Thursday, March 04, 2010

 

Big Ten Expansion

How bold will the conference be?

The Big Ten has announced that it is once again considering expansion. And it may not stop at 12 schools.

Much of the speculation I've seen in national media assumes that the Big Ten is considering adding an eastern school as its 12th member, with an eye on the New York/Boston metropolitan media markets. Local media speculation has centered on Rutgers and Connecticut for the above mentioned reason, Texas, with an eye on the size of its population for the Big Ten Network, and Notre Dame, with an eye on its national profile.

Leaving aside other considerations for the moment, as football is such an important consideration (second/third most important) in any expansion, the Big Ten won't be adding an eastern school. There is a reason no school northeast of Happy Valley regularly draws crowds of even 50k. Big Ten membership could change that but Syracuse excepted, probably wouldn't. As for Rutgers, their football program has had success of late but it has a dismal history. Besides, conference schools recruit heavily in NJ. Why would they want to develop a competitor?

As explained by FrankTheTank, Texas and Notre Dame are the two schools that make the most sense. Notre Dame rejected Big Ten membership ten years ago, and the impression I have from talking to ND alumni and fans and reading discussion boards is that nothing has changed. They treasure independence and want nothing to do with conference affiliation for football, believing (erroneously) that it isn't required to again be consistent national title contenders. Unless the ND administration wants to make an unpopular but profitable academic/business decision, ND won't join the Big Ten, even if its now or never, which it probably is.

As FrankTheTank explains, Texas is the best candidate for Big Ten membership. They inquired about Big Ten membership just after the implosion of the SWC, so there is definitely some interest. But does it make sense for Texas to be the twelfth Big Ten school? I certainly don't think so and Big Ten officials have said that multiple schools are being considered. FrankTheTank speculates on which schools the conference hired a consultant to evaluate.

Since they last expanded, Big Ten officials have consistently maintained that they may not stop at twelve members. To admit Texas, the conference probably will be required to admit Texas A&M as well. For balance, this will require a fourteenth school. But why not 16? Especially if a school's current academic standing is not the top consideration for conference officials. Horninexile speculates that lobbying power for federal R&D dollars may be the top concern for the conference. As for Texas:
However, an expansion of the Big 10 to include 14 universities would not necessarily be good for Powers’ legacy if it devolves into a 12+2 mentality. If Texas is to join the Big 10, it will be in Texas’ interests to see the nexus of Big 10 markets gravitate westward. If Texas and A&M are in the expansion, the 14th university needs to be Missouri, not Pittsburgh or Syracuse or Rutgers. An even better scenario would involve adding Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri along with Texas and A&M to form a Big 10 superconference.

Wouldn’t this dilute the TV money pool for Texas and the legacy Big 10 universities? Perhaps, although one could argue that the national brands of Nebraska and Kansas in football and basketball, respectively, would only add to the marketing power of the new conference. But more importantly, Kansas and Nebraska have the kind of leaders, Bernadette Gray-Little and Harvey Perlman, that are Big 10 worthy and capable of taking full advantage of the R&D collaboration opportunities.

With $8 billion of R&D expenditures between seventeen universities (counting the University of Chicago), the new CIC could embark on a campaign to grow its collective market share of federal R&D investments in a manner that will make TV revenues a mere cherry on top of a very satisfying sundae. That, my friends, is how a university president can change the world as we know it.
Indeed it would. And I do believe that the Big Ten is thinking about something along these lines.

What would the divisional alignment be for football? Horninexile:
For example, let’s say that the Big 10 West is comprised of Texas, A&M, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Northwestern. All eight are in the central time zone. The football schedule has seven intra-division games every year, two inter-division games and three non-conference games. The two inter-division games would be rotated among the eight Big 10 East schools (Michigan, tOSU, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Penn State) such that you play every team once every four years. That’s one trip to Happy Valley, the Shoe and the Big House every eight years – not bad.
Except for the fact that nine conference games per school probably wouldn't work -- it has to be an even number, likely 10 -- this makes sense. Seven games against divisional opponents and three against opponents from the opposite division per year is not perfect as it allows for only one/two non conference games per year, but it might work. As a Big Ten football fan, I'd love it.

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