Let's take a trip down Hypothetical Lane.
Say an eastern all-sports conference would have been formed in the early-1980s, when Joe Paterno embarked unsuccessfully on the project.
Along with Penn State, the initial group under consideration included Pittsburgh, Syracuse, West Virginia, Boston College, Rutgers and Temple.
Paterno thought Miami might have been interested, and he has often mentioned Maryland as well.
Had that league launched 30 years ago, what would it look like today? Would Miami and Maryland be in it? How about the Virginia schools (UVA and Virginia Tech)? And how great would the PSU-Pitt rivalry be now?
Would the Big East basketball conference ultimately joined or merged, perhaps in another division, to form a super eastern conference?
What kind of leadership would it have had? Would JoePa, a driving force initially, delegated power or been content to run it himself? Would he have stayed in coaching this long? (We probably know the answer to that one).
Would Penn State have dominated? The Nittany Lions, at that point, pretty much had their way against every member of the east excluding parts of the Johnny Majors-Jackie Sherrill eras at Pitt which managed three wins (1976, '79 and '80) over a five-year period before the Nittany Lions re-asserted themselves.
PSU's move into the Big Ten, announced in 1990, created a ripple effort throughout college sports, particularly in the east. Miami joined the Big East. Virginia Tech jumped to the Big East and then bolted to the ACC. Arkansas joined the SEC. BC joined the ACC. Syracuse almost did. Florida State joined the ACC, followed by Miami.
With mega-conferences forming, in part to stage championship football games and now the Big Ten expanding, how would a Penn State team in an eastern league be viewed today?
Surely, the Nittany Lions' football tradition and facilities and eastern drawing power would have enticed the Big Ten and its widespread marketing vision.
Under that scenario, it's quite possible that the Nittany Lions could have found themselves being wooed by the Big Ten and thus having their loyalty tested.
How could they leave a league they helped start?
Then again, Syracuse helped start the Big East, and it's looking more and more like the Orange - like Pitt and like Rutgers and like UConn - will jump immediately in the event a Big Ten invitation is mailed. They'll have no choice because, with respect to their conference brothers, no one can afford to risk watching this financial ship sail without them.
Or had PSU been comfortable in the east, would the Big Ten, in addition to its constant courtship of Notre Dame, have just looked westward at the likes of Missouri and Nebraska?
Would a Big East with Penn State be as lucrative as a Big Ten with Penn State?
Penn State would seem to be better positioned for the future where it is right now.
We don't know what the last 25-plus years of Penn State in an eastern conference would have wrought, but it's doubtful it would have provided as much stability - and competition - as the Big Ten.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.