The Big Ten, with all its money and power, is threatening the collegiate landscape like a mob boss.
Regarding potential conference expansion by one of the nation's superpowers, there are really only two choices: They can do this the easy way, or they can do it the hard way.
The simple plan could eliminate some of the headaches that plague the current football postseason. The difficult route could change everything we've come to know and love about college sports.
Perhaps this is an oversimplification of the complicated dynamics of the Big Ten's expansion discussions, but with the myriad options being bandied about, it's a good place to start.
The most appealing prospect would be for the Big Ten to increase its membership from 11 to 12 without raiding another major conference in the process. The only way to do this would be by securing uber-independent Notre Dame. It's a natural regional and competitive fit that would alleviate some of the bowl complications while allowing for divisional play and a lucrative conference championship football game.
The whole thing could be wrapped up in a simple, tidy package that might even inspire the Pac-10 to respond in kind and expand to 12 by adding some combination of Utah, BYU or Boise State.
Maybe in time the Big East could expand its own portfolio to 12; and the Mountain West, Western Athletic, Conference USA and Sun Belt could form some kind of mergers to build eight major football conferences that essentially would create a de facto playoff system.
Everybody wins, right?
Chances are, however, that the Big Ten won't make it easy on everybody. Why start now?
The big rumor circulating is that it is considering some hostile takeover of other affiliated programs to create a massive 14- or 16-team super conference. The ramifications of such a move would create a domino effect that would completely realign the collegiate map.
Even a peer such as the Southeastern Conference would have to rethink its parameters, while an established entity such as the Atlantic Coast Conference might not be safe from the marauding it inflicted on its neighbors seven years ago.
"Given the success the SEC has experienced during the past decade, we are very comfortable with the position in which we find ourselves," commissioner Mike Slive said. "Having said that, if there is a significant shift in the conference paradigm, the SEC will be proactive to maintain its position as one of the nation's premier conferences."
The ACC, which could be in grave peril if the SEC starts eyeing some of its members, is similarly on high alert to whatever the Big Ten does.
"I think we're very happy where we are as 12 and very happy with the 12 that we have," ACC commissioner John Swofford told the Orlando Sentinel recently. "But at the same time, I don't think any conference would be doing its due diligence if you stuck your head in the sand, so to speak. And we will not do that. We will be very aware and conscious of what's going on around us and what the potentialities may be in terms of changes. And see what transpires over the next six months or so."
The Big Ten might extend its tentacles across a massive area, with rumored pledges coming from the Big East (Pitt, Rutgers, Connecticut and Syracuse) and Big 12 (Missouri, Nebraska, Texas and Texas A&M). Should any combination of those programs join a 16-team Big Ten, the musical chairs will start filling in fast and furious.
Maybe the SEC woos ACC stalwarts Florida State, Clemson, Miami, Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech into its fold or casts a line to the Big East's Louisville or Big 12's Texas or Oklahoma.
The Big East and ACC could be decimated and forced to merge into its own super-conference of relative castaways.
On the other side of the Mississippi River, the Big 12, Pac-10, WAC and Mountain West would be scrambling to forge their own super-alliances to keep up with the mob chieftains in the Big Ten and SEC.
What we essentially might be left with is a college landscape ruled by four or five families, creating a disparity over those left out that makes the current situation seem like parity.
Maybe that's just the way the world is going and we'll all have to accept it.
Tradition doesn't count for much anymore. The ACC initiated some of this mess with its predatory expansion blueprint. It might serve the conference right if it tasted its own medicine.
We should hope the Big Ten won't detonate its atomic plan and will take the more conventional route. Adding Notre Dame would do us all a huge favor and set the stage for some sensible growth and realignment.
But be prepared. The college sports world might be unrecognizable five or six years from now. Nobody is safe in a seismic shift of the landscape.