As the expansion dust clears, what’s next?

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So we’ve wasted all of that time, effort and angst — in the midst of a football season, no less — for… that?

After two months worth of daily speculation, rumor and innuendo, the Pac-12 put the kibosh on Expansionpalooza v2.0 very late last night, announcing, in essence, “never mind, we’re good” with their current 12-member makeup.  At least, we think the kibosh has been put on a seismic shift in the conference landscape; with Texas, Oklahoma and the rest of the Big 12 dealing with myriad issues that some feel can be “resolved” by the laughably short-sighted, delaying-the-inevitable notion of a five-year promise of peace, anything is and will continue to be possible.

Wife: You’re not happy, I’m not happy.  May be it’s time to go our separate ways.

Husband: Yeah, maybe you’re right.

Wife, realizing she still wears the only pair of pants in the family: Or, we could stay together for a few more years and see if things change.

Husband, remembering getting shot down by the hot chick at closing time: Yeah, what the hell.  Might as well give it a shot.

Many thought the Pac-12’s decision to eschew expansion at this time would result in some immediate conference clarity.  That’s far from the case for a situation even more fluid than it was just 24 hours ago, and with a plethora of additional questions as an added bonus.  Don’t believe me?  Read on as I attempt to wade through the mass of fact, fiction and most everything else in between.

What’s known…

  • In 2010, Texas’ unwillingness to bend on the issue of The Longhorn Network prevented the then-Pac-10 from expanding to 16 members.  In 2011, Texas’ unwillingness to bend on the issue of The Longhorn Network prevented the Pac-12 from expanding to 16 members.
  • Texas A&M will become the 13th member of the SEC, whether it’s in 2012 or 2013.  With the Big 12 “saved from extinction”, any incentive for Baylor et al to pursue legal means to prevent a move has vanished, meaning the Aggies should be free and clear to officially move to their new conference next summer.
  • In a pair of public statements, the SEC denied two reports regarding Missouri, that the an offer of membership is on the table and that and an informal agreement among presidents is in place to bring the school into the conference.
  • Pittsburgh and Syracuse will become the 13th and 14th members of the ACC, but probably not until the 2014 season as the Big East appears hellbent on abiding by the conference’s bylaws and forcing the two schools to wait the mandated 27 months before departing.  That, of course, could change pending any additions the Big East may make.
  • Following a meeting of the football-playing members Monday night in New York City, the Big East announced that “we are committed as a conference to recruit top-level BcS-caliber institutions with strong athletic and academic histories and traditions.”  Commissioner John Marinatto went on to confirm in the statement that his conference “has been approached by a number of institutions“, although he would not specify which schools.
  • Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk confirmed publicly that he has spoken to conferences, specifically the Big East, regarding football-only membership.
  • Current Conference USA member East Carolina has applied for membership into the Big East.
  • Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson has confirmed that his conference and Conference USA have discussed a quasi-merger that would involve only the football programs.
  • The Big Ten has no desire to expand unless there’s a seismic shift in the conference makeup of college football — sorry, ACC; adding Pitt and ‘Cuse doesn’t count — or unless Notre Dame suddenly decides to shed their football independence.
  • Unbelievably, there are football games — college football games — that will be played this weekend.

What’s known to be rumored…

  • Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: rebuffed by the Pac-12, Oklahoma, and by extension Oklahoma State, will turn their attention to the SEC even as they’re publicly stating they are willing to give the Big 12 another go, provided certain concessions are made.  At least, that’s the rumor.  Dating back to the first round of expansion apocalypse last May/June, it’s long been thought OU has little to no interest in moving to the SEC.  Given the change in circumstances, there’s a chance — a very, very slim chance from this vantage point — that OU could have a change of heart and look Southeast.
  • Missouri either has an offer on the table or the presidents/chancellors in the SEC have given an informal go-ahead for the school to join the conference.  As noted above, the SEC has publicly denied either of those have occurred.  Based on the leaks coming from Columbia, it appears MU either has an interest in the SEC or has — or had depending on their reaction to the Pac-12’s non-move last night — an interest in creating the impression that they had options other than the Big 12.
  • West Virginia has been rebuffed in recent days by both the SEC and ACC (Note to ‘Eers fans: remember the title of this little section).  School officials have vehemently denied that’s the case.  Regardless of the veracity of either rumor — or the semantics involved — the speculation from most observers centers around WVU being what’s described as a second-tier candidate — or fourth or fifth option, if you will — if the SEC ultimately decides to make a move to 14 or even 16 members.
  • Both UConn and Rutgers have inquired about potential membership in the ACC.  The latter school is also rumored to be double-dipping, batting their eyes at the Big Ten as well.  Both schools were represented at the Big East football meeting of the minds Monday night — UConn’s president and athletic director were represented by individuals from their offices — with RU athletic director Tim Pernetti stating that “[e]verybody is committed to going out and recruiting top-level institutions to enhance the future of the league.”  It’s believed both school’s “loyalty” to the Big East is tied directly to the ACC’s willingness to go beyond 14 members.
  • Air Force is one of the double-digit schools that has expressed interest in joining in the Big East, albeit as a football-only member.  Why the Falcons would willingly leave a Mountain West Conference that may or may not become an automatic BcS qualifier for an unstable Big East that may or may not keep their automatic BcS qualifying status is unknown.
  • UCF is considered a second-tier candidate for membership in the Big East.  With a rising football program and significant television market it would bring to the table, it’s unclear why they would be that “far” down the list for a conference that needs to add as many quality names as it can.  UCF would seem to meet the criteria on all of fronts except for one: their proximity to USF.
  • Somewhat below UCF on the Big East’s radar is Villanova and Temple; separately, Memphis has reportedly been dismissed missed as a potential candidate as has East Carolina, which we noted above has already applied for membership.

Questions that remain unanswered…

What concessions are Texas willing to make in order to ensure the viability, at least in the short-term, of the Big 12?
Per reports, Oklahoma’s demands are twofold: one, the removal of Dan Beebe as the conference’s commissioner and, two, a vastly revamped Longhorn Network.  The latter was an issue two years running in keeping UT out of the Pac-12, and it would appear the Austin school is now dealing from a position of strength now that their Red River rival’s West Coast bluff has been called.  Revenue sharing is the path of least resistance to conference stability (see: Big Ten, SEC); anyone who can’t see that is either not the sharpest knife in the chandelier or whose closet is littered with burnt orange clothing.  Will UT be willing to give up some of the power and money they’ve been allowed to grab in order to keep the Big 12 a viable conference?  That’s the $300 million question at this point in time.

Serve Beebe’s head on a platter to preserve the Big 12?
Or, more specifically, will Oklahoma back off the condition they leaked to the media Monday, that Beebe must step down as commissioner in order to preserve the conference?  Right or wrong, Beebe is perceived by current and former members of the Big 12 as being nothing but a puppet whose strings can only be pulled by Texas and that school’s whims.  We’re guessing that condition won’t be a significant stumbling block if still required, especially for a Texas school that reportedly didn’t want Beebe as commissioner in the first place.

Who the hell would want to join this Big 12 morass?
“We’re going to make this work and we’re going to be stronger coming out on the other end and blah blah blah…”  OK, whatever.  The fact remains that if Texas acquiesces… if Oklahoma decides it’s enough acquiescence… if Mizzou decides to turn its eyes away from the SEC, the Big 12 will be at nine schools once A&M officially leaves.  The consensus is the conference will have to get back to 10 teams to satisfy provisions of its new television deal, or maybe even maintain the desire to get back to 12; the question is, how will a conference with such bitter infighting and outward instability be able to attract one school let alone three?  The big incentives the conference has to dangle, of course, are a membership in a conference that would maintain its automatic BcS qualifying status as well as a TV deal that will pay each member in excess of $15 million annually, perhaps even more if UT agrees to equal revenue sharing.  That would certainly be attractive to schools like BYU, Houston and SMU (West Virginia?) if they can get past the instability.  Besides bodies, though, what would any combination of those schools, or any other schools for that matter, add to the Big 12?  At this point, as long as the Big 12 has UT and OU, everything else is merely necessary window dressing anyway.

How long will the SEC remain comfortable with a baker’s dozen?
The public face of the SEC is that they would be fine for the short-term with adding just A&M and sticking with 13 members in 2012.  The reality is a 13-team conference creates a scheduling nightmare, with the very real potential of schools in the seven-team division playing one more conference game than their six-team counterparts.  In a conference as competitive as the SEC, that should be unacceptable.  On the other hand, the SEC doesn’t want to add another school just to fill up a slot; it needs to be a fit that strengthens the long-term future of the league.  Such a scenario points directly at current members of the ACC and their newly-implemented $20 million exit fee being in play if the SEC decides to expand.  It’s become quite the conundrum for the SEC, thanks in large part to the events out west last night, although it’s nothing someone like commissioner Mike Slive can’t comfortably and successfully navigate.

Will the ACC stand pat?
Somewhat shockingly, the ACC over the weekend became the first BcS conference to go above 12 members, poaching the Big East (again) to get to 14 members.  Both UConn and Rutgers appear ready, willing and able to accept an invitation to the ACC; it remains a complete unknown whether that conference wants to be the first to create a “superconference” or, now that the Big 12 has been hauled out of the abyss (maybe) and the Pac-12 will seemingly remain at 12,  is comfortable with where they are membership-wise.

Will TCU honor its commitment and move to the Big East?
You have to somewhat feel for TCU.  In 2010, the school announced they were moving from the Mountain West to the Big East, with their eyes firmly affixed on the possible automatic bid attached to membership.  A year later, the conference they will call home beginning in 2012 is in utter disarray thanks to a second round of poaching by the ACC.  The Horned Frogs would appear to have two viable options: follow through and join the Big East or remain in the MWC, which would welcome the school back with open arms.  An expanded Big 12 might also be a possibility, although the Texas schools are said to not want to add any new members from their recruiting footprint.

Is the Pac-12 really done expanding?
This is one to keep an eye on, in tandem with the Big 12’s ability to compromise.  One of the current schools of thought is that the Pac-12’s decision to forego expansion this time around was merely a ploy to force Texas to come off their LHN stance and embrace equal revenue sharing on all levels.  By all appearances, and armed with a mega-TV deal that will go into effect next year, Larry Scott and his bosses appear perfectly comfortable standing pat at 12 members.  If UT decides it would be better to fold their network into the Pac-12’s regional model and share revenue equally instead of making the Big 12 work?  Hello Expansionpalooza v3.0.

Halle-freaking-lujah…

Purdue QB David Blough cleared for spring practice

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In a stark change from most offseason news in the sport, Purdue has something positive personnel-wise to hang its hat on moving forward.

By way of the Indianapolis Star, head coach Jeff Brohm revealed Friday that David Blough is “way ahead of schedule” and has been cleared to participate in spring practice, which kicks off this coming Monday, for the Boilermakers.  Just how much of a participant the quarterback will be remains to be seen, though.

“He’s doing a great job and he will be out there at spring practice and will be participating,” Brohm said according to the Star. ‘Whether it will be fully that remains to be seen. He will be out there Day 1 and doing some portions of practice.

“We’ve got to make sure we protect him, especially in 11-on-11 settings. We’ll see how the first week goes if we can progress on that.”

Blough suffered a dislocated ankle in a November win over Illinois and missed the remainder of the 2017 season.  At the time of the injury, it was thought that it and the subsequent recovery process would keep the junior out of spring practice.

Blough had started the two games leading up to his season-ending injury, with Brohm confirming that the rising senior will be the starter as this offseason kicks off in earnest.  Elijah Sindelar, who reclaimed the starting job after Blough’s injury, will miss spring practice as he continues to recover from a torn ACL on which he played for the last month of the regular season plus the Boilermakers’ bowl game.

Illinois adds longtime NFL assistant; DC Hardy Nickerson given beefed-up title

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There was some movement on the coaching staff front for Lovie Smith Friday.

Illinois announced earlier today that Gill Byrd has been hired by Smith as the Fighting Illini’s safeties coach.  Byrd will also hold the title of passing-game coordinator.

“I’m very pleased to have Gill Byrd join the Illini coaching staff,” said Smith in a statement. “We’ve spent several seasons together in the NFL and I envision Gill bringing a great combination of knowledge and enthusiasm to our program. He will be a terrific influence on the young men he coaches, and, as good a coach as he is, he is probably an even better person.”

Byrd, who played his college football at San Jose State, has spent the past 19 seasons at the NFL level, coaching defensive backs during stops with the St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, most recently, with the Buffalo Bills last season.  This will mark Byrd’s first-ever job at any level of college football.

In addition to the hiring of Byrd, the football program also confirmed that Hardy Nickerson has been given the additional title of assistant head coach.  Nickerson has served as the Illini’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for each of the past two seasons.

Texas to give Todd Orlando raise to $1.7 million per year

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Everything’s bigger in Texas — including the raises.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the University of Texas System Board of Regents are set to approve several athletics-related contracts next week, headlined by athletic director Chris Del Conte’s multi-million dollar six-year deal and a hefty raise for Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.

Orlando, who joined Tom Herman when he came over from Houston prior to last season, was already one of 15 assistants who were making over $1 million in 2017. He was courted by several programs this offseason however and the cost to retain him on the 40 Acres didn’t come cheap as his amended contract is set to pay him a reported $1.7 million as part of a new four-year deal.

Also on tap for the board? The Statesman notes that new offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Herb Hand has a three-year contract awaiting approval worth nearly $640,000 annually.

While all those new contracts do add up for the Longhorns, it’s not like the burnt orange can’t afford it all as one of a handful of programs who topped $200 million in revenue last year.

Texas A&M athletic director: ‘Resource issues in ACC vs. SEC’

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CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd recently stopped in College Station to do a deep dive on one of college football’s biggest storylinesJimbo Fisher’s $75 million move from Florida State to Texas A&M.

While the money — some $90 million for the Aggies when all is said and done — is one of the more eye-catching parts of the story that are broken down, the comments from some at the school probably won’t go unnoticed by those in Fisher’s former conference.

“I’m not going to put words in Jimbo’s mouth, but there are resource issues in the ACC versus the SEC,” Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward told CBS Sports, answering part of the question as to why the national title-winning head coach made the move from one of the sport’s blue-bloods to one of the oft-labeled “sleeping giants.”

We’re guessing those in ACC territory will not take kindly to those comments and note that some schools in the league have no problem raising cash, such as Clemson when it comes to their new football facility that has everything from mini-golf to sleep specialists. They also would probably point out that the conference has just as many national titles in the past five years as the SEC does too.

Still, when you look at the larger picture, there’s little question that the SEC is ahead of the ACC when it comes to revenues as a whole and the slow pace of facilities upgrades in Tallahassee was one of the many public grumbles that Fisher made known about before leaving FSU.

Something says all those ACC-SEC football games in 2018 will see Woodward’s comments brought up again — especially when Clemson heads to College Station to play Texas A&M in Week 2.