise their competitive spirits higher — much like when Penn State became the league’s 11th member.
Great for the Big Ten and great for Big Red.
It’s certainly a new era for a tradition-rich program that now perhaps feels as much at home as any time in its history.
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