Conventional wisdom is that the primary driver of B10 expansion is BTN. BTN makes money both through cable subscriber fees and advertising. When considering the economics of expansion, most experts and casual observers have tended to gravitate to the candidates that bring entirely new media markets. This is probably because it is much easier to calculate the incremental cable subscriber fees that come with adding more TV Households than it is to estimate increased BTN advertising revenue via more games and higher ad rates. Similarly, the impact of expansion on non-BTN TV revenue through more lucrative TV deals with the likes of ABC/ESPN is often overlooked or underappreciated. As we have seen recently with the B12/P16 soap opera, the money generated from third party TV contracts can be as large or larger than what the B10 earns from BTN.
Marquee Games & Advertising
The fact that the B10 chose Nebraska for its 12th team is very telling. Effectively, the B10 chose a storied football program with a national name and appeal (i.e. a team whose games against UofM, OSU, PSU, Wisky are likely to be picked up by ABC/ESPN and have premium ratings) over schools with far superior local media markets (i.e. MO, RU, MD).
Nebraska's local media markets are, in fact, particularly poor. The Lincoln-Hastings DMA is ranked #105 with 0.3 million TV Households. In comparison, NY is #1 with 7.6 million, Chicago is #3 with 3.5 million, St. Louis is #21 with 1.2 million and Kansas City is #32 with 0.9 million. Additionally, Nebraska won out over MO in a pretty much head to head competition, despite the fact that MO potentially brought both St. Louis and Kansas City.
For months, Pitt has been consistently dismissed or its chances seriously downgraded because it would not bring any new markets. I admit I have been among this group of naysayers. But if the Nebraska selection says anything, it says that focusing too narrowly on a candidate's local media markets can quickly lead you to the wrong answer. A school's ability to consistently generate marquee games with above average ratings actually may be more valuable. Marquee games and ratings translate into better B10 TV contracts and higher advertsing dollars for BTN.
B10's Remaining Candidates
Of all the teams remaining on the B10's potential wish list, ND is clearly #1.* This is because of the cachet of the name, the geographical/cultural fit and the national appeal and TV ratings. Notice, again, ND brings no new local media markets. The question is who is #2?
When JoePa began bringing up B10 expansion again 18 or so months ago, he was actually talking about the need for the B10 to expand east. He also specifically mentioned three names -- Syracuse, RU and Pitt:
Add MD to the short-list and even MO, since both have been thrown around heavily as being in the mix. Nebraska was a phenomenal pick up, but it was opportunistic. The B10 has no compelling need to expand further into the Plains states. The East, on the other hand, has some of the largest media markets in the country along with fertile recruiting areas.
New Life for Pitt
Of the remaining short-list candidates (other than ND and TX), Pitt generates substantially higher average TV ratings than the others, only slightly less than Nebraska:
In this sense, Pitt looks a heck of a lot more like ND and Nebraska than do MO, Syracuse, RU or MD.
Pitt has always satisfied the academic requirements of the B10, has a financially secure athletic department and fits geographically and culturally (much better than either RU or MD). FWIW, it also brings a pretty good basketball team. Except for the ability to bring new local media markets, Pitt appears to be the best name on the board (yes, after ND and TX). In contrast, the other names on the board seem to be just the reverse, particularly RU and MO. The only thing they bring are new local media markets and, if Nebraska's selection over MO is a guide, that does not appear to be enough.
I am not saying the B10 is going to invite Pitt anytime soon (or ever) or that the B10 even will expand at all beyond 12. I am merely saying that Pitt looks alot more probable than it did two weeks ago. I can even see a scenario where the B10 invites Pitt as #13 in the next 12-24 months and tries to use that (along with the possibilty that Syracuse or RU could be next) to leverage ND into the #14 slot. I am not excited about megaconferences, but if we are going to end up there eventually I would prefer it be with ND and Pitt rather than MO and RU.
* Note: TX's recent flawless execution of the Texas "two-step" has put both the P10 and B10 on notice that TX would be among the most disruptive and high-risk additions to either conference. The P10 needs a team like TX much more than the B10, so maybe that door is still ajar; but I believe the B10 is done with any serious consideration of TX. At a minimum, it makes ND look like the much safer choice and ND doesn't come with several additional mouths to feed.