Now that the NCAA Tournament has been expanded to 68 teams (the talk of 96 got everyone riled up for nothing, at least for now) we can turn our attention to conference expansion, the next great panic attack in college athletics.
The Big 10 wants to grow. Conference commissioner Jim Delaney makes no bones about it; he has deemed it important to add at least one school to the Big 10, which has 11 members. The math doesn't currently work, in more ways than one.
Delaney has a television network devoted entirely to Big 10 sports. His conference is rated high not only athletically, but academically. But without a 12th member — which could grow to 14 or even 16 — there can't be a division split and that means no conference championship game in football.
Money, money, money, money — some people got to have it. Some people really need it.
And college athletic departments fit the bill. It's money that is driving talk of conference expansion, a topic that has to make the presidents and athletic directors at Kansas and Kansas State nervous.
If the Big 10 grows, expect Missouri and Nebraska to be among its targets.
If the Pac-10 gets bigger, it could swallow up Colorado and perhaps even Texas, which is on the wish list of every conference that wants to expand.
The SEC isn't going to sit by and watch if other conferences start bringing in new members. It will want to take a look at the buffet, too. As will the ACC.
The Big 12 and Big East conferences look to be in the most trouble if these expansions do happen.
Missouri, for instance, feels like a stepchild in the Big 12, where revenues are split unevenly and many in the old guard feel as if the Texas schools, especially the Texas school, are treated like royalty.
Missouri makes perfect sense for the Big 10. As does Nebraska. First, though, Delaney has to figure out what to do about Notre Dame, the apple of his conference's eye. If Delaney can lure the Irish, the ripple effect would be transformational.
But if Notre Dame sidesteps the Big 10's overtures, then what? There are those who believe that would be enough to kill the idea of conference expansion for a while. But others insist Delaney is determined to add schools, especially those that would help his TV network.
Missouri would, by adding large television markets in St. Louis and Kansas City. And although Nebraska wouldn't bring many TV sets with it, the Huskers would tag along their impressive football heritage.
Then, if Colorado bolts for the Pac-10, which seems a logical move, what happens to the Big 12?
The conference could still probably survive, but it would look a lot different and not nearly as appealing for KU and K-State.
Kansas would have lost a strong rival in Missouri. Iowa State would be the only school remaining to the north. The Big 12 would look to raid the Mountain West, perhaps, to replenish.
However, if the Big 10 and Pac-10 get fatter, the SEC is going to want to fill its plate, too. Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State could be targeted.
Then what? Then the Big 12 is all but finished and Kansas and Kansas State are left scrambling, on the outside looking in at the four power conferences in college athletics, four leagues so strong they could conceivably break away from NCAA governance.
It's a doomsday scenario, at least for the schools left out, but at this point anything is possible.
Nobody is talking about what-ifs and nothing appears imminent. My guess is that Notre Dame holds the key to Big 10 expansion, and thus to anything else that would follow. For decades, the Irish have enjoyed football independence and a lucrative TV deal, so one wonders what Notre Dame has to gain from being in the Big 10 except being a great geographic fit.
The Irish already play several Big 10 schools every year, so building rivalries isn't an incentive. But if Delaney can convince Notre Dame to come on board, the earth will move.
The Big 10, besides targeting Missouri and Nebraska, could try to raid the Big East for a couple of schools in big television markets and grow to 16.
Kansas, even with its powerful basketball program and its standing as a strong academic university, doesn't seem a logical fit for any conference expansion. Nor does Kansas State.
Those schools could be the foundation for a new conference, one we can't even imagine and one that would surely not be as strong as the Big 12.
Normally, this stuff would be fun to speculate about. But the potential of conference expansion hits too close to home and doesn't bode well for the home schools.
For now, it's something to keep an eye on. This might turn out to be much ado about nothing. Then again....