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Off-season is more like off-the-wall season

The Big Ten Conference started this expansion-talk mess but might not know how to end it.

Notre Dame is in play because it's a player.

Texas fancies itself the "Ten Gallon Hat."

Tom Osborne, Nebraska's iconic and laconic athletic director, is Wyatt Earp -- with a high noon deadline.

Kansas is screaming, "We can work this out...think of the kids!"

Baylor is the Waco Kid, Texas' tag-along sidekick. When it comes to getting its story out, Baylor is also Gabby Hayes.

Colorado is, possibly, up the river without a paddle.

The Pacific 10 Conference has Louisiana Purchase-type papers and is prepared to seize territory if the tribal chiefs can't work out a treaty.

And everyone's getting fat except the Western Athletic Conference.

If anyone really knows how this is all going to turn out, please tell, but it sure is exciting, stringing together metaphors, allegories and analogies.

College football is supposed to be boring in June, not the Cuban Missile Crisis.

"This is wild," WAC commissioner Karl Benson said this week of the stakes.

Something's coming down soon, or this could all be a game of pick one: chicken, high-stakes poker or blind-man's bluff.

The Big Ten started it in December, dropping the bombshell that it was looking into expansion, possibly to 16 schools.

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, who played basketball for Dean Smith at North Carolina, went into the four corners stall, saying the timetable was 12 to 16 months without ever mentioning the school he wants most: Notre Dame.

The Chicago Tribune reported in April the Big Ten's timetable was on an accelerated pace, prompting Delany to hold a news conference to say the story was not true.

The Columbus Dispatch, though, last week obtained e-mails from April between Delany and Ohio State President Gordon Gee. Texas is mentioned as a possible Big Ten candidate with Delany using the words "fast-tracking."

The Tribune got it right.

Texas doesn't appear Big Ten-bound now because it can't go anywhere, politically, without Texas A&M, Texas Tech and, perhaps, Baylor.

What the Big Ten has to offer, with its profitable network, is $20 million per school, a reason it thinks Notre Dame should be interested. So far, Notre Dame isn't biting, but Nebraska and Missouri are -- and this is where mayhem ensues.

Pac-10 presidents have given new Commissioner Larry Scott a mandate to find new revenue streams, but right now the conference, compared to the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference ($17.3 million from TV per school), is handing out key chains. So Scott is thinking big, willing to absorb six Big 12 teams and then take his 16-team super conference to television.

The Pac-10's reported wish list of Big 12 teams is Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Colorado. Problem: Texas might not come unless it can take Baylor. This is pure state politics, but it could result in Baylor's replacing Colorado in the equation.

Baylor's new president, Kenneth Starr, the former special prosecutor once involved in the President Clinton-Monica Lewinsky case, this week reiterated Baylor's resolve to keep the Big 12 together. About the same time, behind the scenes, Baylor officials were working to make sure they get to the Pac-10 instead of Colorado.

Academic integrity?

Oh yeah, that.

The Pac-10 for years has been dismissive in considering the likes of San Diego State and Boise State for expansion.

Scott said this week he "will not compromise" the Pac-10's academic standards as he reportedly works toward a deal with Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.

Texas Tech is not a member of the Association of America Universities (AAU), an academic prerequisite for Big Ten inclusion. But is the Pac-10 OK with Texas Tech?

The Big 12 reportedly has given Nebraska and Missouri until Friday (or maybe next Friday) to decide whether they want to stay or go.

If Nebraska and Missouri waver, the Pac-10 will offer to take the Big 12 South. Parts or all of the Big 12 North (Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Colorado) could end up in the Mountain West -- the reason that conference postponed inviting Boise State to become its 10th member.

So, the pressure is on Nebraska, and Osborne, the former legendary coach, who knows all about gambles -- he once lost a national title to Miami by going for two instead of settling for a tie.

The stakes are huge.

Nebraska's decision to stay would seemingly scuttle major expansion plans, while a decision to leave could trigger the demise of the Big 12 (and Big East) and lead to massive conference rearrangement.

We could end up with four 16-team super conferences -- five counting the Mountain West.

Kansas is urging Nebraska to stay in the Big 12 because Kansas doesn't want to be left orphaned by expansion. The betting money is that Nebraska won't leave, but the odds are probably only 60-40.

Notre Dame, depending on whom you believe, could also save the Big 12 and the Big East by becoming the Big Ten's 12th member, making unnecessary any expansion to 16.

Notre Dame maintains its priority is to remain independent, but that was a couple of minutes ago.

College football's word of the week: "fluidity."

© 2010, Los Angeles Times. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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