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June 18, 2010

The week's winners and losers

Texas' decision this week to stay put was obviously a big coup for the Big 12 while the Pac 10 wakes up this morning with egg on its face. Today, and every Friday, in the week that was, we examine who won and who lost during the past seven days …

Winner: Big 12

So the conference took a few hits with the departure of Nebraska and Colorado, big deal - it kept its top-two moneymakers in Texas and Oklahoma and will live on as long as the Longhorns remain committed to staying put. Of course, that's the great caveat isn't it; who knows when UT will again look to jump ship for a better offer.

But for now, for at least a few months respite, the Big 12 and Commissioner Dan Beebe can begin putting together a television and payout package that will satisfy the Burnt Orange and White. Beebe sold Texas on the notion that a big payday was coming for the Big 12 and that the Longhorns could pursue their own network.

Of course, there is no guarantee the finances will rival a deal the Pac 10 could have engineered while the idea of a UT-only network seems illogical considering the Big Ten Network has a hard enough time filling its programming guide with meaningful content outside of football and basketball.

But, hey, the Big 12 (- 2) survives for now. Will it thrive? That's the million dollar question.

Loser: Pac 10

After the Big Ten announced in the winter it would look at expanding its conference, and after news leaked the conference was targeting Texas, Nebraska and Notre Dame, the Pac 10 entered the fray quickly and was poised to steal the Big Ten's thunder as a deal with Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and a few other Big 12 programs appeared imminent.

The Pac 10, thus, was about to be the first big mover and shaker, and would dramatically enhance its market reach, television contracts and national reputation. There would be little argument that with Southern Cal, Texas and Oklahoma, the Pac 10 was the best conference in the country, at least at the top, while Oklahoma State, Oregon, Arizona State, UCLA and Washington provided depth.

The good news for the Pac 10 is Commissioner Larry Scott was able to snag Colorado and Utah, which will bring the league's total number to 12, allowing for a championship game that will bring new revenue to the conference. Neither Colorado nor Utah, however, creates much of a splash, and with Southern Cal about to return to the dark ages after being hit hard by NCAA sanctions, the Pac 10 needed a new power broker.

Winner: Utah

Whether it was a panic move or not - there doesn't seem to be any indication the league would have invited the Utes if it landed six Big 12 schools - the Pac 10 has extended an invitation to Utah, and the Mountain West program has accepted. As indicated, the Pac 10 wins a little just by adding another team, but the real winner is Utah.

The Utes wanted in. They wanted to be in a BCS Conference, guaranteeing more opportunities for postseason bowl games and bigger payouts to sustain a growing athletic department. They didn't want to have to fight and claw for every opportunity they received and now they won't have to.

Utah feels it belongs with the big boys and can compete against better teams, and there are some facts to back that up: Kyle Whittingham's team is 4-3 against Pac 10 foes in the past five seasons and 10-4 overall against opponents in BCS Conferences since 2005.

Loser: Mountain West and Boise State

If this deal happens, like expected, the Mountain West's pleas to receive an automatic bid to a BCS bowl (and to essentially become a BCS Conference) will decline dramatically. True, the conference has added Boise State, which aids their case, but as they welcome one perennially top-25 team they wave goodbye to another.

Had Utah stayed in place, the MWC would have had a strong argument for BCS inclusion with Texas Christian, BYU, Boise State and Utah - a quartet of teams each with at least 10 wins last season and programs that all finished in the top 25 in 2009. But now, without the Utes, the conference is not any more worthy with the addition of the Broncos than it was before BSU.

That has to kill Boise State, which saw its jump from the Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West as the final hurdle it had to clear to gain national respect and earn the chance to play for a national title. That opportunity may still come this season but there is no promise it will continue if the MWC is on the outside looking in as a non-BCS Conference in 2011 and beyond.

Winner: The Big Ten and Nebraska

Maybe it wasn't the tidal wave initially expected, but the Nebraska addition gives the Big Ten a powerhouse name brand (in football, and a few other sports including volleyball) that will extend the conference's market reach and will allow for two divisions and a championship game, which will likely draw more revenue than any other title game (seeing as Delany leverages his conference better than the commissioners in the SEC, ACC, Big East and Big 12).

The excitement over the Cornhuskers playing football in 2011 in the Big Ten will likely draw record crowds out to games in Evanston, Minneapolis, West Lafayette and Bloomington while fans of Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State and Iowa will be drooling over the prospect of their teams matching up with Nebraska.

As for Nebraska, it can begin sharing in a revenue plan that distributes equally to its conference members and doesn't favor one school (cough, cough, Texas). NU Athletic Director Tom Osborne was looking for respect after feeling the Big 12 consistently didn't show the Cornhuskers any, and he'll receive that from the Big Ten.

Winner: Michigan State basketball

Tom Izzo is staying put.

Loser: The rest of the Big Ten basketball

Tom Izzo is staying put.

Winner: Tennessee fans

Volunteer fans were left in a fit of rage after Lane Kiffin bolted their program after just one season of turmoil to take the head-coaching job at Southern Cal. But today, Tennessee has the last laugh after the NCAA handed down harsh sanctions against the Trojans for a wide variety of rules violations from 2004 to 2009.

Loser: Southern Cal and Lane Kiffin

Among the toughest penalties levied against Southern Cal for its lack of institutional control - mainly related to illegal gifts former Heisman trophy winner Reggie Bush received while a USC student-athlete - are postseason bans for 2011 and 2012, the loss of 30 total scholarships over the next three seasons and the vacating of 14 wins between Dec. 2004 and Jan. 2005, including its national championship win over Oklahoma on Jan. 4, 2005.

Though removing banners and trophies are a blow to a program's pride, the memory of those victories will endure. The postseason ban, which automatically precludes the Trojans from competing for a national title in 2011 and 2012 with quarterback Matt Barkley at the reins, is critical and could lead to a number of transfers from current student-athletes.

The loss of scholarships, meanwhile, is another killer. It's the type of hit that could set a program back significantly, even as one as dominant as USC. Recruiting competitors must be salivating over the idea that a number of five-star prospects and four-star prospects that Southern Cal would typically gobble up will have to look elsewhere these next few years.

Perhaps when their three-year handicap ends, the Trojans will return to their place of prominence, but a lot can happen in three years as momentum in college football shifts quickly and this type of obstacle could drop USC down a few pegs, taking years to recover.

As for Kiffin, he thought he had landed his dream job. Instead, he might have just walked into a nightmare.

Push: Pete Carroll

The former Southern Cal coach left Los Angeles for an NFL job with the Seattle Seahawks in just the nick of time. Funny how that happened.

The good news for Carroll is he doesn't have to recruit in the atmosphere he helped create and can make millions as he attempts to resurrect a pro career that failed the last time through.

The bad news for Carroll is this news will forever taint what he accomplished at USC and will further provide ammunition to the many that believed he cheated during his nine years with the Trojans.

Winner: Notre Dame traditionalists

With the dominoes no longer teetering, for now, Notre Dame will not feel compelled to join a conference (most likely the Big Ten), allowing its fans, that have so ardently argued their school would never give in and will remain independent for the next 1,000 years, reason to celebrate and further beat their chests.




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