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College sports calm for now

What had been shaping up as a tumultuous, regretful week for college athletics is passing without major incident. Tom Izzo, the Michigan State basketball coach who imparts John Wooden-like influence upon his players, rejected an offer from the Cleveland Cavaliers. And the Big 12 Conference, anchored by Texas, will remain intact despite attempts by the Pac-10 to create an unmatched megaleague.

Izzo thought long and hard about making the jump to the Cavs. He's 55 years old. Cleveland's offer of $30 million over five years would have doubled his Michigan State salary. If ego gratification and riches atop riches were his primary motivations, Izzo would have made the move in an instant. But Izzo has the benefit of age and experience, the parents of perspective. He can get by just fine in his present circumstances.

Maybe Izzo would have felt differently had LeBron James pledged his allegiance to the Cavs and removed himself from the free-agent market. There are widespread reports Izzo put in a phone call or two to the King, but LeBron remained true to his vow to distance himself from the coaching search and never made contact. Izzo declared himself a Michigan State "lifer" in staying at the school he's guided to the Final Four six times in the last 12 years. The college game will be better with his presence.

Money may have had no ultimate influence on Izzo, but the grab for cash had been the unabashed motivation behind the anticipated upheaval at the upper echelon of college athletics. Projections were that Nebraska's jump from the Big 12 to the Big Ten and Colorado's switch from the Big 12 to the Pac-10 would set off a chain reaction resulting in the formation of three or four super conferences while dissolving, or severely debilitating, the Big 12 and the Big East.

Texas was the major target because of its saturated presence within the country's second-most populous state. Such loyalty translates into TV viewers, negotiating power and dollars as the major conferences strive to create or expand their own TV networks.

The Longhorns were faced with numerous considerations, including political pressure within the state for Texas to also accommodate Big 12 brethren Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor. But the main issue was maximizing the revenue stream, which the Longhorns were able to do with assistance from some of the Big 12's lesser members.

Five schools -- Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor and Missouri -- acknowledged the clout of the others by agreeing to forego a share of the $35 million in exit penalties being paid by Nebraska and Colorado. The Longhorns also received certain annual financial guarantees, some of which will be realized through the creation of the university's own cable television network.

It's doubtful all this will be enough to keep the Big 12 intact over the long term. Down to 10 members, the conference no longer meets NCAA qualifications to hold a football title game, a major revenue producer that could become a necessity as the Big Ten, Pac-10, SEC and ACC weigh the extreme financial benefits of an exclusive playoff system.

The evolution of college athletics will continue, for better or worse. Coaches will leave programs to enhance their salaries. Major conferences will continue to strive for revenue-enhancing expansion. But if only for a week a major upheaval has been averted.


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