Conference realignment, which appears to be mostly tidied up for now, wasn't much of a realignment at all. The biggest implication is confusion. As many have already written, we now have a Big 12 Conference that features 10 teams and a Big Ten that features 12. (Not to mention a Pac-10 with 11 teams for now, but that can be forgiven.) We can't just switch the names, right? Or can we? This is going to vex me for months. Maybe years.
While we're busy figuring that one out, let's do something simpler: A rundown of the winners -- college basketball-only, natch -- that emerged from the past few weeks of "Will they or won't they?" insanity.
That insanity has ended with Texas' pledge to remain in the Big 12 and keep lighting its cigars with $100 bills. A "collection of influential and interested people" worked behind the scenes to keep Texas in the conference, staving off the Pac-10's hurried attempts at expansion with the promise of a rather insane amount of TV revenue for the Longhorns -- about $25 million per year -- and an increased share for the rest of the conference's teams. It might seem like Texas was the big winner here, and that's undoubtedly true, but there were others, especially where college hoops is concerned.
With that, I give you the first Honorary College Basketball Non-Realignment Group of Teams Who Aren't Significantly Worse Off Now Than Three Weeks Ago. (Also known as: The Dan Beebe All-Stars). Catchy title, eh? Anyway, down we go:
Kansas. Obvious choice, really. The group with the most to lose from conference expansion -- perhaps in the entire country, and certainly within in the Big 12 -- was Bill Self's basketball program. Of course, it's not just Self's program. It's the program of Dr. James Naismith, Phog Allen, Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning, Mario Chalmers and a thousand notable and tradition-building figures between.
It's one of college basketball's marquee programs. That it could have been left behind in conference realignment -- left praying for a bid from the Mountain West -- was a sad and acute danger. Now that the Big 12 will remain, Kansas can go on like normal, and college hoops fans can rest assured that one of the sport's top five programs will remain that way for the foreseeable future. You don't have to moan "Rock Chalk Jayhawk" every Monday night to know this is a very good thing.
Nebraska. Why is Nebraska a hoops winner? Because it just went from a conference that prefers a bit of uptempo hoops and landed in one that much more closely fits Doc Sadler's down-tempo, defensive style. It also just opened up a world of new recruiting avenues in much more fertile local territory. The Nebraskas of the world are never likely to recruit nationally, but having the more fertile Midwest hoops scene in its purview means Nebraska could land some talent it would never have signed before. And there's a sparkling new arena and practice facility on the way, too.
The future for Nebraska hoops is never exactly bright -- and the Big Ten undoubtedly became a thinner hoops conference upon its expansion -- but for the Huskers, there's some reason for optimism.
The Big East. Hey, remember the Big East? Remember when Big Ten expansion was going to pillage the nation's classic hoops conference and ruin it forever? Well, that hasn't happened.
Which is not to say it won't ever happen, of course. But with the furor surrounding the Pac-10's aggressive approach to luring Big 12 teams away from that conference, and Nebraska's quick acceptance into the Big Ten, it's important to remember that the Big East remains relatively unscathed. The Big Ten has 12 teams. It could expand again, but its appetite for largesse appears to have been temporarily satisfied.
Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Rutgers, Connecticut -- all of the rumored teams that might have gone to the Big Ten in a five-team expansion? All are still in the Big East. The Big East is still a great basketball conference. And all is as it should be.
Kansas State, Baylor, Iowa State, Missouri. The rest of the castoff Big 12 group would have had a tough time maintaining anything close to college hoops success in a diminished conference. It's hard enough when you're Kansas, and you're trying to recruit nationally on a slashed athletics budget. Baylor and Kansas State are two programs desperately trying -- and in many ways succeeding -- to enter the college hoops elite. Missouri has a great coach in place in Mike Anderson, and the Tigers have survived Quin Snyder's ugly era to return to the latter stages of the NCAA tournament. Iowa State just hired a flashy new figurehead in Fred Hoiberg. Without the Big 12 in place, each of these teams faces tumult, disinterest and financial freak-out. With the Big 12 remaining, each can attempt to continue its elite efforts. (Except Iowa State, of course. But yay, The Mayor! Right?)
Oh, and yeah, the Big 12 in general. If you like college hoops, or you're a Big 12 fan, or you're a Big 12 fan who also likes college hoops, or vice versa, your life just got a whole lot better. Removing Colorado and Nebraska gets rid of the conference's worst two hoops programs. Now there are even fewer easy outs for the likes of Kansas, Texas, Kansas State, Baylor, Missouri and Texas A&M, all programs that should spend quality time in the Top 25 next season.
What's more, the new format could give the Big 12 a chance to schedule a two-part round robin -- each team could play 18 conference games, which means each team could play the other nine teams twice. Kansas-Texas twice? Kansas-Kansas State twice? Baylor-Missouri twice? Missouri-Kansas twice? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Sign me up.
The state of hoops in the Big 12 always seemed destined for a realignment-based kick in the pants. Not only did that not happen, but the conference actually got better. What a pleasant surprise.