The dominoes have started to fall in conference expansion, with the Pac-10 announcing today that Colorado will leave the Big 12 and join the Pac-10, and with Nebraska, according to multiple sources, poised to leave the Big 12 and join the Big Ten. A mass defection of the Big 12 South to the Pac-10 appears to be underway.

I can't get enough of this expansion stuff. This is extremely high-stakes poker, with more intrigue than a Grisham novel. I've been reading and reading and reading, and I've been thinking and thinking and thinking. If you like this expansion stuff, then read on, because here's my two cents.

Writing an article about expansion right now is tricky business, because what you're writing can be blown out of the water in the two hours it takes you to write it. I've already had to rewrite this article in light of the Colorado news becoming official. I'm in a rush now to get it done and posted before something else changes.

I've spent hours recently reading expansion-related material, and I mean newspaper articles, not message board posts (though they're informative, too). It's fascinating stuff. I've learned more about other conferences and schools than you could ever hope to learn in an ordinary week in college athletics.

I wanted to pass on some of what I've learned, and let me apologize ahead of time for not necessarily having links to every article I've read. Like I said, I've read a lot of stuff. But here's what I've learned that will shed some light on what's going on.

Why is the Big Ten expanding?

Because its Big Ten network has been wildly successful. The Big Ten network, started in August of 2007, will pay Big Ten schools $6.4 million each in revenue sharing this academic year. That's before ABC, ESPN, and CBS (CBS for men's basketball) start paying the conference their share of TV revenue.

The Big Ten Network derives revenue from cable and satellite subscriber fees, plus advertising. The network receives 88 cents per subscriber per month in its current eight-state footprint ... but only 5 cents per subscriber per month outside that footprint. (Lincoln Journal-Star, 5/30/10)

Expand the footprint, and revenue will increase. Simple equation. Nebraska has 1.8 million residents. If 1 million of them are currently receiving the Big Ten Network, at 5 cents a month, that's $50,000 a month for the Big Ten. If those million Nebraska residents are suddenly in the "footprint," the fee goes to 88 cents -- one would assume -- and that monthly BTN revenue from the state of Nebraska jumps to $880,000. Per month.

The Big Ten also wants the revenue from a football conference championship game, and such a game would help the conference stay relevant in football later in the season. Currently, the Big Ten schools all finish playing each other in mid-November, because (last I checked) they don't even have a bye week. They just cram 12 games all in a row, leading to a mid-November finish to the schedule. Then they go dormant until the bowls start. The money would be good, and the relevance would be a plus.

Why is the Big 12 falling apart?

Because the lure of big money from the Big Ten or an expanded Pac-10 is too great for the league to hold together.

There are other reasons, but in my mind, the biggest issue is that the Big 12 only distributes $7-$12 million each year to its member schools -- that unequal distribution is an issue in and of itself -- and their television contracts, which are the big drivers of revenue, don't expire until 2014.

The Big Ten Network is enormously profitable, the SEC has a phat setup with ESPN and CBS, and the ACC is on the verge of more than doubling their TV revenue, with a new contract to start soon.

The Big 12's got nothing on the near horizon when it comes to TV money.

The Big 12 also doesn't have much history or loyalty among its member schools. Texas rules the conference like Louisville used to rule the old Metro. You long-time Hokie fans understand how that feels, to be dictated to by an 800-pound gorilla that bosses you around and keeps the money for itself.

For many years, Nebraska and Oklahoma ruled the old Big Eight. In the mid-1990s, as the Texas-based Southwest Conference (SWC) was falling apart, the Big Eight followed the SEC's lead to 12-team conferences and swallowed four of the eight SWC members: Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Baylor.

That's when the fun started.

For decades, Oklahoma and Nebraska had played their classic rivalry on the Friday after Thanksgiving. It was a decades-old tradition. The Big 12, however, put Oklahoma and Nebraska in two different divisions and started scheduling the game at other points in the season ... if they played at all. The schools don't even play each other every year now.

But the Big 12 does schedule the Texas-Oklahoma "Red River Shootout" every year in Dallas, a tradition that is also decades old. In effect, the Big 12 said "Nebraska-Oklahoma doesn't matter, but Texas-Oklahoma does." Imagine if the ACC didn't schedule VT-Virginia every year ...

There are other things. Shortly after the Big 12 was formed, Nebraska lost a vote (11-1) to allow Prop 48 partial qualifiers. Nebraska lost another vote (11-1) to have a conference football championship game -- that's right, the Huskers didn't want one, and the other eleven conference members did.

Nebraska felt that a conference championship game might lead to a loss that would prevent them from playing in the national championship, and lo and behold, they were right. A powerful Nebraska team that was bound for the national championship in 1996 was defeated in the first-ever Big 12 Championship Game ... by underdog Texas.

The Big 12 main office was established in Dallas, instead of the Big Eight's traditional home in Kansas City.

In more recent times, the Big 12 has decided to stage its football championship game in Jerry Jones's new Cowboy Stadium in Dallas from 2009-2013, meaning it won't be played in Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium anymore, where it was staged five times from 2000-2008.

Nebraska doesn't like any of those decisions. In the 15+ years since the formation of the Big 12, Nebraska and Texas have been waging a power struggle, and Texas is soundly trouncing Nebraska.

And then the refs put another second back on the clock in last year's Big 12 championship game, giving Texas the victory.

The money from the Big Ten is nice, but I also think Nebraska has simply had enough of the Big 12.

If Nebraska bolts for the Big Ten, which they are expected to do, every article I have read indicates that Texas will gather up its cronies (Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado) and head to the Pac-10.

Not the SEC. The Pac-10.

Why is the Pac-10 expanding?

Because, if they do it right, they can make beeellions of dollars from television.

First, there's the lure of adding a couple teams and having a football championship game. Meh, that's nice.

But if the Pac-10 adds six teams from the Big 12 (Colorado is already team #1), the Pac-10 will, according to ESPN, "... add the nation's No. 5 (Dallas), No. 10 (Houston) and No. 16 (Denver) TV markets to the conference, which already includes No. 2 Los Angeles, No. 6 San Francisco, No. 12 Phoenix and No. 13 Seattle."

The Pac-10's television contracts expire after the 2011-12 academic year, so they're set to negotiate new agreements soon. If they expand to 16 teams, they'll control an enormous amount of televisions sets, and not only will they get more money from a network (FOX, maybe?), but they'll set the table for starting their own network, Big Ten-style.

It's not any more complicated than that for the Pac-10.

Will a 16-team conference, the first BCS "super conference" be a smart move, or will it be too unwieldy? I don't have an answer for that, because I'm not that smart. You can't predict what will happen. Hey, we all thought the Big 12 sounded like a great idea 15 years ago, and it's collapsing.

Why would Texas go to the Pac-16?

I'm not going to answer "because of the money."

One of the articles I read said that in 2008-09, Texas's athletic revenue was $138.5 million. That is not a typo. Texas doesn't need the money. (Incidentally, that makes their lion's share of revenue in the Big 12 even more galling: they don't need the money, yet they get more from the Big 12 than any other school.)

As writer Jim Reeves puts it in the above-linked article:

If Texas wants the Big 12 to survive, with or without Nebraska, then it will survive and even flourish. That's how strong the Longhorns are in collegiate athletics. They can make this happen any way they want it to happen.

So, again: Why go to the Pac-10? Why not the SEC?

Reeves makes a statement that is backed up in other articles that I have read:

Far less likely is any alliance between Texas and the SEC for several reasons, the primary one being the disparity in how [the SEC] looks at academics compared to the current Big 12, the Pac-10 or the Big Ten.

Ah, academics. Don't laugh. They matter greatly in this conference realignment landscape. Academics don't matter (much) to the rest of us when talking about conference realignment, but the presidents and chancellors -- the decision-makers -- care about them a great deal.

Two points of evidence: One is a great article on the formation of the Big 12 that ran in August of 2007 in the San Antonio Express-News. Robert Berdahl was the president of Texas back when the Big 12 was forming, and he talked about how the university was looking at the SEC and the Pac-10 as possible alternatives.

"Texas wanted desperately the academic patina that the Pac 10 yielded," recalls Berdahl, who went on to serve as chancellor at Pac-10 member California-Berkeley. "To be associated with UCLA, Stanford and Cal in academics was very desirable."

As for the SEC ...

"We [Texas] were quite interested in raising academic standards," Berdahl says. "And the Southeastern Conference had absolutely no interest in that."

So, many years ago, Texas was very interested in the Pac-10, but the distance was too great. Fast forward to the present, and by taking five other Big 12 teams into the Pac-10, Texas can remedy the distance problem, but still have the "academic patina" (raise your pinky in the air as you read that) of the Pac-10.

Still think academics don't matter? Here's a quote from Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick in an ESPN article:

"If there's anything about this I think is widely misunderstood, it's the extent to which academic decisions are influencing this," Swarbrick said. "They sort of underline the very discussion here in a way the general sports fan can't really appreciate."

So for Texas, a decision to move to the Pac-10, thus creating the Pac-16, could be driven largely by academics.

Or maybe it is driven largely by money. Or both. I don't pretend to really understand Texas, who is almost as unique as Notre Dame.

Will the SEC Expand in Response?

Most people seem to be assuming that the SEC will respond to Big Ten and/or Pac-10 expansion by doing a little expanding themselves. This school of thought is driven by SEC commissioner Mike Slive's statement a few weeks back that the SEC would respond in appropriate fashion if the Big Ten went to 14 or 16 teams.

I'm not so sure that means SEC expansion, though.

This current round of realignment is driven by money, of course. The Big Ten stands to make more of it, the Big 12 is flying apart due to a lack of it, and the Pac-10 wants to make lots more of it.

But how much more of it can the SEC make? And how?

On the surface, adding two or four teams to the SEC means that each team would have to bring in something like $17 million additional dollars -- the per-team value of the SEC's current TV contracts with ESPN and CBS -- to justify adding them.

Who's going to do that? Clemson? Georgia Tech? Florida State? Miami? Virginia Tech?

No, no, no, no, and no.

At first glance, I just don't see how adding teams is going to increase the per-team revenue in the SEC, and therefore justify expansion financially. But I'm the same guy who thought the ACC's new TV contract was going to be the same or less than the current contract, not more than double the amount. So I admit to a limited knowledge of the complexities of these things.

But in the case of the SEC, where money is in good supply, the history and tradition are deep, and expansion options are probably limited to poaching ACC teams, it's just not readily apparent to me how expansion would be justified, other than as a "me too" response to the Big Ten and Pac-10. And the SEC has never been about "me too."

ESPN writer (I hate the term "blogger") Chris Low feels the same way in a post from yesterday titled "Status Quo Most Likely Option for SEC". Low says that an SEC response will be "strategic and thoughtful", and he closes with:

Ultimately though, the SEC will probably look the same way in 2012 as it does now.

Especially if Texas isn't available. And as I outlined above, unless the culture at Texas has changed in the last 15 years, the academic side of the house at UT wants nothing to do with the SEC. My guess is that if Texas decides against going to the Pac-10, they will probably lead an effort to add teams to the Big 12 to replace Colorado/Nebraska, and just keep on going.

VT as an SEC candidate?

If the SEC does decide to expand, and it can't look west to Texas, et al, there is finally -- finally!! -- a groundswell of opinion building that VT would be a prime candidate for SEC expansion.

When SEC expansion first was considered, some dodo bird threw out Clemson-GT-FSU-Miami as the quartet of choice, and everyone started parroting that opinion.

Chris Coleman and I have been saying for weeks that that doesn't make any sense, because none of those teams deliver a new TV market, and GT and Miami don't fit the profile of your typical SEC school: large public university in a non-pro-sports town, and in some cases, a non-pro-sports state.

In recent days, instead of just throwing around names, journalists and sportswriters from around the nation have been doing actual research, talking to actual sources, and Virginia Tech is starting to appear as an SEC expansion school of choice.

As it should be. But should the Hokies go, if asked?

Advice to the ACC: Just Say No

The Hokies should go only if the ACC is going to completely implode, which is highly unlikely.

Let's pretend that the SEC does decide to expand, and they decide to invite two or four ACC schools. I have advice for every school in the ACC: just say no.

Two or three weeks ago, the money gap between the SEC and ACC was huge: $17 million per school per year in TV money, versus $6 million per year. Then the ACC's new ESPN deal was reported at $12.9 million per year per school. Assuming that deal gets signed -- it hasn't yet -- the gap will close significantly.

The gap is small enough, in my opinion, for the ACC schools to just band together, say no thanks, and stand pat at twelve schools. Tell the SEC to go pound sand.

There are many reasons why the ACC is a better conference for its member schools than the SEC. I could fill a separate article. Is ACC football better? No. Is pretty much everything else better? Yes. Basketball, academics, travel distances, culture ... you name it. Virginia Tech belongs in this conference, and so does every other current member (except BC, but that's another topic).

Every school that is in the ACC belongs in the ACC, not the SEC. The only reason any ACC school, including Virginia Tech, should consider a jump to the SEC is if the ACC is going to be shredded like the Big 12. And that's just not going to happen.

If there is a drive towards four 16-school mega conferences, the ACC will be one of those four conferences. The Pac-10 may already be on its way, and the Big Ten can get there with Nebraska, Notre Dame, and some Big East schools.

That leaves the issue of the SEC and the ACC. The ACC can just say no to the SEC, pick up a few Big East schools of the Pitt-UConn variety, and have a 16-school party.

Leave the SEC to pick up the remnants of the Big 12: Kansas, K-State, maybe even TCU, whatever.

Would the ACC have TV contracts as lucrative as the SEC's, in that scenario? No, but that's okay, because the fit is better.

The concept of today's SEC poaching today's ACC isn't like the ACC poaching the Big East in 2003, or the Pac-10 poaching the Big 12 today. The Big East of 2003 and today's Big 12 are unbalanced conferences that don't/didn't share revenue equally, and contain unhappy members who are/were looking around.

The ACC doesn't fit that profile. The ACC is a strong, cohesive conference that shares revenue equally and has a common vision among its schools, complaints about the officiating at Duke notwithstanding. And remember, school presidents and chancellors care about academics, and the academics are better in the ACC.

If the TV revenue disparity between the ACC and SEC was $10-$15 million per school, that would be a different story. But it's not. The disparity is small enough where other factors, like academics, culture, and history kick in and take over.

I would think so, anyway. Just say no, ACC.

Gotta run. I need to click Submit before something else happens to render this article useless.