Sunday, June 24, 2007



As the dog days of summer roll around, we're firmly lodged in the part of the year filled with nothing but rampant speculation and "What If?" scenarios. One of the things that comes up from time to time is the subject of Big Ten expansion. It's a more prominent topic than usual this year after the way last season's SEC championship game was such a blatant Gary Danielson tongue-bath showcase for Florida, likely putting them in the title game after USC stumbled and Michigan was left idle. Expanding the Big Ten to twelve teams would give the league a final opportunity to put eyeballs on their teams. Of course, there's always the little matter of who and how to clear up, which is where we come in. We'll take a look at some scenarios for Big Ten expansion.

Staring at a white sheet of paper, with no idea who the twelfth team would be, I'd divide the conference up like this:

Vaguely West Sorta East
MichiganOhio State
WisconsinPenn State
Michigan State Illinois

I'd allow each team to protect one cross-divisional game so that it would always appear on the schedule. That would allow Michigan/OSU to remain fixed on the schedule while making the divisions less lopsided (And nobody would be able to duck both Michigan and OSU anymore). Michigan State would lose their yearly showdown with the Buckeyes, but they could preserve their "rivalry" with Penn State (as represented by the Land Grant Trophy). All the other rivalries are taken care of, with the Wisconsin-Iowa-Minnesota cluster all in the West, Michigan and MSU in the same division, and the Purdue-Indiana-Illinois-Northwestern chain in the East.

The divisions aren't perfectly even in terms of difficulty, but the constraints of rivalry and distance don't appear (to me, at least) to offer any easier alternatives. It also has the benefit of being at least reasonable for both football and basketball, which is something to consider. Now let's start fiddling with candidates to fill that slot. Something further to note is that any school joining the Big Ten must also join the Committee on Insitutional Cooperation, the Big Ten's academic analog, and the standards to meet there aren't easy. The CIC is focused on research universities and member institutions hand out 15% of all PhD's awarded nationally.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame is probably the best fit for the Big Ten, much as it pains me to admit it. They're strong in football and basketball, they're another hockey program, and they've got scads of money. It isn't easy to slot them into the divisional format, however, as they have ties on both sides of the divisional ledger, no matter how you choose to split things. If push came to shove, however, I'd imagine they'd choose to join the West, keeping the rivalries with Michigan and MSU intact, while protecting the cross-divisional game against Purdue.

Notre Dame in the Big Ten makes us, hands down, the most powerful conference in the nation. The downside here is that suddenly the West is a hideously difficult division to come through unscathed. The SEC East looks over the wall and thinks, "Dude, that's rough." Ohio State would love this arrangement.

In the end, this is never going to happen. Notre Dame keeps raking in money from their NBC contract and their BCS losses, so they have no incentive to join the conference for a considerable time to come, and joining the Big Ten would likely hamper their attempts to recruit on a national basis.

The Big East

As established by the ACC, the Big East is a willing source if you're looking to raid a major conference. It's allegedly on the rise, based on the performances last season by Louisville, Rutgers, and West F'in' Virginia, but they still lag far behind the other BCS conferences. It's still primarily a basketball conference, with football decidedly being the weak sister there, so schools that are serious about contending would likely be willing to consider a move. If any Big East team joined the Big Ten, I'd move Northwestern back into the West division and just let them protect the Illinois game.

Syracuse – It fits the academic profile of the Big Ten and it's had a decent football program in the past. Facilities have gotten run-down and they've lost recruits because of it, but they've begun re-investing. They're a basketball powerhouse, and would likely make the already very competitive Big Ten East even better.

Why It Won't Happen – Jim Boeheim was one of the architects of the Big East. They'll leave over his dead body. For another matter, Syracuse is in the middle of nowhere. Travel time and costs for non-revenue sports would be significant.

West F'in' Virginia – An established team both in football and basketball, the 'Eers have a dedicated fanbase. Morgantown isn't that far away from most of the teams in the theoretical Big Ten East, and the football team would certainly shore up their division.

Why It Won't Happen – WFVU doesn't really fit with the academic outlook much of the Big Ten shares. Even Ohio State has been investing heavily in raising its academic profile, and it's borne fruit. Not to mention the reputation WFVU's fans have as couch-burning firebugs. Again, we already have OSU and Michigan State. DO NOT WANT. Then there's the matter of Bob Huggins coming home to coach the basketball team, which is its own disaster waiting to happen.

Pitt – The Pitt Panthers haven't done much to speak of on the football field recently, as the Wannstache has yet to work any magicks at Heinz Field, but they did make the Fiesta Bowl a few years ago with Larry Fitzgerald. On the basketball court, however, they've been among the elite teams in the Big East and of the nation. They're worthy academically and located well within the Big Ten's current geographic footprint.

Why It Won't Happen – There's a lot of bad blood between Pitt and Penn State, specifically with Joe Paterno. Pitt and PSU are/used to be rivals in football, but the series hasn't been played since 2000, each side citing a different reason for its cessation. The bottom line is that Penn State wants two home games for every one away at Pitt, and the Panthers aren't going to take that deal. Pitt also has trouble filling Heinz Field, drawing only an average crowd of 40,000 (The only worse Big Ten figures belong to Indiana and Northwestern). I'd imagine it would improve with Michigan, MSU, PSU, and OSU within easy driving distance, but it could be another impediment.

Louisville – A program on a steep rise in football and a basketball power, Louisville has shown a willingness to make the conference leap before, as they've only been a Big East team for one year. If not for a painful loss at Rutgers, they would've been in the conversation for the BCS national championship game. Louisville is south of the current Big Ten, but it's not that far from most of the teams.

Why It Won't Happen – Louisville's football prominence is way too new for the Big Ten's taste. It's quite unlikely that administrators would be that distracted by the new shiny thing.

Other Options

Iowa State – The other Iowa D-1A school, they'd fit in at the bottom of my theoretical West and they're already a major-conference school.

Why It Won't Happen – ISU's athletic department has an operating budget HALF the size of Iowa's and they're a perpetual Big XII bottom-feeder. We already have an Indiana, Ames is not easy to get to, and they aren't academically compatible.

Miami University – It gives the Big Ten an Ohio-based rival for Ohio State, it's another hockey school, and it fits very well with the academic profile of the Big Ten.

Why It Won't Happen – They have an itsy-bitsy li'l football stadium that only seats 30,000. Maybe they'd grow into a 50,000-seater, but that's a bit of a stretch to make, and Oxford is in the middle of nowhere. The academics are nice, but we already have a Northwestern.


Coelacanth said...

A couple of points...

First and most obviously, you left off a couple of schools that are most frequently mentioned for expansion; viz. Missouri and Nebraska. Both are competitive in the major sports, would push the geographic envelope in a desirable way, and are at least within spitting distance academically. They make a lot more sense than Syracuse or Miami (OH).

Another school I hear mentioned a lot is Rutgers, but that makes no sense to me for any reason.

I think it's a safe bet that Iowa State would expand their athletics budget if they were to join the Big Ten. Your definition of "hard to get to" must be different than mine; Ames is less than an hour's drive from a semi-major airport, which is a lot more than you can say for Bloomington, Urbana-Champaign, or University Park. It also has 3 Big Ten schools within about a 3 hour drive; of the current teams, maybe only Purdue and Northwestern can claim that.

All of this, of course, is moot. There is no reason for the conference to expand. The league has been on the "two teams to the BCS almost every year" gravy train for awhile now, and a divsisions-plus-championship-game format greatly reduces the chances of that happening.

I say status quo with a couple of tweaks: (1) go to a full double-RR schedule for basketball and eliminate the conference tournament; (2) adjust the who-misses-who algorithm in football to account for recent performance. Each team's noplays should include one strong and one weak team; nobody should miss both Michigan and OSU as Iowa does this year and Purdue did last year.

Jeff said...

I think it would be easiest to divide it up North-South. This keeps a lot of the same rivalries (especially with one cross-divisional rivalry) and can be made somewhat competitive. See this google map

For example, with Notre Dame it would become the North:
Notre Dame

and the South:
Penn St

Jeff said...

The biggest problem with keeping the divisions fair after expansion is respecting the current hierarchy of teams. We have the juggernauts
Michigan, OSU, Wisconsin and Penn State. Pretty much it's guaranteed that 2 of these schools are going to be "national contenders" every year. Sometimes 3, as in this year.

Then we have the tough teams that nobody can take lightly, but just aren't quite as strong. These are Iowa, MSU, Minnesota, Purdue. And finally we have the three weakest teams, Northwestern, Illinois and Indiana.

If we add a school into the first category then it is virtually impossible to fairly divide it. The third category has only 3 teams so it would be easy to make even divisions in that scenario, but why would we add another patsy to the conference. That is not a good idea. The best possible scenario is to add somebody that is strong but not a superpower. This would be Pitt, Louisville, WVA probably? I would say Iowa St and Missouri are weaker and Notre Dame and Nebraska are stronger.

This is just in terms of splitting the conference into divisions. Obviously getting a superpower team will draw in more money and prestige to the Big Ten. How much money does the conference pay to each school? How close can we come to matching Notre Dame's current funding?

Anonymous said...

michigan has to be in the west. you can't put the "champions of the west" in the north division.

noelenergy said...

The Big Ten is in an enviable position-- a twelfth team would be nice but we don't really _need_ one. As someone pointed out, the Big 10 gets one or two BCS bids a year, not to mention we're all over the second tier bowls. In fact, there have been years when 6 teams Big 10 teams make bowl games.

So really, there's no reason for the Big 10 not to hold out for the best possible fit-- which would be Notre Dame. Athletically, academically, and size wise, Notre Dame is far and away the best candidate for Big 10 expansion. So we should wait until that happens, and if it doesn't happen, que sera sera.

And as for splitting the teams into divisions, I'd do it like this:

North Division. A: Mich., MSU, Minnesota

North Division B: OSU, Wisconsin, NW

South Division A: ND, Indiana, Iowa

South Division B: Penn St., Illinois, Purdue

Each team would play every team in its division every year, and the A and B groups from the other division in alternating years.

From a Michigan perspective, the main idea is to split up the four "superpowers" (UM, OSU, PSU, ND) but still have Michigan play OSU and MSU every year. This also would prevent anyone from "ducking" UM and OSU in the same year-- South schools would have to play one or the other, in addition to Notre Dame and Penn State.

It would mean only playing ND every other year, but I'm of the opinion that the OSU and MSU rivalries are more important anywway.

This also keeps all the Indiana schools in the same division. The only in state rivalry that gets split is Illinois/NW- and I doubt even diehard Illini and Wildcats care about that.

The obvious objection is that North is still the dominant division-- I would consider swapping Wisconsin and Purdue. The reason I kept it as it was to maintain some semblance of "North" and "South" and also because I thought UW/UMN should be a yearly thing.

This has the advantage of making schedules very easy to predict. Add a rotating Championship Game in Chicago, Detroit, Indy, and the Twin Cities, and maybe even the Frozen Tundra and we're in College Football Heaven.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you don't mention Missouri--after ND, they're probably the most-mentioned because adding both the KC and St. Louis TV markets means big money for the Big Televen.

However, I would be surprised to see Missouri leave because it would mean giving up a rivalry game with either Kansas (never gonna happen--they hate each other too much) or ISU. Plus, the Big 12 is then stuck with adding Colorado State, New Mexico State or some similar football also-ran so they would likely do whatever they could to hold on to Mizzou.

Joe said...

As an alum, I'd love to see Pitt make the jump so that Paterno couldn't continue to duck us. Also, the Big Ten is a much better academic fit for Pitt than the Big East is--Pitt is far and away the class of the conference academically among football-only schools. The only real downside would be losing the Brawl, but maybe that could be salvaged since there's no JoePa equivalent to block it.

Also, re the last comment, I'm confused as to why adding a football also-ran to the Big 12 to replace Missouri would be a change.

VP81955 said...

Of the three likely Big East candidates, Pittsburgh brings no new market, as it's already Penn State territory. Syracuse makes the most sense. SU has a far better athletic tradition and more national visibility than Rutgers, has many alumni and fans in metro New York City and would give the Big Ten a 33,000-seat basketball venue. The Orange could also revive its longtime rivalry with PSU.

Missouri is a possibility, but one wishes the Tigers' athletic program was a bit more robust after its recent problems -- and that there were more TV viewers in between Kansas City and St. Louis.

A darkhorse candidate might be Maryland, which is contiguous to Pennsylvania and can deliver plenty of TV eyeballs in the Washington/Baltimore market. Since 2001, the Terrapins have played in a major bowl and won national titles in men's and women's basketball and men's soccer. While the Terps may be happy in the ACC, the allure of Big Ten football could be a tantalizing prospect, and could jumpstart plans to expand Byrd Stadium to 60-65.000 seats (it's currently about 51,000). Academically, the Big Ten might also be perceived as a step up for College Park. If the move was financially feasible, I would at least consider it if I were Debbie Yow (athletic director) and Charles Mote (president).