Here's a rule of thumb: When collegiate conference commissioners start talking publicly about what could happen, the wheels are already in motion to make it so.
The Big 12, under fairly new commissioner Bob Bowlsby, has talked a good game about being happy with 10 schools and seeing no urgency or need to add members. But Bowlsby is no fool, nor are the commissioners of the Big Ten or Southeastern Conference. They know standing pat is not the way to position yourself long-term, at least in their eyes.
I happen to think all the recent conference-expansion will have unfavorable long-term effects. But that genie left the bottle and is on one of nine flights West Virginia's basketball team has to make this season to Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa.
Bowlsby has argued bigger isn't necessarily better, and stated that in a variety of ways on several occasions. Ten members works especially well for the Big 12 because, according to Forbes magazine, it's expected to have the highest average payout of any conference in terms of total revenues from bowl games, NCAA men's basketball revenues, and television contracts. Forbes projects that total at about $26 million per school.
But here's the kicker: Bowlsby admitted if other leagues expand, the Big 12 might have no choice but to "be prepared to respond to that changing environment."
The Big Ten isn't done. The SEC isn't done. Some current members of the Atlantic Coast Conference with the required football and/or demographic clout will want safe harbors.
I firmly believe North Carolina will be a Big Ten member one day not far in the distance. Which means another school would also join the conference. Virginia or Georgia Tech would fit the league's academic bill, and would add to new markets.
One more raid on the ACC, by either the Big Ten or SEC, and it's one last round of chaos. Florida State, Virginia Tech, Clemson -- they wouldn't be content to stay in a watered-down ACC that already has lost Maryland to the Big Ten.
This isn't anything resembling a bold prediction, but I'll say it, anyhow. We will have superconferences. Rather, we'll have conferences even more dominant than they are now. Not long ago, Duke men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski said he feared for the ACC's future. He has good reason to be worried. Although, I'd put Duke with the Catholic Seven in basketball -- DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's and Villanova -- and have no trouble making that appealing to television networks.
What's kind of amazing is that little Iowa will have schools in two of the last superpower conferences left standing.
Frankly, things weren't all that bad they way they once were, when the Big 12 had Missouri and Nebraska instead of West Virginia. And many of us will be candidates for hip-replacements by the time it feels right seeing Maryland and Rutgers in the Big Ten.But at least Boise State isn't going to the Big East. How would we have explained that to our grandchildren?