Conference talk: Big Ten at 12 and holding

Big Ten Network/Conference commissioner Jim Delaney, in announcing the acceptance of Nebraska as the league’s 12th member, now says his conference will hold at a dozen members for the next 12 to 18 months.

So, for those keeping score at home, the Big Ten is now really the Big Twelve, and the Big 12 is, well, screwed. Big Time.

It’s an interesting move by the Big Ten Network/Conference. And for once, I’m going to say that it is a proper strategy. Assuming it’s not a bald-face lie, which, as we all know, it could easily be.

By staggering the expansion, even if it does proceed to 14 or 16 teams later (and all indications are that it will), it doesn’t kick the supports from under the entire national scene. And in fact, the Big Ten can actually now claim that it wasn’t the only culprit in throwing the entire Midwest college conference scene into chaos.

The Pac-10, with its wholesale moves, can share the blame in that. For the record, Colorado was the first school to officially bolt.

While I don’t think the whole mega-conference movement is good for college sports, I can’t find as much fault with Nebraska as some of my colleagues seem to. Nebraska hadn’t liked the deal it was getting from the Big 12 for years, and Tom Osborne made a great point when he said today that many of the Big 12 schools asking Nebraska to stay where schools talking to two or three other conferences themselves.

So this is where we are. The Big Ten adds one; the Pac-10 is still poised to add six. The Big Twelve is sunk. The Big East is unscathed but still needs to be wary.

So what about the Big East?

A curious letter from East Carolina athletic director Terry Holland to school supporters goes on at some length about the Big East (thanks to former C-J colleague Brian Bennett and his ESPN.com Big East blog) . And while it is rambling and inaccurate in some areas, he does frame the basic situation the Big East is in. It needs to expand in football, but its basketball number is so large that it is going to have trouble doing so.

At this point, I think the Big East needs to realize that football is driving the bus, and it needs to protect its football interests above all else. So I believe the Big East should add Memphis immediately, in all sports if necessary. Assuming that a play will be made on some of its members at some point in the future, the Big East needs to get Memphis playing under Big East branding and with whatever additional membership benefits that BCS inclusion would afford it for as long as possible before the raid happens.

As for the basketball logistical problems, they should just do whatever must be done to make it work. In fact, if they want to be really aggressive, they can add Memphis and go after Kansas to keep the basketball number even. (Word I hear is that Kansas would listen, but isn’t interested in being part of the strange football-basketball mix. If the football schools were to break off, I think the Big East would have a better shot at Kansas. That’s not something that appears to be a serious consideration right now, but the situation is, as they say, fluid.)

Regardless, the Big East shouldn’t be lulled to sleep by the Big Ten’s pause — if that is indeed what it is.

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