Conference expansion winners and losers

By the time you're done reading this piece, I’m sure Notre Dame will be in secret negotiations to join the WAC and Hawaii will be preparing to accept its invite into the Big Ten. That’s just how crazy conference expansion and realignment talk had become the last few weeks.

But with actual earth-shattering news kept to a minimum and seemingly no other major move on the horizon — save for Utah’s impending entry into the Pac-10 — let’s take a look back at some of the biggest winners and losers after the moves that did occur in the last week or so.

Winners…

Texas: Anytime a team gets the most money out of the bunch, consider it a winner. This is big-time college sports, and money talks. The Longhorns are a powerful bunch, and they played an instrumental role in helping to save the Big 12 — though there were many rich and powerful people behind keeping the conference alive, both within and outside of the league. While they easily could have left for the Pac-10, the Longhorns had enough support from others to get what they wanted. Plus, now they no longer have to deal with Nebraska, a school that seemingly never agreed with any decision made in the conference. League commissioner Dan Beebe was able to keep his flagship franchise while the Longhorns get a bigger share of the conference revenue and have the option to start their own television network — a package reportedly worth about $25 million annually. Hook ‘em Horns.

Texas A&M: It’s a great time to be head coach Mike Sherman — unless, of course, he can’t produce enough wins to stay in College Station. But for the overall health of the A&M program, staying in the Big 12 was huge. Reportedly about $16 million in debt, the Aggies became a big part of the national conversation when they reportedly were on their way to the SEC. But by the end of the day Monday, A&M not only stayed in the Big 12 but was propped up right along the likes of Texas and Oklahoma financially. Going to the SEC would have killed their rivalries, would have hurt their recruiting — at least in the great state of Texas — and they would have been lost in the SEC shuffle. Now, A&M is primed to be a real player in the new Big 12. Of course, right behind the Longhorns and Sooners.

Nebraska: The Cornhuskers never felt comfortable in the Big 12, as they played second fiddle to the Longhorns from the start. Austin was the Big 12 capital, not Lincoln. No matter the success the Huskers achieved under Tom Osborne after the move from the Big Eight — two national titles — it was only fitting that their eventual hard times coincided with the rise of the Longhorns. So Nebraska moves onto the Big Ten, a league with strong academics and a more suitable geographical fit. While there is some concern that they will lose some recruits from the state of Texas, head coach and Ohio native Bo Pelini and his staff should be able to make better progress in the Midwest and traditional Big Ten states. Memorial Stadium always had a Big Ten feel to it. Nebraska in the Big Ten just makes so much sense — a rarity in college sports.

Utah: The Utes are the wild card in the current stalled state of conference realignment. Riding a nine-game bowl winning streak — the longest active streak in the nation — and winners of two BCS bowls in the past six seasons, the Utes were joined by Boise State in the Mountain West last Friday, giving the league added power in its quest to get in on the BCS automatic bid fun. Throw in TCU and BYU, and the MWC is a bona fide BCS-worthy league. However, all indications are that the Pac-10 is poised to make Utah its 12th member, which would present the Utes with much more money, a better overall academic conference and better inroads to recruiting in the state of California. While the MWC is comparable to other BCS automatic qualifying leagues — especially with the addition of Boise — it still isn’t the Pac-10. Bottom line: Utah comes out a winner with the Big 12 staying intact.

Colorado: Let’s face the fact that things couldn’t get any worse for the Buffaloes, mostly because head coach Dan Hawkins has not done anything to further the progress of the program</a> and doesn’t seemed primed to do so anytime soon. So maybe a change of scenery is the tonic to an ailing former power. New league, new identity, new head coach and a different type of player in the recruiting game. Colorado had fallen so far that it wasn’t even considered a mid-tier Big 12 team anymore. With entry into the Pac-10 in 2011, the Buffaloes can immediately take advantage of a USC team dealing with sanctions, a Washington team without Jake Locker and a carousel of good but not great teams finishing second every year behind the Trojans. Not a bad move, as CU always seemed to consider itself a West coast team anyway.

Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State: After appearing to almost certainly be without a conference and needing to hope that the Mountain West came calling, their BCS futures are safe with a solid commitment from the Big 12 for at least a little while. Just keep in mind how disastrous being without the Big 12 could have been for Kansas on the college basketball side of things. A Tuesday night Kansas-TCU matchup? Brutal.

Notre Dame: By not feeling too much pressure to join the Big Ten or any other league yet, the Fighting Irish reserve the right to pick their spot. The Big Ten would still love to have Notre Dame in an even bigger league, while every other league would kill for the Irish as well. But for now, with a major shakeup across the college landscape staved off, Notre Dame remains the most sought-after free agent on the market.

Losers…

Pac-10’s tradition: We don’t exactly know if the Pac-10 will turn into a Pac-12 or Pac-16 — it’s very likely it will be a 12-member league with Utah joining the fray. But what we do know for sure is that the round-robin football schedule is gone, which was one of the best things about the conference. True regular-season champions occurred in this league because of the schedule, and while many of the rivalries weren’t that natural some of them were very compelling.

Missouri: Missouri still has a home, but it doesn’t seem as if the Tigers are very comfortable in the Big 12. They clearly wanted to move to the Big Ten, and it looked as though that could have been a possibility if the league went to 14 teams. But obviously Mizzou wanted the Big Ten more than the Big Ten wanted Mizzou, and only Nebraska jumped ship. So the Tigers were left hoping that the Big 12 would even stay in existence, which it did, but they have to be embarrassed with how little regarded they are on the national scene.

Mountain West Conference: This one comes with an asterisk. But if the MWC loses Utah to the Pac-10, it really does negate the addition of Boise State. Can you look at the Broncos as a replacement for the Utes? Sure. But that isn’t the reason the Broncos were brought on boa rd. Meanwhile, this isn’t the reason Boise State joined the conference either.

Feel free to weigh in with your own Winners and Losers in the Comments section.

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