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May 20, 2012

Wild Speculation

The seismic news of the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference partnering in a bowl game that will feature their league champions beginning New Year's night 2015 has set off a maelstorm of rumors, speculation and Apocolyptic visions for college football.

Most of that involves the Big 12.

And even though there are blogs and Tweets saying the Age of the Superconferences are here with the Big 12 going to 12, 14 or 16 teams and that Florida State and Clemson are already in with Virginia Tech on deck and Notre Dame already sending along change of address cards, none of it is true.

Not right now.

And it's important to remember that realignment plays out in real time. So you have to keep up. If you want to keep score on stories like these, good luck. Everyone will. But you have to keep up, because what is true now, might not be true in a week, a month, a year.

I've talked to sources across the Big 12 today who all say, "Nothing is done."

But in the next sentence, they'll say, "There's keen interest" or "more than curiosity" in looking at different expansion scenarios.

In short, anyone saying Notre Dame, Florida State or Clemson are done deals are talking to people with wishful thinking or relying on second or third-hand information from people with wishful thinking.

Here's what we do know:

Texas has been courting Notre Dame carefully since the summer of 2010. Will the Irish finally feel compelled to jump into the Big 12, which would require its own set of surgical tools (because Notre Dame's NBC contract doesn't expire until after the 2015 season)?

For Notre Dame to join the Big 12 in football any time before that, the Big 12 would have to create some unique revenue-sharing formula for one or two years that would allow Notre Dame to share in some of the Big 12's money, but not all of it, for Tier 1 and Tier 2 in football.

There would also have to be some caveat about what slot Notre Dame would qualify for in the postseason out of the Big 12, since the Irish's schedule would still be more of an independent's schedule. Would Notre Dame be able to qualify at no higher than the Big 12's No. 3 slot for a bowl game unless its BCS ranking put the Irish in the Top 4, thus qualifying ND for a proposed four-team playoff? And would Notre Dame even qualify for the new Big 12-SEC bowl game if its in the Big 12 in everything but football?

There's a lot of work that would need to get done to accommodate the Irish, who have some locks in its schedule (USC and Navy) that ND won't want to part with. (Other rivalries on their schedule are more expendable than you'd think.)

The Irish could be an equal partner in Tier 1 basketball if Notre Dame bolts the Big East in its non-football sports, sources said.

Still, there's been no consensus even in the Big 12 about how Notre Dame would be worked in - as a full football member or as a member in everything but football. All we know is that Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds has been courting Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick like a reluctant prom date for three years.

And sources say Dodds is telling some in the Big 12 he thinks Notre Dame is seriously looking at the Big 12. (The Big 12 went out of its way to inform Notre Dame of its plans with the SEC for a postseason bowl game.) Although, Dodds has told those same people it could take time for Notre Dame to join - like 2016 - after its current football contract with NBC is up.

And with the changing landscape as of Friday and the revenue generating separation that occurred when the Big 12 and SEC paired up for the postseason the way the Big Ten and Pac-12 have with the Rose Bowl - everyone is trying to figure out what makes sense.

One Big 12 source still isn't sure more is better.

"With this game with the SEC, we are set. We are good. Do we really need to go to 12, 14 or 16 - just to make more TV money?" the source said. "The more schools, the more you have to split up any additional money. At some point, it stops making financial sense."

Still others feel like D-Day is here for superconferences, and the Big 12 is in the best position to grow if football programs like Florida State and Clemson shake loose. (I've been told those two are starting to talk more about moving as a package deal out of the ACC.)

No one wants to see the ACC de-stabilize - unless it's absolutely meant to be. That's why it's incumbent on any school in the ACC that wants out, to initiate that move. The Big 12 doesn't want that blood on its hands.

Another Big 12 source told me Friday allies in the SEC have advised the Big 12 to really study whether it wants to grow beyond 12. Take that for what it's worth.

The Big 12 meetings in Kansas City are going to reveal a lot. The Big 12 has a five-year contract with the SEC for a game featuring its postseason champions, effectively killing the BCS bowl system. The Big 12 has a 13-year granting of rights that appears locked into its new Tier 1 TV deal with ABC/ESPN that should be announced by the end of the month.

But beyond that, there's nothing set in stone as it pertains to the Big 12.

Do enough members of the Big 12 want to start taking calls from applicants immediately and even welcome them in before Notre Dame is ready to commit? Will Texas be able to convince everyone to wait and see if Notre Dame will ultimately pick the Big 12?

One high-level Big 12 source said, "I think we'll end up at 12 and a half - to start with." That source speculated Florida State and Clemson could end up in the Big 12 or Florida State and Louisville after the very intense flirtation between the BIg 12 and Louisville when West Virginia was ultimately selected. Notre Dame would be the "half"in that equation until it's ready to give up its independence in football.
There are still a lot of details and consensus to reach before anyone can safely say who joins the Big 12, how many or when?

But there is the same kind of intensity to this summer's potential for realignment that we've seen the last two years. So it appears something big is about to happen - and the Big 12 appears to be in the middle of it once again - this time on the addition side rather than the subtraction side.

Stay tuned.


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