The Blame Game: Why this Expansion Mess isn't just Texas' fault (I'm looking at you Nebraska)

In the conference realignment mania that transpired over the weekend all the way to yesterday’s, "announcement," that Texas A&M had not received an invitation to join the SEC (and wouldn't be), many people were left scratching their heads. We all started discussing every possible scenario (including my ill-conceived USF hit… let’s not talk about it), but in the end none of it mattered. So while yesterday's announcement doesn’t stop Texas A&M from joining the SEC soon, it does give us time to take a breath and think about the other big happenings from yesterday:

1) Texas A&M President Loftin now has the board of regent’s approval to negotiate conference membership as he sees best, which means no more open meetings and a potential for fireworks

2) NCAA president Mark Emmert seems none-too-pleased and wants to be in the middle of things, which means the NCAA sees trouble

3) Jim Delany sent fuzzy dice to fellow commissioner Michael Slive with a note that says, "Consider them rolled." And, "Don’t worry about ESPN, we make the decisions around here." (might not have really happened... looking for some confirmation)

With that in mind, I think we can all agree that something big is about to happen. However, speculating where schools land doesn’t necessarily do us a lot of good. This speculation might make us all feel safe - as in, safe that football isn’t about to change for good, but it's probably just false security. So let’s take a deep breath and backtrack to last summer to try and learn from what happened, and then assign blame to everyone! After all, when the ships sinking, lets point fingers. When we’re through with this little journey, we will have indicted ESPN, Texas, Dan Beebe, and even my beloved Huskers… they aren’t without their own faults. Neither is Jim Delany… that’s right, everyone’s going under today.

Back in December of 2009, rumors started swirling when the Big Ten’s fearless leader, James Delany, decided he would shake the foundations of college football and start talk about Big Ten expansion. This set off an offseason to remember. Between December of 2009 and June 2010, we would read a million (approximate) articles relating to what happens if [insert school name] were to jump to the Big Ten? Schools like Rutgers, West Virginia, Missouri, and Notre Dame were tied to the Big Ten in the news, the so-called news (we’re looking at you ESPN), and the blogging community. Everyone had a lead and an opinion. The domino effect was being cited all over football, and for many fans, we expected 2011 to be the year of the Superconference. This time period also reintroduced the deep divide between the SEC and the Big Ten culturally. We have since then been throwing North/South differences since. Needless to say, things were getting ugly.

Back in December of '09, Nebraskans were fairly happy to let things play out. For us, there was never a doubt of coming out okay (naive and arrogance, it's not a bad place to live). Life was good in the Big XII, or so we thought. When Missouri started spouting off about leaving the Big XII, we just kind of shrugged our shoulders and laughed. I mean, why the Big Ten would even want them was a bigger story. Then something funny happened. Rumors started coming out that Tom Osborne was getting fed up with Texas, and with a potential implosion of the Big XII, we were going to do what was best. What did that mean? Were we really on the radar of the Big Ten? Was the Pac-10 suddenly a real player in all this?

The rest is ‘history’ as we say. Nebraska was formerly admitted to the new B1G, and everything seemed fine and dandy. I mean, minus the farewell tour, the new hatred for Nebraska, the renewed hatred of Texas, and Texas A&M’s new exit strategy… Anyhow, that brings us to today. There are obvious big details left out, but details are boring. Let’s start doling out blame for the impending Armageddon of NCAA FBS Football. Up first: Texas. 

Texas is an obvious easy target in today’s mess and yesterday’s mess. They were the ones who did not want to give their television rights to the conference when it was obvious that was necessary to keep things even, they were the ones who kept moving every competitive advantage of the conference to the south, and they were the ones who tried to talk the Big XII south minus Baylor into the Pac-16 before Nebraska truly walked away. Today, they are the ones who decided their own network was a great idea (it hasn't been), they are the ones who talked ESPN into showing a conference game on their subscription only station, and finally, they are the ones who basically gave a middle finger to the remaining Big XII members by not sharing the wealth and using the other presidents as their personal minions. 

Interestingly, I don’t blame them for doing any of it. I had originally thought about writing a scathing piece on Texas because it’s fun to loathe Texas. They’re generally good at everything, they recruit their state and do it well, and they have Burnt Orange as their primary team color. It’s just fun to rag on them, and blame them for destroying college football. Still, they are doing what relevant powers do. They’re asserting their power. If Notre Dame would have had the opportunity back then to do what Texas is doing now, they would have. It would have been unfair and terrible, but they would have because that’s what you do as a school. You make the best deal. So while Texas might be the spark to this powder keg, they are just a piece of this puzzle. For the record, this is probably the last nice thing I will say about Texas, ever. They are still the bully in the room. I asked my friends for an analogy, and the best one is that popular girl in high school who is really mean to everyone, but is the hot one that every guy wants. Then she starts crying when she realizes people only want her for her body (or in Texas' case, their pocketbook and TV contract). 

This leads me to a painful one. Nebraska deserves some of the blame here. We didn’t have to jump ship. I know that it was in the school's best interest, and I am very happy to be in the B1G. It’s a better culture fit, and I think we’ll be here for a long time. Still, our decision was bold, and to say we are without fault is ridiculous. It was about money and stability, fine. That doesn’t make it right. To say that the Big XII implosion is in no way our fault is revisionist. We provided a catalyst for how to deal with bullies. We left, and now aTm sees a similar path. 

Still, these are small players in a bigger business. This leads us to the real power-brokers. The men behind the curtain who I think should all take some blame: The Big Three Commissioners, the NCAA, and ESPN. In a game all about money, you gotta hand it to Delany, Slive, and Scott. These three guys have basically turned a figurehead position into a CEO-level broker position in a booming industry. In doing so, they have become bigger than the game itself. Their decisions mean more to football than anything Texas A&M, Nebraska, Texas, Notre Dame, or Florida State could do. When they decide to expand, it’s not just about their conference anymore, it’s about changing the landscape of college athletics, and ultimately changing the universities that are a part of the machine. 

The only real equalizer in this equation is the now interested NCAA President, Mark Emmert, though it seems a bit late. I’m not sure how powerful he really is. On paper he seems to be a resourceful man with a lot of authority , but is he bigger than the conference brands? Rather, is the NCAA bigger than the conferences? The BCS already works outside of the NCAA, could more happen soon? One of the reasons I think it’s important to keep an eye on Emmert is that I think the NCAA brass has gotten wind of bigger problems. If the Big Three (SEC, B1G, PAC) decide they don’t like the NCAA, they could bolt and form a new league. It would be unprecedented in the current era, but it wouldn’t be without its own advantages. These schools could figure out their own rules that make sense, they could share money within themselves, and if they talked the ACC/Big XII/Big East members into creating one more superconference and adding the remaining teams to the fringes, it would be the start of a real regional and beautiful thing. The NCAA can’t let this happen, and as fans, I’m not so sure it would be all that great either. Still, this is their fight that they have stood on the sidelines for. They could have stopped being such pushovers on the backs of making so much money. This is on their head. 

Finally, let’s throw some fire on ESPN. These guys have been monsters in this fight. Their deal with Texas was not just short-sighted, it was needlessly greedy. I’m sure they are still smarting over Delany’s dealings. That will never happen again. Still, it is their insistence on Big XII games being played on TLN and their push for high school games that is making things much more hazardous. Even though we know to follow the money, it makes you sick to your stomach when the only one benefiting is a large corporation. 

Who knows where we are going to be in a few weeks. In many ways, I’m hoping for things to settle down so that an all-out arms race doesn’t happen. Do I want to see Nebraska in a conference with Rutgers? No. I’m going to have trouble getting to games as is, but this would be impossible. College sports are about the fans, the tailgating, and the opportunity of a lifetime for kids (remember, these are 18-22 year old students we are talking about). We should do what is best for these amateur athletes and these money driven decision aren't it. Maybe I’m crazy and maybe I’m a bit naïve here, but I still think this will all work out. Otherwise, welcome to the new B16! (Hey, the logo still fits... what a coincid... wait). 

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