This is fun stuff.
For those of you unaware, the Big Ten Conference has already announced its intentions to “explore the possibility” of expanding conference membership to 12, 14, or possibly even 16 teams. An advisory board has been hired and is exploring several possibilities (i.e. schools that could possibly be a good fit in the Big Ten.)
That’s really all we know right now. It seems like there are different pieces of “information” leaking out every day with regards to the new additions to the conference. Over a month ago, Pitt was supposedly a done deal, a couple weeks later it was on good authority that UConn was in, and recently there have been rumblings that Nebraska, Missouri, Rutgers, and Notre Dame were all extended offers, and that three of the four (with, you guessed it, Notre Dame being the holdout) were virtual locks to accept.
At this stage, however, nothing is definite. While I’m of the opinion that the latter rumor is more likely to be accurate (as will be explained later), I’m also of the opinion that Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany would kill anybody who leaked anything about expansion. Still, the rumors and speculation are a big part of the fun.
The rumors and speculation go beyond the Big Ten, however. The prevailing wisdom is that if (or when) the Big Ten expands, other conferences will follow suit. Already the Pac 10 has announced a plan that mirrors the Big Ten expansion plan. It is also thought that the Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference will follow suit, creating four “superconferences” that will dominate the NCAA landscape even more than the current “BCS” conferences.
This leads to one final part of the fun: the panicking and paranoia of schools that will find themselves without a “superconference” to call home, and the panicking and paranoia of conferences that may very well cease to exist (or, at the very least, be completely mutilated) as the result of expansion. Perhaps the best example of a school that figures to be in limbo is Iowa State, which resides in the Big 12, one of the two conferences likely to be decimated by expansion (the Big East being the other.) Iowa State, while a fine institution, offers nothing to the Big Ten and is unlikely to be accepted by any proposed “superconference.” And with the expanded conferences picking off other Big 12 members (Missouri and Nebraska to the Big Ten, Colorado to the Pac 10, and maybe Texas and Texas A&M to the SEC), the Big 12 is suddenly a conference with very little relevance, especially if something were to happen and Kansas left as well. The same thing could happen to the Big East; the Big East equivalent to Iowa State could be Cincinnati, for example.
So, as can be seen, there’s a lot to consider here. It is becoming increasingly obvious, however, that an expansion to 14 or especially 16 teams by the Big Ten would create a domino effect that would change the NCAA landscape as we currently know it. As a Big Ten guy, my feelings are mixed. It is an exciting time, and the process is interesting. More importantly to me (personally), it will create hordes of extra revenue for the schools which increases the chance of Illinois actually firing Ron Zook. However, part of me also thinks that it’s just too much – it’s almost overkill, if you will, and the tradition of the Big Ten Conference would be hurt somewhat by inviting schools that don’t quite meet Big Ten standards. It’s also becoming apparent to me that such expansion is an unavoidable reality, and that it’s probably going to happen sooner rather than later. That’s why I expect the Big Ten to expand all the way to 16.
So with all that said, I’m now going to attempt to handicap the potential expansion targets. I have divided the potential teams into five categories and assigned a percentage chance of them joining next to each. The categories are: “front-runners,” “in the mix,” “long-shots,” “dark horses,” and the “wild card.” Needless to say, this is all baseless speculation on my part.
University of Missouri (85% chance): fits geographically, solid enough academically, and most importantly, Missouri (as a state) would bring in lots of revenue via new Big Ten Network contracts. As a bonus, both the football and basketball programs are solid.
University of Nebraska (80% chance): much like Missouri, albeit without the population advantages. Still, it is in sound standing academically, and the football program is one of the more storied programs in the country.
Rutgers University (80% chance): has one big thing going for it – the New York City and New Jersey market. While NYC is by no means a “Rutgers town,” enough attention is paid to it where the Big Ten believes its Big Ten Network should be able to penetrate the aforementioned market(s). It’s a fine fit academically too and not terrible geographically, however the athletic programs leave a lot to be desired.
In the Mix:
Syracuse University (55% chance): would help consolidate the NYC market, assuming Rutgers was added as well. The football program is mediocre at best, which detracts its possibility. Everything else fits, however. Syracuse is about as Big East as it gets, however, and one would wonder if that would play a factor into its decision.
University of Pittsburgh (50% chance): is basically the anti-Rutgers. If money and television markets were not an issue, Pitt would likely be in – it’s top-notch academically, fits geographically, and has very good revenue-generating sports. The only problem is that the state of Pennsylvania is already served by the Big Ten Network, due to Penn State, and thus, there is not as much money to be made by a Pitt inclusion. I believe Pitt’s status is dependent on Notre Dame – if Notre Dame accepts, Pitt is out; if it declines, Pitt is in.
University of Texas (10% chance): is the dream candidate for many Big Ten expansion proponents. The only thing that doesn’t fit is geography, which seems minor to some, but I believe the Big Ten would like to be contiguous, which easily eliminates Texas.
Texas A&M University (10% chance): see Texas above. While not as important to the Big Ten as Texas, if Texas were to come, it’s hard to envision it coming without A&M.
University of Maryland (35% chance): surprisingly, hasn’t been discussed much. But it really makes a lot of sense to the Big Ten. It’s fine academically, has two big markets on which the Big Ten could capitalize on (Baltimore and Washington D.C.), is contiguous with Pennsylvania, and has solid revenue-generating athletics. It’s a mystery to me why this option hasn’t been discussed more.
Vanderbilt University (25% chance): Vanderbilt is an intriguing option. It most certainly meets the strict academic requirements of the Big Ten (and would probably jump at the opportunity to join the Big Ten and leave the academically lenient SEC), gives the Big Ten Network a new, respectably-sized market, and has solid revenue-generating programs. Again, the issue of geography comes up, although not near the extent of Texas. It’s not a school that is widely speculated about, but at least on paper, its a relevant option.
The Wild Card:
University of Notre Dame (51% chance): the absolute perfect expansion candidate for the Big Ten. The Big Ten has pursued Notre Dame in years past, only to be rejected time after time. Notre Dame’s unsurpassed national following would be a boon to the Big Ten Network, and its academics are also a perfect fit for the Big Ten, among other things. The hold-up has always been Notre Dame’s television deal with NBC, and this will be the case again. It’s a great deal for Notre Dame (the contract before the extension kicked in was worth $9M a year) and you can’t really blame them for hesitating to jump on another offer. However, it is my opinion that Notre Dame’s hand will be forced by the prospect of being left out of one of these “superconferences,” and thus, they will jump on the one that makes the most sense for them, which happens to be the Big Ten. As my percentage indicates, however, it could clearly go either way.
So with that said, my projections on a 16-team Big Ten would be: Missouri, Nebraska, Rutgers, Syracuse, and Notre Dame, with Pitt replacing Notre Dame if the Irish were to not accept. Will I be right? Unlikely at best. However, it’s a whole lot of fun to watch this unfold, and there’s a good chance that college conferences, as we now know them, will cease to exist.