Expandageddon Finally Here?

Although they have yet to put anything up on their website, ESPN has been reporting this morning that Texas A&M will announce on Monday that they are joining the SEC and Missouri, Clemson, and Florida State may be making the move with them, creating the type of Mega-Conference that the Pac-10 narrowly missed out on last year before anticlimactically adding Utah and Colorado.  Should this come to pass, the question then becomes how quickly will the rest of the dominoes fall?

It’s unlikely that Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott will sit back for long and let the SEC steal his thunder.  If A&M and Missouri are gone, the thin ice holding up the Big 12 will almost certainly crack.  Scott would love to get his hands on Oklahoma and Texas and would probably take Texas Tech and Oklahoma State as well, essentially giving him the same conference he almost had last summer.

And then, of course, there’s the Big Ten’s Jim Delany, who walked away the clear winner with Nebraska and a new championship game in last year’s round of expansion.  After finally bringing his old-fashioned conference up to date, how likely is he to let two other leagues render the move immediately obsolete?  Everyone knows that the conference wants Notre Dame.  Some other schools that were reportedly on the table last summber include the ACC’s Maryland and the Big East’s Rutgers and Pittsburgh.  The important thing about those last schools is that they are members of the AAU, which is essentially a requirement for Big Ten membership (Nebraska lost their spot after the move had already been finalized).  Notre Dame would be an exception, but one that the conference has already made clear it would be willing to make.

At that point, it won’t be difficult for the ACC and Big East to see the writing on the wall.  Having lost teams to both the SEC and the Big Ten, the two conferences would eventually settle on what would basically be a merger, as the two conferences will have exactly 16 teams remaining between them.

Perhaps the only true wild card in all of this is Boise State.  A solid performer on the field in recent years, the Broncos still haven’t been able to attract the attention of major conferences.  They arrive in the Mountain West just in time to watch all the good teams bail out.  With no real bargaining chips aside from winning a lot of games (their TV market ranks 113th in CFB markets, below Youngstown State and Massachusetts), this time the BCS might bust them.

Not surprisingly, the Big 12 will end up being the biggest loser here and may even cease to exist entirely.  Their four remaining teams (Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State) may find a home with the Mountain West or another mid-major angling for a power position.  But the moves at this level will be largely irrelevant.

Why?  Perhaps the most important piece in the New CFB Order fell into place yesterday, as the Pac-12 and Big Ten agreed on a Plus-One post-season format that would pit the top four teams (presumably by BCS-style rating system) against each other in a two-round bowl-based playoff.  When you put that together with four 16-team Mega-Conferences, who may seek to alter the NCAA rules and play as four divisions with a two-round conference championship playoff, you’re suddenly looking at a four-round, 16-team national playoff, as it’s unlikely that anyone from outside the Mega Four would be able to get a top 4 ranking.