A quick preliminary note: If the Big Ten becomes a twelve team conference, it should no longer be called the Big Ten. The Big North would be more appropriate, as would the better, yet redundant, Awesome Northern Conference of Awesomeness and Death (the ANCAD).
And now on to the important stuff:
I do not think that Notre Dame is likely to join the Big Ten. It is what the Big Ten wants the most, but because of Notre Dame's current financial situation, it is unlikely that they will be willing to make the move in the near future.
Instead, I think the most likely candidate is Pitt. They have geographic proximity, acceptable academics, competitive athletics, and a natural rival in Penn State. Now if Pitt were to join the
|From Big Ten + Pitt|
Geographically, there are two ways to separate the schools into divisions. The first is an East-West division and the second is a North-South division. Let's look at a straight East-West division first:
This system would be terrible. Like the Big 12, there is no competitive balance, with Michigan, OSU, and PSU in the same division. So instead, let's look at a North-South division:
This system is much better, with very good competitive balance in football and basketball, and rivalries are preserved. Allowing for one permanent inter-division game* per team, every major rivalry (and most minor rivalries) would be preserved. Michigan and Minnesota fans can rejoice at the Brown Jug becoming a yearly rivalry, while OSU and Illinois (well, OSU) can enjoy fighting over the Illibuck. In fact, out of the 14 rivalry games in the Big Ten, 12 would be played every year (with MSU-Indiana and Minnesota-Penn State being played only 4 years out of every 10, but honestly, who cares). Currently, only 10 are annual games. Additionally, Penn State benefits by getting Pitt every year.
The only real detriment here is that the Michigan-OSU game would have to be moved from the final week of the season, in order to avoid a potential (and often likely) rematch in the conference championship. A possible solution here would be to have Michigan and OSU open up conference play every year one week earlier than other teams. To elaborate, I would have all teams play three non-conference games to start off the year, then have Michigan play OSU while the rest of the teams either take a bye or play another non-conference game (obviously, there's room to maneuver here). Michigan would then close out with MSU (which would make MSU happy) and OSU would close out with Penn State (Pitt would still close with WVU in a non-conference game, so there's no real issue here). I think that opening conference play with OSU could easily keep the game in the national spotlight.
I know that this model isn't exactly ideal, but I think it's a pretty good one considering the realities of the situation. Any thoughts?
*Permanent Inter-Division Games
Michigan State-Penn State
Note: I matched the last three games on the competitiveness of the teams more than anything else.