Technically speaking, the landscape was set ablaze on Monday.
WHB, the sports radio monster in Kansas City, Mo., did the honors, lighting the match and dropping it. It didn’t take much to get the fire going. The landscape has been dry from no hard news on Big Ten expansion. But Monday’s report by WHB that the Big Ten has extended “initial offers" to Missouri, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Rutgers was all that was needed for the message boards, talk shows and all other corners of Big 12 fandom to have their collective hair set on fire.
Both Nebraska and Missouri issued statements denying any offer from the Big Ten. Are the schools blowing smoke? Did WHB jump the gun?
First, this technicality should be offered: The Big Ten doesn’t make offers to join. You apply to join the Big Ten. Ring-kissing is optional.
Did Nebraska and Missouri get “offered" a chance to apply? It’s hard to know either way, and that’s the maddening thing about this. I like WHB’s shows because they talk a lot of college sports and Big 12 sports. I know some of the broadcasters there; good guys who work hard and work sources. But a lot of credible media types have issued reports and made speculation based on sources on this story. I’m not saying the WHB report is inaccurate; to the contrary, it might be right. You just don’t know until the Big Ten commissioner steps out from behind the curtain.
I’m taking this report seriously, however. First, the way it was presented. The four schools listed make the most sense. And the Notre Dame caveat — if the Irish accept, the Big Ten looks for a fifth school; if they turn it down, it’s three schools to make 14 — is perfectly plausible. When you think about that, it’s very logical.
Another reason to take this seriously: not just that the UNL administration sent out a statement on the matter — there have been countless reports the past several weeks on Big Ten expansion, and UNL didn’t issue statements on those. Moreover, it was what Chancellor Harvey Perlman said — or didn’t say.
UNL offered your basic nondenial denial. It said no offer has been made to join the Big Ten. It also added that “we remain committed to the success of the Big 12." But in the next sentence, the statement said “until the Big Ten makes an announcement, we’ll have nothing to say on the subject."
In other words, NU is committed to the Big 12 — until the Big Ten tells you otherwise.
This is about semantics. Technically speaking, UNL is probably telling the truth. Has NU been offered a spot in the Big Ten? No. According to ESPN’s Big Ten blogger, Adam Rittenberg, schools must apply for admission into the Big Ten. Anybody got a pen?
More than likely, what is happening here is that NU, Mizzou and others have been contacted by a middle man or headhunter and asked if they would be interested in entering discussions about Big Ten membership. Meanwhile, they were told that if they did apply, their application would be given all serious consideration, looked upon favorably, wink, wink.
So while I don’t believe NU has been made an official offer, it looks as if the application process may be about to begin. The Big Ten will hold its spring meetings May 17 to 19 in Chicago, and expansion is expected to be discussed (possible candidates will be run by the athletic directors and football and basketball coaches). The league’s Council of Presidents/Chancellors will meet in early June, and a vote could take place then. Candidates would need 70 percent (eight of 11) of the votes for approval. Stay tuned. This is just beginning.
I can only guess the shockwaves this story sent through some corners of the Big 12, at least in the newsrooms. In Sunday’s Tulsa World, sports columnist Dave Sittler scolded Nebraska and Missouri for talking about leaving the league — in fact, neither school has officially commented on having problems with the Big 12 — and quoted a Big 12 source as saying the league was getting tired of their act. Sittler also wondered if the Big 12 should just tell NU and MU to leave.
Meanwhile, another good friend of this column, Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman, wrote that he didn’t think that Nebraska would get invited to join the Big Ten. Technically, Kirk is right. NU would have to apply.
Every time I hear a Missouri Tiger complain about getting overlooked by the Big 12 bowl structure, I shake my head. Three years ago, Kansas went to the Orange Bowl over MU — after losing to Missouri — because its athletic director schmoozed the Orange Bowl while Missouri was playing for the Big 12 championship game. That was all gamesmanship — and the Orange Bowl being afraid that MU fans wouldn’t travel if they lost the Big 12 title game. That’s not the Big 12’s fault. Last year, the Insight Bowl passed on the Tigers in favor of Iowa State because the Cyclones travel better. Missouri fans have a reputation for not traveling to bowls in great numbers. That’s why bowls select certain teams and pass on others.
Moving to the Big Ten won’t change that reputation for Mizzou.
If all of this comes to fruition, what happens to Kansas basketball?
Speaking of KU coach Bill Self, he was the guest speaker at the annual Creighton bash Monday night at Shadow Ridge. Self had former Missouri State coach Barry Hinson — now on KU’s staff — tag along. With Hinson, Greg McDermott and former Evansville coach and new CU assistant Steve Merfeld on hand, it was like a reunion of former CU foes. Jaybackers present probably didn’t know whether to give them heck or shake their hands.
McDermott elaborated on the departure of P’Allen Stinnett from the team last Friday: “I met with him Friday. I evaluated the reasons he was suspended and talked to everybody involved and felt that it was best if we moved forward without him and, truth be told, it’s probably better for him as well."
He added, “I recruited (Stinnett) to Iowa State and knew his history in high school and prep school. It’s unfortunate it didn’t work out, but no one person can ever be bigger than the program."
Does McDermott have tough rules or guidelines in terms of behavior on or off the court?
“You don’t win in the game of basketball if you don’t think about the team first, so that will always be paramount in what we do," McDermott said. “In terms of having a bunch of rules and regulations on paper, no, I don’t. I just expect that they won’t act in a way that doesn’t embarrass themselves, our basketball family or Creighton University."
Omaha’s UFL name and colors are growing on me. In fact, I think they hit a home run with “Nighthawks." This needed to be unique. We’ve got Huskers, Bluejays, Mavericks and Royals and we had Racers and Knights. All nice, non-threatening names. Nighthawks is different. The colors, black and silver, are different. Think Oakland Raiders.
It’s got a chance. The name and colors are half the battle for this team. Seriously. The other part will be affordable prices, atmosphere, smart scheduling and having a local legend or national name or two on the roster. What about JaMarcus Russell? I hear he’s available.
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