We’re not going to spend a lot of time on an introduction to College Football Expansion here; the basics are everywhere (including my previous post) and stuff seems to be changing quickly enough that a thorough re-hashing would probably be irrelevant by the time I hit the publish button.
Still, I wanted to take a stab at going through what I think Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany should (as opposed to will) do as the Big Ten becomes the Even Bigger Ten. But we’re going to let Kelly — you may know her as @aPSUmama — go first. I asked Kelly to help me with this because A) she’s smart B) she seems to have been paying even more attention to this stuff than I have and C) she is an honest-to-god college football freak, a quality I always admire.
The eleven-team Big Ten conference is looking to grow. As a Nittany Lion fan, this makes me very happy. I have always felt we were the odd team out being the 11th school in the Big Ten. We need at least one more team to start holding a conference championship game. Penn State has had to share the Big Ten title with the Buckeyes far too many times in the past few years for my liking, despite our defeating them head to head. The conference would also benefit financially from a championship game through television contracts and sponsors. Additionally, a conference championship would allow two of the teams headed to bowl games an additional week to the season. The Big Ten is notorious for its less-than-stellar bowl game record after ending each team’s regular season before Thanksgiving while their bowl opponents play into December. Spreading the reach of the Big Ten Network is always a plus as well.
For several months I suspected that the Big Ten would add just one team to form two 6-team divisions. And then it was speculated that perhaps they would add 3 teams, a pair from the Big East or a pair from the Big 12 plus Notre Dame. Now the PAC 10 is trying to absorb half of the Big 12 to become 16 teams strong and, really, that sounds like a nice model for the Big Ten, too. Sixteen teams might make it easier geographically to keep Michigan and Ohio State together in the same division, along with Penn State, to maintain the huge OSU-UM rivalry. (That is what OSU wants, isn’t it, Uncle Crappy?)
Editor’s note: Yes, ma’am. Pretty much more than anything.
So who will the lucky invitees be? They will be AAU (Association of American Universities) schools in the Midwest or just to the East. They will be Big Ten caliber teams and schools. Big state research universities. Big schools with storied football programs, huge fan bases and huge stadiums. They will look like Big Ten schools. They will look like Michigan, like Penn State, like Iowa and Ohio State, like Wisconsin and Michigan State. Schools that when you hear their names, you can smell college football season. This isn’t about basketball, this is about football. Football is the breadwinner for an athletic program. Basketball is just along for the ride. So who could be a Big Ten school?
Nebraska & Mizzou
As a Penn State fan, I would LOVE to see Nebraska join the Big Ten. Penn State and Nebraska have a great rivalry, and Penn State could finally have the true conference rival we have lacked. They stole our national championship from our fingertips during our first run to the Rose Bowl in 1994 and we’ve been exacting revenge in head to head games ever since, including an epic night game at Beaver Stadium when I was a student at University Park. Nebraska also fits into the conference nicely geographically. Is it a huge market for the Big Ten Network? Not really. It’s no New York market, but Nebraska football is huge nationally. Bring on the Cornhuskers! I confess to not knowing much about the Missouri Tigers beyond their impressive recent bowl performances, but I suspect they would be the B-side of an invitation to Nebraska. The Big 12 seems to think so as well, giving both schools the ultimatum to stay that may be their undoing as a conference.
Now this one is fishy. Penn State fans HATE Notre Dame. And not in the way we love to hate the Ohio State Buckeyes. We just plain and simple hate the Fighting Irish out of principle. The Lions and the Irish were the big independent schools for decades until Penn State started playing in the Big Ten in 1993. Should Notre Dame join? For their own benefit, yes, they definitely should. Their NBC contract won’t be around forever, and when it’s gone they’ll have very little to hang their fancy independent hat on. They can always fall back on the Big East, if it is still around in 2015 when the NBC contract ends. Will Notre Dame get an invitation? The talking heads seem to think so, but I actually question it. They aren’t a member of the AAU. They play basketball in the Big East. The Big Ten already has two schools in Indiana so it wouldn’t expand the Big Ten Network’s range. Yes, they have history and fancy prestige but that will only get you so far. I don’t want Notre Dame in the Big Ten. They’re too stuck up and stubborn. Do they really think they can sit on their independent pedestal, raking in the money, until the pretty girl asks them to the prom? I suspect there were a couple or ten teams that said this of Joe Paterno and his Lions in the 90s, though, so I should probably let that thought go. As an independent school, the Irish are the odd team in this discussion and if the Big Ten wants to add 3 or 5 schools, Notre Dame is probably the most logical single addition to round out the conference.
Rutgers & Syracuse
I’m putting these two schools together because they provide the New York market that would be great for the Big Ten, and built-in historic rivals for Penn State. I think Rutgers would be a better fit if I had my choice between the two. I have a feeling they will join as a tag team, though I think only Rutgers really belongs in the Big Ten. Rutgers is New Jersey’s state university. Nearly all other Big Ten schools are big statewide universities. Rutgers would fit right in. Syracuse? Not quite a perfect match but geographically, but they give the Big Ten the sprawl they seem to want. Syracuse, to me, is more like Pitt in that they are a basketball powerhouse with a football team. That makes them Big East through and through and they can stay there. Some believe they were the killing vote that kept Penn State out of the Big East. Sure, there is a rivalry between the Orange and the Blue & White but I could do without them.
Maybe it’s my life-long anti-Panther bias talking, but I really can’t comprehend how Pitt gets on any short list to join the Big Ten. I really think the only people who believe the Big Ten will invite Pitt is Pitt. It isn’t an additional television market as there are more Penn State alumni in Western PA than Pitt alumni. It isn’t a comparable school in size of student body by any stretch. They just aren’t Big Ten caliber. Yes, academically Pittsburgh is part of the AAU, but that’s the end of the similarities. Would it be great to bring back an annual PSU-Pitt game? Sure. But what benefit is that to the other 10 teams? None. Pitt just isn’t big enough to get a chair at the Big Ten table, but they will have a prime seat at the kids’ table to watch the Big East fall down around them.
If there hadn’t been a short list for Big Ten additions in every college football blog post for the past six months, I would have figured West Virgina would have been a choice because they fit the mould well, and they could resurrect the rivalry with Penn State. Maryland gets an occasional mention, but rivalry or not, that’s not very important to this Penn State fan. The best Maryland high school players end up on Joe Paterno’s roster already, anyway. Virginia Tech, perhaps, but unlikely because they are nice and comfortable in the ACC after they snuck away from the Big East a few years ago. Kentucky borders a few Big Ten states geographically but the Wildcats are fine and dandy in the SEC. Texas got a few mentions in recent weeks, and in recent years any time expansion talks smolder, but they claim to be happy in the Big 12 – provided it is still standing next season – and they are really too far south for the Big Ten. This is a Midwest conference. Texas doesn’t fit that quite as well as others do. Sure, I’d love for Penn State to play the Longhorns every year, but it isn’t going to happen.
Dividing the Land
Assuming the additions are one of the two following short lists of 3, here are two example geographic divides that I think could work very well.
If the Big Ten invites Nebraska, Mizzou and Notre Dame the 14 teams would split as such:
- Big Ten East: Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Indiana & Purdue
- Big Ten West: Northwestern, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska & Missouri
If expansion heads east to New York instead, to add Syracuse and Rutgers with Notre Dame, this split is probable:
- Big Ten East: Rutgers, Syracuse, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame
- Big Ten West: Indiana, Purdue, Northwestern, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa
Looking at those arrangements, at first glance the East would almost always dominate, but the addition of Nebraska and Mizzou would shake up the West rather nicely. And if the expansion goes the other way, there’s still the recently resurgent Iowa and Ron Zook’s up-and-coming Illini. Iowa has brought Penn State so much grief of late and as much as I’d like them to, I don’t see the Hawkeyes going away any time soon.
The Big Ten had set a date for expansion after the 2010 season, but a the Big 12 couldn’t wait that long. The Big Ten stands to benefit greatly from the current Big 12 & PAC-10 drama. The Big 12 made a terrible mistake by threatening Nebraska and Missouri. At this time an invitation to Cornhuskers to be the Big Ten’s twelfth team sounds all but signed and sealed. The Big Ten doesn’t need to stress greatly over whom else to invite now. They can sit back and watch the Big 12 dissolve, and have their pick of the litter. The Big 12 debacle might eliminate Notre Dame from contention entirely. They waited too long, and now the door may slam in their faces. I don’t know about other Penn State fans, but I will laugh all day long if that occurs.
I think the actions of the Big 12 really leave the Big East high and dry for the time being. The only chance any Big East teams have to escape their crumbling football conference now is a 16-team Big Ten and a lifeboat for the remainders into the ACC. A five-team expansion would likely take a few years to occur. The possibilities are many for the 15th and 16th teams but they would most likely be from the Big East, all but securing that conference’s demise. How ironic it is that an expansion of the Big Ten could destroy the Big East when the conference built itself in the early eighties by snubbing Joe Paterno’s idea of an East Coast conference and then denied Penn State’s application to join them. A few years later Penn State joined up with the Big Ten instead, a much older, much more powerful football conference that was a better fit academically for the Blue & White anyway. You should’ve respected Joe and his Nittany Lions, Big East. It may cost you dearly. Karma is cool like that.
Welcome to the new Big Ten, Nebraska Cornhuskers. It will be nice to have you along. I look forward to seeing who follows you. Let’s go, PSU!
Thanks, Kelly. Now it’s Uncle Crappy’s turn.
What we think we know: Nebraska’s going to announce on Friday that it’s set to become the 12th member of the Big Ten.
A 12-team conference — and specifically, the addition of Nebraska as the 12th member — accomplishes just about everything Jim Delany set out to do:
- Expand to at least 12, to allow the conference to play a highly lucrative championship game.
- Add a school that fits the conference’s academic profile (large state school, research school, Association of American Universities member).
- Add a big-time football school.
- Expand the footprint of the Big Ten Network.
- Make money by the truckload.
Having accomplished all those things, the Big Ten could stop right here. But given that the Pac-10 is about to become the Pac-47 — and I can’t imagine that the SEC isn’t at least taking a look at their possibilities for poaching from the Big East — I think it would be a mistake to stop at 12.
Especially if the conference has a shot at the Big Prize. And I’ll get to that in a second.
My ideal Big Ten would be 14 teams and two seven-team divisions. Who are the other newcomers?
Syracuse. Big state school? Nope, but the state university system in New York is a little different, and ‘Cuse is as close as they get there. And while the football program has suffered recently, the tradition there is solid (A national title in 1959, 12-9-1 bowl record). They’re an AAU member (although recent news about their APR performance isn’t good). And, hello, New York TV market.
Rutgers. Yes, a big state school. Yes, a member of the AAU. Football tradition? Not exactly, unless you count them playing in the first-ever college football game. They’ve been good recently, and if they’re able to maintain that momentum, they’d be a good addition to the conference. And, hello, even better connection with the New York TV market.
One caveat: I would drop either one of these teams in a heartbeat should the Big Prize — you know, the one in South Bend — suddenly become available.
Notre Dame. The following things piss me off, but they’re all true. ND, and not Texas, is the real prize in the ongoing conference consolidation. Ohio State, Penn State, Texas, USC and a few others consistently draw solid TV ratings across the country, but none of those schools have a true national following. Notre Dame does. Their inclusion in the Big Ten is redundant geographically — Three teams in Indiana? Really? — but when you think about that national footprint, ND becomes much more attractive to a conference that’s trying to build its television network. ND’s not-so-recent football tradition is unmatched. And although it’s a private school and not a member of the AAU, ND’s academic reputation is solid, so no problems there. The folks in South Bend seem bent on remaining an independent, at least as far as football goes; that could change with massive consolidation and/or the destruction of the Big East, which could happen if the SEC thinks it’s being left out of the expansion fun. It’s a huge if, but if ND sees a danger in being shut out of the BCS, they might jump. If they do, the Big Ten should take them. Period.
Going on the assumption that ND is a long shot, I’d divide the conference like this:
East: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Syracuse.
West: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin.
(If the B10 can get ND, I’d drop Syracuse, put ND in the west and move Purdue to the east.)
We’d play a full round-robin in your division and a rotating schedule that includes three teams from the other division and room for three non-conference games. We’d preserve most of the conference’s geographic rivalries — including the two that are most important to me — and the addition of Nebraska in the west would add a lot more balance on that side of the conference, something I’ve been concerned about when I’ve written about this before. The divisional round-robin is important, so we’re certain we’re getting a true championship game; and playing three games against the other division means we’d still get to see those guys on a fairly regular basis. And believe me — I cannot wait to see Nebraska come play in Columbus.
I’m still kind of bummed out that all this is even necessary, but after everything that’s happened this week — and the stuff I suspect will happen in the next week or so — there is no question that this is the path the Big Ten must take. And the conference needs to do it now, so it’s negotiating from a strong position rather than picking up the pieces of the Big 12 or the Big East.