Notre Dame just delivered a huge favor to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney. They let him off the hook in his obsessive 23-year chase to add the Fighting Irish to the conference.
Delaney can turn his attention to re-branding the image of the deteriorating conference.
Major scandals at Ohio State and Penn State, constantly losing the key non-conference games and an overall lack of excitement with the football programs have ripped the heart out of the proud conference.
As the Big Ten fades into football obscurity, Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler are rolling over in their graves. The conference they helped build is known more for what happens off the field than what happens on it.
It is game-changing time for Delaney. He must avoid making a small splash like the Nebraska acquisition, which is looking more and more like a lemon buy anyway. He needs to make a bold move to redefine the soul of the conference.
It would be easy to argue that the conference is doing well and changes are not necessary. The Big Ten Network is thriving and most of the athletic departments are making a profit. Nonetheless, this is not the time for complacency.
Delany must have the guts to convince Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State to join the family and give Penn State their walking papers. If Nebraska balks, he should consider kicking them out, too.
The odds may be long to win over these schools, but deep down they need a change, too. Even with restructuring over the last two years, the Big Ten and Big 12 are vulnerable on the field. It is time to merge the two conferences to take on the Southeastern Conference for football supremacy.
Delaney’s goal must be to dethrone the king, and the only way to accomplish this is to get better teams into the Big Ten that can compete against the SEC’s elite.
The SEC is profitable and wins championships. There is no reason why the Big Ten should remain inferior. It can and should do better.
As SEC commissioner Mike Slive continues to laugh while his teams reign over college sports, Delaney can quietly broker a deal that might end their run at the top.
The key is signing the deal before the PAC 12 wakes up and makes a competing offer. Even worse, maybe the SEC makes an offer to make one super-conference. If that's the case, he needs to strike now.
Delaney also needs to pen the agreement before the four-team playoff begins in 2014. The new system will reward strength of schedule. If nothing changes, the SEC will likely own two of the slots. The Big Ten will struggle to get one team into the mix.
With Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the fold, the Big Ten has a chance to consistently lock down two spots. At worst, it guarantees at least one spot.
Looking around the football landscape, joining the Big Ten over the PAC 12 makes more sense for these schools. The TV markets are better, the schools are geographically aligned, there are rivalries already established and the fanbases are more rabid.
Breaking up the Big 12 may seem difficult, but they are the weakest of the five major BCS conferences in terms of commitment to the league.
The backlash will be short-lived. Having four power conferences is far better than having one great conference and four good conferences.
The competitive balance will be better, too. The ACC will have the East, the SEC will have the South, the Big Ten will have the Midwest and Southwest and the PAC 12 will have the West. The alignment is not perfect, but it is definitely an improvement.
Delaney needs to show some grit to pull off the major coup. Despite the challenges, he can persuade these teams to join the Big Ten. If he can pull it off, he’ll become a leader and a legend.