By next week, the Big 12 Conference could be saying goodbye to two-thirds of its membership — or proceeding as if the words "conference expansion" never came up.
Media speculation, with confirmations from athletic department and conference officials here and there, has boiled to the point where the landscape for major-college sports is seemingly destined to change.
That makes this an extremely nervous time at Kansas and Kansas State, two of the three Big 12 schools not being courted by other conferences (Iowa State is the other). They could be stuck in a ravaged Big 12 looking for new — and less attractive — members, or be looking for new — and less attractive — conference affiliations.
Here are some of the key questions surrounding the Big 12's future:
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Why is all this happening?
Money, of course. The Big Ten Conference announced in December that it was exploring expansion, and there's no doubt that cornering new media markets and bringing in high-profile schools help bring in more television revenue.
Who's trying to raid the Big 12?
Media reports have the Big Ten talking to Nebraska and Missouri. Nebraska — which according to reports is ready to accept an invitation — offers great football tradition and strong non-revenue sports, while Missouri adds the St. Louis and Kansas City TV markets.
The Pac-10, according to reports, is trying to add six Big 12 teams: Texas (the big fish), Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The sixth would be either Baylor (located in Waco and probably Texas' preference) or Colorado.
What does this mean for Kansas and Kansas State?
Nothing good if eight schools leave. KU and K-State would join Iowa State and the Baylor-Colorado loser as the Unwanted Ones. At least unwanted by a superconference.
What conferences would want KU or K-State?
Both would be attractive to the Mountain West Conference, which stretches from Colorado to the Pacific. But the Mountain West is seen as a notch below the major conferences. If the Big Ten gobbles up two or three Big East schools, maybe that conference — which stretches from the Atlantic to Chicago and is known for its strong basketball tradition — would come west to the Sunflower State.
How would this affect KU's and K-State's athletic departments?
In almost any new conference scenario, travel costs would go up significantly and TV revenue would go down.
How would this affect KU and K-State nationally?
KU's tradition-rich men's basketball program would take a prestige hit in the Mountain West. Instead of being on the same tier as Oklahoma, Missouri and Nebraska, Kansas schools would be on the same rung as Colorado State, Brigham Young and Utah. Not bad, just not the same.
Would KU and K-State still play their former Big 12 rivals?
Maybe, though KU athletic director Lew Perkins has asked why his school would want to play any school that didn't want to be in KU's conference.
Are KU and K-State necessarily joined at the hip? Could they go to different conferences?
It's doubtful they'd part ways. Officials at both schools have said they are partners, and it's hard to see the Board of Regents — or Kansas politicians — letting one school get a sweeter deal than the other.
Is there anything KU and K-State can do to prevent all this?
Nothing except try to convince the other Big 12 schools to stay put. Both schools' chief executives have reached out to their counterparts at Nebraska and Missouri. Gov. Mark Parkinson, Sen. Pat Roberts, Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Jerry Moran have called for the Big 12 to maintain the status quo.
What if the Pac-10 doesn't get its Big 12 schools and the conference remains at 10 or 11?
The Big 12 could still function and probably look to add a member that makes geographic sense. The best option would be Arkansas, if it's unhappy in the Southeastern Conference, but Texas Christian — playing strong football in Fort Worth — would probably welcome an invitation. Maybe Brigham Young or Air Force would be candidates.
What's the key to six Big 12 schools leaving for the Pac-10?
Texas is in charge of this decision. The Longhorns are seen by many as running the Big 12 — would they have that kind of power in the Pac-16? Or would they be better off with a smaller or new-look Big 12?
There's also talk of a Longhorns TV network, which probably wouldn't fly in the Pac-16.
What can prevent all these defections?
Notre Dame is seen as the first linchpin. If the Fighting Irish want to end a century of football independence and join the Big Ten, that conference may rescind all other invitations, which could keep the Big 12 together.
If Notre Dame stays out and Nebraska and Missouri bolt, then it's up to Texas to decide whether it can do better in the Big 12 or the Pac-10. Given that the Big 12 would be ripe for picking later on, Texas may head west.
If any of this happens, when would the schools begin in their new conferences?
If the Big 12 is to get smaller or fold, it's doubtful that the Big 12 would want outgoing members around for too long, so it could happen as soon as the 2011-12 school year.