Big Ten Expansion: Pros and Cons

Submitted by Brian on July 27th, 2007 at 6:32 PM

Yesterday's FanHouse post on Big Ten expansion must have set a record for number of intelligent comments without someone who types in all caps interjecting his learned opinion. And it's an interesting subject, so let's expound.

The situation: the Des Moines Register talks to Jim Delaney and Kirk Ferentz; the subject of conference expansion comes up. Delaney points out that there is a powerful new motive to expand: the Big Ten Network. A new school provides that much more content for the channel to carry and, if it's in a place not currently a part of the network's footprint, that many more basic cable subscribers. Hopefully. Maybe. Probably not if it's Rutgers.

So, goal for expansion:

  • Maintain the CIC's high standards. The CIC is an academic consortium consisting of the Big Ten schools and the U of Chicago. It's a big deal to people, so any school admitted should have serious research going on in their grad schools and so forth and so on. Large public state schools are the preferred targets, although exceptions can be made.
  • Expand the geographical reach of the conference. This increases the core recruiting area for the conference, the number of eyeballs watching on television, and the amount of money flowing into the BTN's coffers.
  • Add interesting football teams.
  • Add interesting basketball teams.
  • Try to keep travel costs down by picking someone reasonably nearby.

And on with the contenders...

The Big East

Syracuse

PROs: An academic fit. Good basketball program. Adds upstate New York as a television market -- NYC won't care. Considering the addition of hockey. Football program has rich history.

CONs: Football program stuck in long-term malaise since departure of McNabb. Plays home games in snoozy dome named for maker of air conditioners. Sort of an awkward geographic fit, though it's a shorter distance to Syracuse than it is to Penn State from here if you use the wonder of Canada.

Verdict: A plan B school. It would bring in a decent-sized market that has few pro sports, but sexiness level is very low.

Rutgers

PROs: Also an academic fit. Better location than Syracuse; has the only program in the universe that could get New York City interested in college football even a little; even if it doesn't still brings in New Jersey. Provides a real rival for Penn State.

As potential world domination plans go, "conquer New York" is third only to capturing Notre Dame or audaciously (and mildly senselessly) picking off Texas from the Big Twelve.

CONs: Has been a total doormat for the enter non-Schiano existence of their program. Last year's Texas Bowl win was great... but as a 40 year high point not so much. Basketball program also bleah.

Verdict: A high stakes gamble, and how. Michigan's in on a ton of New Jersey recruits this year, so I've noticed a new trend: these guys are actually listing and seriously considering Rutgers. Safety Brandon Smith has them slightly trailing us. JB Fitzgerald has them in his top group with UF and us. Witherspoon listed them. They're probably going to get offensive lineman Art Forst. This is a new development, and even if they're striking out on the kinds of guys that get offers from Michigan and UF they're probably going to recruit better than a lot of mid-level Big Ten schools this year. Joining the Big Ten would probably be another boost. So... I don't think this is a flash in the pan. As long as Schiano stays.

That's the bet here: that Schiano can be a program patriarch for the Scarlet Knights. That Rutgers success can be sustained. That when Joe Paterno finally retires, he stays. That the move to the Big Ten provides a further boost. That the program is relevant enough to retain people's interest. Because the downside here is stark: my God, we've admitted Temple.

Louisville

PROs: An up-and-comer in college athletics, dumping money into their programs. Poised for long term success in both football and basketball. Adds a foothold in SEC country, bringing in markets in Kentucky.

CONs: Academics don't measure up; are reputedly not even close. Definitely a new money situation here: stadium named after a pizza company, JUCO-heavy basketball team, etc. Will they continue their success under Kragthorpe?

Verdict: But for the academics, a good choice. I would prefer them to any other available team save the real home runs; unfortunately I think the CIC thing is a dealbreaker.

Cincinnati

PROs: Geographic fit. Finally had the stones to jettison Bob Huggins; basketball team now sucky but not a haven for delinquents. Would provide instate competition for Ohio State.

CONs: Just recently jumped out of CUSA and unlike UL has experienced scant success. Only real success was under the shadow of Huggins. I don't know about their academics.

Also: I always, always spell it "Cincinatti," and I'd have to correct it a lot more often. No thanks.

Verdict: What's the point? Is anyone going to think to themselves "oooh, Cincinnati"? No.

Pitt

PROs: Geographic and academic fit. Also provides natural rival for Penn State. Football program has rich history; basketball program would be a fine addition.

CONs: Michigan and OSU are already raiding the hell out of the WPIAL. Adding Pitt opens no new recruiting grounds and only marginally raises interest in the Pittsburgh market. Their football fanbase would be amongst the worst in the conference.

Verdict: I guess. I would rather take a chance on Rutgers, personally.

UConn

PROs: Killer basketball program. Would expand the Big Ten into some new England media markets.

CONs: Football program remains fledgling. About as much of a geographic fit as Nebraska.

Verdict: Meh. They're like Louisville except their football team hasn't proven anything yet.

West Fuckin' Virginia

PROs: Darling of the moment with Rich Rodriguez staying, and if he turns down 'Bama's millions he's probably in for the long haul. Will have a good, if sleazy, basketball team with Huggins around.

CONs: Isn't WVU a really crap school? Huggins should be a net negative. Football program has strong flash-in-the-pan characteristics.

Verdict: Academics are a dealbreaker, I think.

The Big Twelve

Missouri

PROs: Geographic fit with decent academics. Natural basketball rivalry with Illinois. Opens up Missouri, St. Louis.

CONs: Hasn't won anything in football since 1969. That won't change in the Big Ten. Basketball program mostly known for having gel-slicked cheater Quinn Snyder in charge for way too long.

Verdict: Meh.

Iowa State

PROs: It's in Iowa.

CONs: Inept at every sport it ever tried. Brings in no new markets. No upside here.

Verdict: No way.

Nebraska

PROs: Rich football tradition. Would be competitive and bring cachet. Nebraska fans travel like mofos and would probably be fun to have around.

CONs: No other sports of note. Geographically distant. Nebraska is not a rich area to pluck recruits from. They would remind us of [
BOWL REDACTED] and force us to strangle them and then we would be in jail.

Verdict: Nebraska fans occasionally bring this up as a possible escape hatch from the Big Twelve and their unbalanced TV contracts. An interesting possibility, but the geography is a negative and they don't bring anything except football. Tempting, but no.

Texas

PROs: Outstanding academics, outstanding football, outstanding basketball, outstanding fans. Austin is a great city. Brings in huge television and recruiting benefits.

CONs: Is in freaking Texas.

Verdict: Except for the bizarre geography, a perfect fit. Would be an earth-shattering move tectonic in scope. Would be better than Notre Dame.

But... really doubtful Texas would ever go for this. Would restrict their ability to schedule anyone ever again, as I assume OU would stay on the schedule plus probably A&M, then they'd just have to rotate two Texas schools for the rest of time. Non-revenue sports would all of a sudden have killer travel costs... and what do they do with their baseball and softball teams, both of which they like quite a bit? Playing in a virtual mid major is going to be a harsh blow.

Sadly, this is never going to happen.

Other

Notre Dame

PROs: Geography, academics, football. It keeps coming up because it's an obvious fit. Rivalries with MSU, Purdue, Michigan. No new markets, but they are kind of a big deal in college football.

CONs: Midwest would be full of suicide bombers from NDNation.

Verdict: One of us... one of us... one of us...

Miami, Ohio

PROs: Fine academic school with the appropriate geography. One of the more successful MAC programs historically. As the "Cradle of Coaches" has long-standing ties with the conference.

CONs: Is a MAC school, brings no new markets, and probably wouldn't be that competitive. Like Northwestern++.

Verdict: No.

Kentucky

PROs: Like Louisville except with a killer basketball program and a dire football one (this year's pending aberration excepted). And they're a better school.

CONs: As noted, dire football program.

Verdict: As a charter member of the SEC they wouldn't go for it, I don't think. And though the basketball program is interesting, football runs the world.

Boston College

PROs: Perennially decent at both basketball and football. Hockey team a national power (not that we'll all of a sudden have a Big Ten hockey conference, but we'd probably set something up regular-like w/ them). Academically a fit. Provides access to Boston media market and, by, extension, much of New England. Weird fit geographically but less weird than their current conference.

CONs: Geography. Check any Bill Simmons column for the general interest in collegiate sports in the Boston area.

Verdict: A strong candidate behind the home runs.

One Man's Order of Preference

1. Texas
2. Notre Dame
3. Louisville
4. Rutgers
5. Boston College
6. Nebraska
7. Missouri
8. Pitt

...the rest I don't care for.

One Man's Order of Likelihood

This is hard to project. I assume this is what will happen: the Big Ten tells everyone plans are afoot, gets the BTN up and running. Once we know how that's going, the Big Ten waits until ND's NBC contract expires and tries to get the Irish again. Once that doesn't work, it settles down to business. So... we have three years to see if Rutgers is going to hold it together and if UConn is going to step up. If Rutgers remains good and interest holds up...

1. Rutgers
2. Pitt
3. Missouri
4. Boston College
5. UConn

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