Shatel: Could the future hold one structure for football, another for other sports?

Based on history, some would have a hard time believing Oklahoma would come north to play in a Midwest region of a new college football landscape. The Sooners have always leaned toward Texas for recruiting and their alumni base.

The future is a blank canvas. Here, let me grab my brush.

Let’s put Nebraska and Oklahoma in the same Big Ten West Division, the Ohio State-Michigan on the left coast of the Midwest football conglomerate.

Let’s throw Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk in the Big Ten, while we’re at it. Miss those trips to Lawrence, right?

How about Gonzaga joining the Big East? Yeah, the Zags are about as East Coast as, well, Omaha. Doesn’t matter.

Speaking of Creighton, I love what Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen is doing with his imagination.

Call it the Rasmussen Plan. Call it brilliant, for a world without boundaries.

“Let’s have four 16-team regions for football,” Rasmussen said.

“You’ve got a Southeast region, Midwest, South and West. You have two eight-team divisions in each region. Have the networks bid on that 64-team setup, or the individual regions. The four regions have a playoff. It can be an eight-team playoff. All of the 64 teams share the money.”

What about basketball and the other sports?

“Now go back and have conference realignment, the way it was, before football money changed everything. Base the conferences on region, where your alums are, like missions, etc., for every sport.”

For example: Nebraska might play football in the Midwest Region, with other Big Ten schools, maybe Missouri or Oklahoma, too. But in basketball, baseball, the other sports, NU could be in the Big Ten. Or maybe it goes back to the Big 12.

West Virginia, you stay in the East, in the SEC or ACC, or Big East, in hoops. Syracuse, UConn and Pittsburgh head back to their natural habitat, the Big East.

Meanwhile, maybe the Big 12 becomes the Southwest Conference again for basketball and other sports. Maybe the Big Eight comes back, plus Wichita State.

“You’ve got the rest of the sports back to some common sense,” Rasmussen said. “You can travel by bus, by van, by train. You don’t have to fly. Fans can follow. You don’t miss as much class. Like the old Big Eight, you have some geographics, the way it used to be.”

Very intriguing.

Of course, the future of college sports does not come without some math problems.

The five conferences that Rasmussen calls the “Autonomy Five,” or “Football Five,” add up to 64 schools. But that does not include Notre Dame or BYU or Boise State, if you want to go that way.

Back to the clean slate. Notre Dame would fit into the Midwest and BYU in the West, but at whose expense? Kansas State? Vanderbilt? Texas Tech?

The Midwest might try to scoop up the Irish and Oklahoma, unless Boomer insists on hanging with Texas in the South/Southwest. The issues of where the ACC or Big 12 schools would end up are exercises for another day and another imagination.

What I like about this is two-fold: 1. You put the football people together in their own playground, by their own rules that make sense for them. 2. You keep some sense of tradition and rivalry in the other sports.

Skeptical? Feel free. But as long as college football drives the train, with TV money as the fuel, this train isn’t stopping.

More changes are on the way, sure as that fault line sits underneath the Big 12 Conference.

The league built on a shotgun wedding was in the news the other day. Big 12 officials have been told that their chances to make the four-team playoff each year would increase (slightly) if they expanded to 12 teams.

Several thoughts come to mind here.

Big 12 Commish Bob Bowlsby said this is also about trying to keep up with the Big Ten and SEC money trains, which are pulling ahead of the rest.

Twelve teams and a Big 12 title game might (or might not) help the Big 12 get into the playoff. But so would Baylor upgrading its nonconference schedule.

And a Big 12 title game might mean a few more million for each school, but that’s chump change in the race to keep up with the Delanys and Sabans.

The Big Ten has schools and population bases that TV craves. So does the SEC, along with that color and passion and soap opera.

That’s what the Big 12 is chasing, and Cincinnati, BYU, Central Florida or Memphis aren’t going to help close the gap.

Would the Big Ten or SEC invite those teams in? Next question.

But back to the fault line, which always seems to fall in the region around Austin, Texas.

Oklahoma President David Boren is a proponent of expansion — and getting rid of the Longhorn Network, in favor of a Big 12 Network.

The way we watch college football in the next 10 years might get crazy. Netflix or YouTube, not ESPN. If cable cutting, and customers going a la carte with their shows, kicks into high gear, anything is possible.

Right now, nobody knows what will happen, but the industry experts are telling conference commissioners and athletic directors that the big-time money might not be so big.

The Golden Goose might need a breather.

Nobody knows. But it puts the idea of a Big 12 Network into perspective.

We know what the Longhorn Network is all about. Money. And branding of Texas sports.

A UT athletic official told the Austin American-Statesman last week that the school had no interest in dropping its network. And, in fact, if it ever did drop the network, it would be because it was changing conferences.

Hmmm.

Texas reportedly is against expansion. Why? That’s just two more schools that can be mad about the Longhorn Network.

So if the Big 12 expands, would Texas consider bolting? If the league doesn’t expand, and it’s status quo, does OU look around?

And don’t they both want to live in conferences where they are surrounded by infinite power and money?

Yes, there are media rights contracts, but the country’s best law schools are churning out bright legal minds who will settle those things in court. Or, the big boys could just write a check.

These aren’t our issues anymore in Nebraska. But the Big 12 expansion story this week revived thoughts in this old Skywriter of a Big Eight reunion.

Based on history, I have a hard time believing OU would come north. I’d love to see it. But the Sooners have always leaned toward Texas for recruiting and their alumni base. I’m trying to imagine OU traveling north to Michigan or Indiana in November. Can’t do it.

But OU in the SEC or Pac-12? OK.

Kansas, on the other hand, is extremely attractive to the Big Ten, which puts as much care into its hoops résumé as football. I don’t know if KU is tied to K-State. But what I do know is, if push comes to shove, the Jayhawks will always make sure basketball is in a major conference.

How’s that for a painting?

And I haven’t even gotten to the part where Rasmussen suggested to his Big East colleagues that they go after Gonzaga, Wichita State and BYU.

“You can say that the (new) Big East was formed because of like missions, like sizes,” Rasmussen said. “But it was basketball. And we will be judged as a league on basketball.

“We would be a national conference, cover all the time zones. While I would like to see us investigate that, it will not happen. You would need 75 percent of the vote, and there are not eight votes for Wichita State or Gonzaga, or anybody right now.”

Rasmussen doesn’t think 16-team power conferences (all sports) are inevitable. But as long as the Big Ten and SEC have an appetite for money and power, and the others have an urge to keep up, everything is on the table.

Consider: Seven years ago, who would have thought Creighton would be playing Villanova and Georgetown, and Nebraska playing Iowa, Ohio State and Rutgers? Imagine what things might be like in seven years. Or four.

Keep those brushes handy.

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Sports columnist

Tom is The World-Herald's lead sports columnist. Since he started in Omaha in 1991, he's covered just about anything you can imagine. Follow him on Twitter @TomShatelOWH. Phone: 402-444-1025.

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