A few thoughts on the madness now that it all appears to be over. I don't like to do "winners and losers" lists, in part because it's such a simplistic way of doing things and doesn't allow for nuanced evaluations. So instead we'll just look at a few of the players -- what they won and what they lost.
That said, the Big Ten is the undisputed winner. It's not easy to say that, but the Big Ten got one of the biggest names in college football to join and avoids being tagged as the team that symbolizes greed in the college game. (Pac-11, come on down!) They get to hold a championship game, send a not-too-subtle message to Notre Dame that there is life without the Irish, and are more relevant to the game than they've been in at least three years. It's clear that Jim Delany had a plan going into this -- as opposed to people like Beebe, who seemed to be overtaken by events at times -- and executed it. Whether he's done or not is the only question that ought to keep his fellow commissioners awake at night.
Did Larry Scott still succeed? At first, my thought was "yes," but now I'm not so sure. Yes, Colorado is probably a solid pickup because of the Denver market -- but what if the team doesn't do very well? It's not like the Buffaloes have a lock on the local market -- there are the Broncos in the NFL, the Rockies in MLB and the Avalanche in the NHL. And if the conference gets Utah, it's still going to be getting a share of a market fractured between the Utes, BYU and (maybe a little) Utah State. Sure, a Pac-12 Championship Game will bring in some money (if the league even decides to go in that direction), but that still means that the conference is going to have the divide the money with two more teams that are not going to be two of the top money-makers in the league. Being a visionary and being able to execute that vision are two different things.
Give Dan Beebe credit, but not too much. As a man of my word, I have to follow through on the promise to take back calling Dan Beebe the worst conference commissioner in the country. I'm still not sure he gets any awards -- and he had some help-- but the man did salvage as much of his conference as he probably could have. It seems clear now that Missouri was a distraction, perhaps intentionally created by Jim Delany, while the Big Ten was focused on Nebraska. Once the Huskers had an offer on the table, their resentment of Texas made it unlikely they would ever say no. As for Colorado, the Buffaloes have always made some sense for the Pac-10 and vice versa; with Baylor a potential 16th member of the Pac-16, CU had no choice but to move quickly when the invite came. So Beebe saved what he could -- for however long that lasts.
Founding members of the Dan Beebe Fan Club: The ACC and the Big East. Beebe didn't just save the Big XII; he probably saved the ACC and the Big East as well. If the SEC went to 13 with A&M, the ACC and Big East were going to be the targets for finding No. 14 (despite denials to the contrary). The Big Ten also would have been looking for members 13, 14, 15 and -- depending on Notre Dame's decision -- 16 from the two leagues if the Pac-10 went to 16. That would have, in turn, sent the SEC back to the ACC and Big East to find members 15 and 16. That's as many as seven teams from the 20 football members of those leagues. The two would have been forced to merge, someone probably would have lost their spot in a BCS conference and the basketball league would have also needed a restructuring.
Starting up the "I HATE DAN BEEBE!!!" Facebook page: The Mountain West. The Pac-11 still needs a 12th member, the invitation will almost certainly go to Utah, and the Utes would be stupid to turn it down. That will all but end the MWC's hopes of getting AQ status in the BCS: Boise State, TCU and BYU probably aren't quite enough on their own to get there, even with an exception (which the league might have needed anyway). Not only that, but the dreams of adding Kansas basketball or any of the Big XII football teams to help increase the odds for an AQ spot are gone. The MWC can probably add a Nevada to help some, but that's not going to be enough to offset losing the Utes. The Broncos don't look quite so smart now as they did last week, eh?
Notre Dame can remain independent. The only real threat once the Big Ten added Nebraska was a collapse of the Big East and / or the potential filling of the 16th spot in the Big Ten. If the Big East spun apart, that would have given Notre Dame almost no chance of having a home for the basketball and other sports that are part of that conference. And if the last slot in the Big Ten was about to be taken by someone else, the Irish would have little choice but to finally join the Midwestern league. But that's not going to happen for years now, and I don't really believe the rumblings of a Big East ultimatum for Notre Dame to join the conference in full or leave, so NBC can rest easy that it will keep its one (mindless) football contract.
Texas A&M might have outsmarted Texas. If the Aggies truly were trying to keep the Big XII from falling apart, they managed to make the most attractive option for the Longhorns to stay in the conference. Texas did not want the SEC to have a recruiting foothold in its state and did not want to take the blame for either killing the Big XII or breaking up the South. But A&M quickly shot down rumors that it had rejected the Pac-11's offer and decided to hold its board of regents meeting days after Texas', meaning the Longhorns would have been the ones to take the vote destroying the conference and setting sail for the Pac-11, and that the Aggies had to make the best decision for themselves at that point. The only way to keep the SEC out of Texas and not get labeled a league-wrecker, Texas' only option was to remain in the Big XII. And when Beebe's offer came along, it made it that much easier for the Longhorns to decide to stay put.
But there are plenty of reasons to question that deal. It's not original, but it's worth reiterating: How in the heck is the deal worth that much more without Nebraska. Part of it is probably the departures of Colorado and Nebraska -- in other words, while the Buffaloes and the Huskers take away some revenue, they also aren't drawing on that revenue; the per-team loss might not be that large (particularly in the case of Colorado, which might give Pac-11 fans pause), in part because only 10 teams are left. Not to mention the $20 million in penalty money they're going to get when Nebraska and Colorado leave. And the conference has been in a yearslong deal that didn't allow it to catch up with other conferences when their contracts were renewed. But the Big XII is also losing its championship game and one of the marquee names in college football. And it preserves one of the main problems that got the league to this point: Texas, Oklahoma and (because of its SEC dreams) Texas A&M are the revenue kings. For everyone else: "Let them eat cake."
The SEC didn't win, but it didn't lose either. I've seen some people suggesting that the SEC was one of the losers in this, but that's mostly confined to those who want it to be true. Sure, the SEC didn't get Texas A&M, but part of the drive to get Texas A&M was the notion that the Big XII was spinning apart and the SEC had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a Texas team, make it harder for the Pac-10 to count to 16 and prepare the Megaconference Era. There will be no Pac-16 or Megaconference Era, meaning the SEC really has no need to add Texas A&M. It would be nice in some ways, sure, but it's not necessary and not a loss. After all, who exactly are the Big Ten and the Pac-10 following by going to 12 teams anyway?
Mike Slive played this perfectly. He was obviously talking to Texas A&M and some other schools before the Pac-10 offer emerged -- though that was also probably in the works long before it was reported -- but he pushed ahead hard when the Big XII was about to fall apart. Make no mistake; if the league had disintegrated, A&M would have been an SEC team. Just because it didn't doesn't mean Slive didn't have things perfectly laid out if it did.