INDIANAPOLIS – The news from Hoover, Ala., trickled out Wednesday evening and gained full steam with multiple media reports Thursday and Friday. Texas and Oklahoma, a pair of historical blue bloods in college football, are preparing to leave the Big 12 Conference to join the Southeastern Conference.
Media speculation quickly had Kansas and Iowa State as possibilities to join the Big Ten, with other Big 12 schools scattering to join other conferences. The jolt from SEC country reverberated 500 miles north, where Big Ten coaches, officials and players gathered for the conference's media days on Thursday and Friday in Indianapolis.
The reaction was a mixture of surprise and intrigue about what the future might bring as the start of another big change might be coming to college football.
"It definitely caught me off guard, to be honest,'' Indiana coach Tom Allen said Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium. "The landscape is changing. West Virginia is in the Big 12. It doesn't make sense to me. I was raised when everything was regional. Those barriers are kind of breaking down.''
Indeed, they are, and there's sure to be plenty of interest in the developments from the Big Ten, the conference that started it all by adding independent Penn State in 1990. Nebraska made it 12 teams in the Big Ten by leaving the Big 12 in 2011, and Rutgers (formerly of the Big East, then American Athletic Conference) and Maryland (formerly of the Atlantic Coast Conference) made it 14 in 2014.
Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren on Thursday mainly took a wait-and-see approach to the Texas and Oklahoma news, calling the changing times "an inflection point in college athletics.''
"We're always constantly evaluating what's in the best interests of the conference,'' Warren said. "It will be interesting to see how that story … evolves and where it lands, but I think that reiterates where we are in college athletics.''
To help navigate these changes, Warren hired former Wisconsin coach and athletic director Barry Alvarez to be a special adviser on football.
In his 23rd season at Iowa, Kirk Ferentz is the dean of Big Ten coaches. He's seen the changes in conference alignment, but they haven't fazed him.
"At this point, nothing would surprise me,'' Ferentz said. "It was reading that there might be a pretty hefty penalty for leaving, too, so that might be a deterrent [reportedly upwards of $80 million if they leave before 2025]. … But I don't know what's on the other end, either. Those are decisions way above me."
Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst considered the developments eye-opening and is eager to see how the Big Ten and other conferences proceed.
"To say that's newsworthy, boy, that's a bit of an understatement,'' he said. "How it's going to impact us? I don't know. Is it just that, or is it going to create more? To me, it poses as many new questions as it does old. You start thinking through it, and it's, 'OK, I better just focus on the things you can do something about.' ''
In its last expansion, the Big Ten added the TV markets of the Baltimore/Washington and New York areas. Landing markets of that size might be difficult to match. But Kansas and Iowa State are both members of the Association of American Universities, which was a critical piece in recent Big Ten expansion choices.
"Certainly, it'll be interesting to see what happens and what comes off it, too,'' Chryst said.
Wisconsin tight end Jake Ferguson, the grandson of Alvarez, has been around college football all his life, and the latest developments wowed him.
"It's crazy,'' Ferguson said. "College football is changing almost every day.''