In a move that seemed borderline impossible just twenty four hours earlier, the remaining members of the Big XII decided to spurn everybody and stay together as a ten member conference. Regardless of how this ended, one of the immediate questions was going to be, "Who won?"
The conference that is unquestionably happiest with the way things worked out is the SEC.
The SEC is the conference least interested in upsetting the current balance of power. The conference rakes in money, is featured weekly on ESPN, and is enjoying an unprecedented run of on field success. The Pac-16 move was an attempt by the Pac-10 and Big 12 South to level the playing field financially and stake their claim as the new "best conference in the land."
Whether or not the proposed conference would have challenged the SEC on the field, an era of sixteen team conferences with all the Big 12 powers off the table would undoubtedly have been a threat to the SEC. In that scenario, the SEC would likely be forced to try to cobble together a super-conference by raiding the ACC.
None of the current ACC members are great fits. They either bring little to the table financially (Georgia Tech and Clemson), would be opposed by current SEC rivals (FSU and possibly Clemson), come with unwanted baggage (Virginia Tech), or likely have little interest in moving (North Carolina).
Regardless of whether or not the SEC wanted 14 or 16 team conferences, Mike Slive was forced to react to prevent the Pac-16 from shutting off all expansion possibilities in the west. To his credit, it seems the conference recovered well enough to pull Texas A&M from the Pac-6 to the SEC. Whether or not this was the cause of the collapse, shortly after it became apparent A&M would strike on it's own rather than follow Texas, the Longhorns announced they wanted to keep the band together. The rest followed suit, though A&M was the last to commit.
With the Pac-16's demise before it ever got off the ground, here is my scorecard for this round of expansion:
Big Ten added Nebraska, presumably is done for now- Nebraska is undoubtedly a strong program and a good addition for the Big Ten. However, they now have twelve teams, which means they also have a conference championship game. It should become much more difficult for Big Ten teams to qualify for the BCS title game.
Pac-10 added Colorado and (presumably) will add Utah- Utah has had success since Urban Meyer arrived. Going to the Pac-10 should give them more legitimacy, but instead of beating up on middleweights, they will now fight in the
heavyweight cruiserweight division. Colorado might get enough money to fire their coach. The Pac-10's goliath was recently neutered, and they also should add a conference title game. The conference was better with the Pete Carroll Death Machine and nine other teams than it is today. To the Pac-10's credit, the world now knows their new commissioner is a man to watch.
II continues playing with ten teams- For all the jokes about the Big East, this is the true Zombie conference. People were writing obituaries, and it somehow rose from the grave. The conference lost one of its three best programs, and no one can expect the administration to fully trust each other right now. They may add BYU and TCU down the road.
Mountain West adds Boise State, presumably loses Utah- Without Utah, the Mountain West will not get a BCS bid. With all the non-AQ schools in the same conference, there is no longer a possibility of two undefeateds.
SEC- The SEC is Great Britain in the age of Great Powers. As long as the status quo is preserved and nobody else gains hegemony on the continent, the conference is happy. Should there be another round of expansion, Texas now knows A&M is prepared to go to the SEC. This may be enough to eventually pull the Longhorns into the SEC family. For now, it doesn't matter.
It does matter that by preventing the Pac-16, the SEC preserved its place atop the college football pecking order. The winner of this round of expansion is the conference that did nothing but knock over somebody else's sand castle: the Southeastern Conference. Expect Alabama to claim this as another national title shortly.