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Expansion rumors don't sway recruits

School presidents and conference commissioners sit at the largest roundtable in collegiate athletics, playing Go Fish with schools like Nebraska, Colorado and Texas. Athletic directors trade whispers like cagey characters in a "Godfather" movie.

Coaches gossip on an endless loop, passing along nuggets of priceless information like the news is on fire and they don't want it to burn their tongues. Reporters mine for knowledge, allowing the public to play along with the soap opera.

Questions abound: How many teams will be in the Big Ten, Pac-10 or Big East? Will the Big 12 still exist? Where will Notre Dame land? What about Texas? Will the Mountain West become a power conference?

It is major college football expansion -- a national curiosity -- perhaps the most impactful since then-Southeastern Conference commissioner Roy Kramer created a 12-team mega-league by luring Arkansas and South Carolina and ordaining a title game in 1992.

Yet, with little exception, the soon-to-be key components of the football teams themselves simply wait. The 2011 recruits, the first group of players who'll set foot on the shifted landscape, appear to receive only the information they watch on "SportsCenter."

"The coaches don't really go into it that much," said the uncommitted Devon Blackmon (Fontana, Calif./Summit), ESPN Recruiting's No. 3 athlete. "And we just worry about ourselves."

An unscientific survey of a gaggle of the nation's top recruits indicates they not only aren't receiving current information from the coaches vying for their services, but they also don't seem entirely interested. They watch it on TV, read it in articles and shrug it off.

"There's going to be competition regardless," said Trey DePriest (Springfield, Ohio/South), a wide open 6-foot-1, 225-pounder who is the No. 2 outside linebacker in the ESPNU 150. "So it really don't matter to me [what the conferences look like]."

The recruits don't blame the assistants, either. They understand it's a game going on above the heads of all but a few of the most powerful brokers.

Cornerback Kolby Griffin (Houston/St. Pius X) is a 5-foot-11, 168-pound TCU commit, a player whose future conference recently picked up Boise State in a move that could help the MWC secure a Bowl Championship Series automatic bid.

"[Coaches] just don't mention it," Griffin said, "because sometimes, they don't even know what they're doing yet until the school's board of directors has developed their plan and put it into action. For right now, schools are just mainly pitching their school."

Added Giorgio Newberry (Fort Pierce, Fla./Central), an uncommitted offensive tackle: "Some of them got their fingers crossed just waiting to see what's going to happen."

Prospects say they are making their decisions based solely on the school, its academics and environment -- not its opponents or conference.

"Teams are teams," said defensive tackle Anthony Johnson (New Orleans/O. Perry Walker), ESPN Recruiting's No. 2 overall player and an LSU commit. "Adding teams to a conference doesn't mean anything to me. Everybody puts on the helmet the same way, and they strap up the same way. That's not a big deal with me."

Faced with making their most important decision to date come February, it seems few recruits are advised on the fact that the school they choose could play in a different conference with different rivals when they arrive. Blackmon is considering Pac-10 schools such as USC, UCLA and Washington, yet details of a recent addition weren't included in the endless stream of phone calls.

"I know Colorado just confirmed that they're in the Pac-10, I think. But other than that, I haven't been hearing anything else," Blackmon said. "I don't know which school I'm going to yet, so I don't even know what the schedule is going to be for that school. It wouldn't change at all."

He's not alone. What do coaches from possibly mobile schools such as Notre Dame and Oklahoma tell DePriest about the process?

"They don't really say anything," he said. "And it really doesn't affect my thinking."

Few topics have lit up the minds of pundits, prognosticators and fans as conference expansion. Always a background deal waiting to happen, Penn State Joe Paterno lent it a megaphone when he opined that the Big Ten not having a 12th team is a "handicap."

"I've tried to talk to the Big Ten people about, 'Let's get a 12th team -- Syracuse, Rutgers, Pitt – [and] we could have a little bit of a playoff,'" Paterno told reporters at the Plaza Hotel in New York on May 1.

So the race began. Now, it's a full-fledged scramble.

Colorado accepted its bid into the Pac-10, opening the floodgates for the much-maligned Big 12. Nebraska moved to the Big Ten a day later. Texas, Texas A&M, and three other conference rivals are fielding offers and deciding their fate.

Will the Big 12 South end up in the Pac-10 or will the SEC swoop in and enter the Texas market?

"Hey, you know the SEC is the most competitive conference to me in college football, so that'd make it more competitive if Texas was added," said the 6-foot-5, 249-pound Newberry, who is considering Florida, Florida State, Miami, LSU and Tennessee. "If Texas went to the SEC, that would be so crazy, for real."

Keep in mind, Newberry doesn't know. He's wide open in his recruitment, like so many others, and he hasn't heard the first word from an assistant to help him understand how this major story would alter his fate.

"I probably would like to have a heads up, either when I sign or before I sign," Newberry said. "So I won't be lost in the world. I can at least have a clue of what's going on."

All around them -- madness. So many possibilities. So many options. Soon enough, the world will behold what college football has become.

Don't be surprised if the 2011 recruits are the last to know.

"I'll just sit back and relax and see what's going on," Newberry said. "Take it from there."


Ian R. Rapoport also covers the New England Patriots for The Boston Herald. Read his blog or e-mail him at irapoport@bostonherald.com.