Jimmy Wonka and the Big Ten Expansion Factory

Submitted by Seth on May 1st, 2010 at 8:42 AM

It's everybody's favorite non-pollutionary, anti-institutionary, pro-confectionary conference conundrum...



Doopadee doo,

I've got a real good question for you:

If money is the driving force behind Big Ten expansion, and academics are the official sticking point, and the Big Ten Network makes this conference so attractive that almost any team would be in for joining, who is really a potential expansion candidate now?

This Has All Been Chewed Before

Gum chewing's fine when it's once in a while
It stops you from smoking and brightens your smile
But it's repulsive, revolting, and wrong
Chewing and chewing all day long

I realize I'm not exactly the first person to start talking about Big Ten Expansion. But this isn't just any old stick of gum: this gum has an entire meal in it. You probably won't learn anything new here, but you'll get some information to back up what we already know.

This diary is a look at current FBS (formerly Division I-A) teams that might be considered for Big Ten Expansion, and others that might fit the academic profile, even if there's no way they would join the Big Ten.

When expansion to 12 or 14 teams was the modus operandi, this blog reviewed the leading candidates. However, with even 24 teams having been mentioned by NCAA people (by which I mean "Just Tom Osborne"), the field has grown.

The question: are there that many schools out there that fit the conference's academic profile, or at least close enough the Big Ten can continue to claim itself the most academic FBS conference?

In reality, there is a clear cutoff: does the school match the criteria to join the American Association of Universities?* and the Big Ten's own little version of that, the CIC. There are currently 63 members, but I would imagine a Big Ten addition not already part of the AAU would be able to join, if it matches the academic criteria. Therefore, the lower bound of AAU membership is the functional lower bound of Big Ten expansion consideration.

To find out who has a golden ticket, follow me, overjoyed, enraptured, entranced. Are we ready? Yes, good. In we go.


* If not, MaizeAndBlueWahoo is going to neg me.


How I Did It

I created a spreadsheet (available http://www.sendspace.com/file/t42uo3" target=_blank>http://www.sendspace.com/file/t42uo3" target=_blank>http://www.sendspace.com/file/t42uo3" target=_blank>http://www.sendspace.com/file/t42uo3" target=_blank>http://www.sendspace.com/file/t42uo3" target=_blank>here) out of the U.S. Academic Rankings from both U.S. News & World Report and The Academic Ranking of World Universities for the years 2007, 2008 and 2009.** Each school was ranked on an average of those six included rankings.

Many schools did not make the rankings. For these, I declared a tie at the bottom (so if the last two schools ranked were tied at 130, all of the unranked were given a 132). This means the rankings become less accurate past 100 or so. This mostly affected mid-major programs who would be well outside the Big Ten's consideration. Among BCS conferences, the SEC was the only one with any schools not consistently ranked, meaning they probably look a little better than they really are against the other BCS conferences, yet a lot closer to the mid-majors than they really should be.

Everything make sense? Good, on we go.


** U.S. News & World Report titles their rankings a year in advance, a la EA Sports video games. I bumped them back a year, so, e.g., the 2009 dataset is from their 2010 Rankings.


I Want the World

Who do you blame when your kid is a brat?
Pampered and spoiled like a Siamese cat
Blaming the kids is a lie and a shame
You know exactly who's to blame.
(Delany and NCAA?)

We got the data, so let's start out with an idea of what kind of academic level we're talking about when we describe a Big Ten school. Here's the average rankings for the 11 current members of the Big Ten:

Score Institution
17.00 Northwestern University
22.00 University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
26.17 University of Wisconsin - Madison
29.00 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
39.67 Pennsylvania State University - University Park
43.00 University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
48.00 Ohio State University - Columbus
52.83 Purdue University - West Lafayette
59.17 Michigan State University
61.00 University of Iowa
61.67 Indiana University Bloomington

So Big Ten teams ranged from about the 17th- to 62nd-best schools in the country. Your "average" Big Ten team is about the 42nd-best school, academically, in the United States. Preferably, additions to the conference would be in the top 65 or so. By the way:

Rank Conference Score
1 Big Ten 41.77
2 Pac Ten 53.43
3 ACC 59.76
4 Big East 91.42
5 Big XII 92.46
6 SEC 95.72
7 Independents 111.78
8 Conference USA 113.38
9 Mountain West 116.06
10 MAC 133.09
11 WAC 134.61
12 Sun Belt 139.85

The Pac Ten, just so you know, is top and bottom-heavy. They have two schools (Cal and Stanford) who are better than anyone in the Big Ten, but five schools (Zona, ASU, Oregon State, WSU and Oregon) worse.

This is a big consideration: if the Big Ten lets its standards drop too much, the Pac Ten is not far away. Their latest additions could well have meant the difference between which academic power conference now calls itself the most academic-y.

Anyway, we're getting off track. We wanted the Top 65, right? Well here's the top 65:

Score Institution Conf
3.00 Stanford University Pac10
12.00 University of California, Berkeley Pac10
16.17 Duke University ACC
17.00 Northwestern University BigTen
17.83 University of California, Los Angeles Pac10
22.00 University of Michigan - Ann Arbor BigTen
24.67 Vanderbilt University SEC
26.17 University of Wisconsin - Madison BigTen
27.83 University of Washington Pac10
29.00 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign BigTen
30.67 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ACC
31.00 University of Southern California Pac10
34.67 Rice University ConfUSA
37.67 University of Texas at Austin XII
38.17 University of Virginia ACC
39.67 Pennsylvania State University - University Park BigTen
43.00 University of Minnesota, Twin Cities BigTen
43.50 University of Florida SEC
45.17 Georgia Institute of Technology ACC
48.00 Ohio State University - Columbus BigTen
48.50 University of Maryland, College Park ACC
52.83 Purdue University - West Lafayette BigTen
54.17 University of Pittsburgh EAST
54.67 University of Notre Dame Ind
55.67 University of Colorado at Boulder XII
56.00 Rutgers EAST
56.83 University of Georgia SEC
58.50 University of Miami ACC
59.17 Michigan State University BigTen
61.00 University of Iowa BigTen
61.67 Indiana University Bloomington BigTen
62.33 Texas A&M University - College Station XII
63.17 Wake Forest University ACC

From here, we can whittle.

For one, teams in the SEC and Pac 10 are probably happy being where they are. Same, most likely, for the ACC. The low-hanging fruit are the Big East, since that conference is facing an uncertain future in football, and the Big XII big boys, who hate that they get the same exact piddling share as Baylor and Kansas State.


Score Institution Conf
34.67 Rice University ConfUSA
37.67 University of Texas at Austin XII
54.17 University of Pittsburgh EAST
54.67 University of Notre Dame Ind
55.67 University of Colorado at Boulder XII
56.00 Rutgers, State University of New Jersey EAST
62.33 Texas A&M University - College Station XII


Actually I'm a bit sick of charts. Got any maps?



Among all of the schools out there available for plucking, only two would be better than an average Big Ten team academically, and those two are in Texas. Just five more are within the Big Ten's current academic range, of which two are within the Big Ten's geographical footprint.

This is harder than it looks.

What Do You Get When You Add Ten and Eight?

While more conservative expansion models have focused on harvesting the remaining useful programs from a dying Big East (or perhaps just terminating their "it's complicated" relationship with Notre Dame), the grand schemes where the Big Ten truly makes its fortune share a theme: Go West.

What do you get from a glut of TV?
A pain in the neck and an IQ of three
Why don't you try simply reading a book?
Or can you just not bear to look?

Oh, things get exciting in the Old West, especially when we start talking about adding perennial powerhouse football school (and big-ticket television draw) Nebraska.

Getting Nebraska in seems like more of a possibility (and Osborne has been doing a bit of jumping up and down and yelling "Pick me!") but any scenario where we annex Nebraska, I think, includes a wholesale invasion into the old Big Eight. This is because Nebraska seems like the kind of dude who the second you invite him to a party, he asks if he can bring his mates.


Go back to the Top 65-ish table above, where the academic candidates were listed. Notice anyone absent?

  • Uconn (73.83)
  • Iowa State (79.17)
  • Syracuse (79.67)
  • NEBRASKA (83.33)
  • Utah (83.50)
  • KANSAS (90.17)
  • MISSOURI (94.00)
  • Cincy (95.83)
  • Colorado State (94.17)
  • BYU (99.33)
  • Every SEC team except Vandy, Florida, and Georgia.

The low Missouri ranking thing is no fluke. Their best ranking was in the 2007 ARWU, and that was 89. Financially, Missouri makes a lot of sense, since it opens up the St. Louis market, and Nebraska makes even more sense because it's Nebraska. Brian's take on the academic viability of Mizzou:

"Good, not great, state school that would be the worst-ranked school in the league but not by much, especially after a post-CIC bump."

That's a thing I hadn't considered: membership in the CIC helps boost your rating. The bad news is that Missouri is currently seen by academic ranking gurus as about on par with Cincinnati, which is below our academic feasibility line.

And Missouri, I remind you, is our gateway to the West.

They're the ones with St. Louis. They're the ones with Big Ten ties, being border rivals with Illinois.

They're probably the ones causing the most consternation, because if the presidents are all okay taking the conference down to Missouri level academics-wise, that opens up the big ideas. If they're not, we're back to trimming the list above. Unless, of course, unless Herbie Husker and his buddies bring those really really hot chicks they know....

I Don't Like the Look of It

What do you get when you guzzle down sweets?
Eating as much as an elephant eats
What are you at getting terribly fat?
What do you think will come of that?

If we're advancing deep into Big XII territory, why not right to the heart of the empire? If Missouri is the Big Ten's new lower bound, that means Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Texas, and Texas A&M all fit. Maybe Rice, although a private school, can come along too to keep the academic average a bit higher.

Oklahoma, at 109.33, though a big national name, academically isn't close. It's a non-starter. They simply can't come.

Strictly academically, adding these six schools gives the Big Ten an overall average rating of 50.96, still well above the Pac 10, but an average of 10 schools lower than we currently stand. It's feasible.

It just looks wrong. Oklahoma and Texas Tech are left without their two biggest rivals, and for the Sooners that means something. And geographically, it's a disaster (won't somebody think of the poor field hockey team?!?). While Missouri and Nebraska border Big Ten country, Texas is a long ways away from Penn State. Their money and their fanbase and their research would be a coup. But to do it, to bring in all of these schools to make an 18- or 20-team league, we either lose touch with a lot of current rivals, or else split it into two conferences who barely ever see each other.

It's greedy.

On the Bubble

Old ginger ale, ginger pop, ginger beer, beer bubbles, bubbleade, bubblecola, double cola, double-bubble-burp-a-cola and all the crazy carbonated stuff that tickles your nose. Few people realize what tremendous power there is in one of those things.

All the other kids by this point have gone into chocolate chute, been thrown out as a rotten egg, shrunk down to TV size, or turned into a blueberry. What's left? Well, the Big East of course.

Pittsburgh has seemed like the most obvious choice, other than that other guy in the room, since the beginning of the movie. They're a natural rival with Penn State. They fit the academic profile. The fit the endowment profile.

And while it doesn't open up markets, the TV value is huge. What they would be leaving is a rivalry with West Virginia, and whatever remains of Big East solidarity. It's almost a no-brainer.

If the Big Ten thinks the TV audience bump is worth the extra team and the hassle of expansion, Pitt probably gets an invite.

This academic exercise also illuminates why Rutgers is getting tossed around as another potential addition. Against Big Ten schools, true, they're really nothing to write home about. But against the rest of the country, they are one of the very very few expansion options who at least fall within the Big Ten's academic footprint.

This is just wondering aloud here: the Big Ten is rolling in dough, more so than any other conference, but this is most likely a temporary thing: it's not like the SEC, once they get their network off the ground, is going to stay behind for long. The enormous Big XII teams know that this is an opportunity to push their conference into a less socialistic split. But what is the Big Ten really thinking?

  1. We are in a unique position right now in that the BTN's success gives the conference extraordinary latitude in expansion.
  2. A conference championship game needs an even number of teams, 12 minimum.
  3. Expanding BTN to certain markets makes a lot of sense.
  4. But NSFMF: all the presidents just got together and all they're talking about is academics, academics, academics!

Hence, Rutgers.

After talk of 20-team conferences that pick off the best of the Big XII and Big East then take over Zoltan's dominion, just Pittsburgh and maybe Rutgers and Missouri is a bit of a letdown, no?

That's why I think there's one more twist:

Hey, Wonka, Why Not the Guy Standing Next to You?

Ha ha, see that man you thought was the Evil Mr. Slugworth set to reap all of the rewards of Mr. Wonka's hard work without putting in the effort?

He's Mr. Wilkinson.

And if you're looking for someone with experience who knows the company and plans to be around anyway and knows what he's doing and is really the perfect fit, why are you going with some sweet kid off the street? Why not the man who's already in your company?

Which, maybe this is all a ploy to turn the recent cachet of BTN into consummating that marriage that's spent the better part of a century walking down the aisle. Has anyone thought of just sending them a Facebook status change?




April 29th, 2010 at 4:59 PM ^

Fantastic work, thanks.  Just one slight issue:

"...but four schools (Zona, ASU, Oregon, WSU and Oregon)..."  Actually, that's five.

IMHE, I think it's going to be just Pitt or Pitt, ND and Mizzou.


April 29th, 2010 at 5:03 PM ^

I loves me a diary with a well executed theme. Nice work as usual. Also, check back on blue moon for that data you asked for (will post a link in about an hour and a half).


April 29th, 2010 at 6:12 PM ^

...thought provoking and entertaining.

Recommended edit:

A national conference championship game needs an even number of teams, 12 minimum.

Only problem with the analogy between Charlie and ND is that Charlie is as humble as they come and only wants to do what's right.  I don't think you can say that about ND. 

The better analogy is between Veruca Salt and ND because they're such whiny babbys.

Not like these guys, though.

Blue in Seattle

April 29th, 2010 at 5:33 PM ^

Living in Seattle, I hear all the time how the Pac Ten is better because they play more conference games, but seems like having so many non-conference games, and eliminating Michigan, MSU and Purdue as non-conference, allows the Irish to keep their key rivalries going?  Well, if you consider them to be USC, Navy, Boston College, and Cream Puff



April 29th, 2010 at 6:03 PM ^

Can I just drop mad props for the well-executed Facebook page?  I just can't believe that Michigan would be Facebook friends with Notre Dame.


April 29th, 2010 at 6:09 PM ^

Are you kidding? I'd say at least 10 percent of anyone's Facebook friends are frennemies, and another 10 percent are former "It's Complicated"s, e.g. the girl I dated a few times who just got engaged and whose Facebook page I just totally ripped.


April 29th, 2010 at 8:14 PM ^

and thorough.

 As much as I would like to see a larger expansion, because we may get only one good shot at this, I concur that our best options are Pittsburgh, Missouri, and Notre Dame.

Rutgers might open markets to the Northeast, but do we really need another Northwestern or Indiana in football?


April 29th, 2010 at 9:37 PM ^

I'm contemplating creating new accounts, raising their point totals to 20, and pos-banging the shit out of you.  Not only was this an engaging and interesting read, the thematic ride of Willy Wonka was perfection. 

Well. Done. Sir. I said WELL DONE SIR!


April 29th, 2010 at 11:47 PM ^

I wish we had post of the year awards and nominations here, because I would definitely nominate this as an early post of the year candidate. 

Wolverine In Exile

April 30th, 2010 at 12:00 AM ^

With your research on academics, I think one of the hot chicks who don't know their hot and is standing by the punch bowl is UVa. Virginia is widely considered a top academic school, would increase the broadcast footprint into the lucrative Washingon DC and NoVA markets, and (maybe more importantly in the BT leadership's eyes) possibly provide political protection in the feds.  I've always got the sense from UVa fans I know that while they're geographically wed to the  ACC, their heart never seemed into the conference, especially after the expansion. Would a Jim Delaney as John Cusak in Say Anything type moment be enough to woo the Wahoo's into the Big Ten? Rivalry with Penn St. Getting the hell out of the ACC basketball conference. Matching up with more of the top public schools in the country like Michigan, Penn St, Minnesota, Wisconsin.

would it be a culture shock? Yeah probably, but not so much more than when Penn St came in the conference.  I don't know, UVa just seems like such a more attractive target than Rutgers if we're going to expand east...


April 30th, 2010 at 7:18 AM ^

I know some Virginia guys -- my study abroad roommate and his buddies -- and I thought when I met them that they seem like "Big Ten guys."

Thing is, the ACC made sure it nabbed Virginia Tech just so Virginia would feel happier there.

They're very Michigan-like.

Perhaps something where we grab both Maryland (who also very much fit the Big Ten) and Virginia.

Taking teams from the ACC isn't easy. That conference has fantastic basketball, and fantastic baseball, which until recently wouldn't have mattered to Virginia but they've gotten good in the last few years and built a new stadium and probably feel like baseball's a major sport for them now. The Big Ten is a baseball mid-major.

There's still the matter of their classic rivalry with North Carolina, and breaking up the Virginia Tech rivalry again after, you know, the Hokies jumped conferences to be with them.

Maryland at least has a dormant rivalry with Penn State (and competes directly with them for a lot of recruits). Virginia's closest connection to the Big Ten is that they, too, claim to be old rivals of Notre Dame, which who doesn't?

I would be totally in favor of adding the Terps and Cavs. But I don't think they would -- the ACC is a good conference that controls important East Coast markets and has a lot of growth potential. An ACC channel is in the works with Time Warner, and probably is easier than even BTN to get off the ground since the ACC's baseball and basketball games can keep the spate filled with constant live games. Football is still big there, but not so big. And it's not like they would learn to play hockey.


April 30th, 2010 at 9:12 AM ^

Why not the ACC. Duke and UVA are both pretty high academically on the list. While Duke is pretty locked into the ACC from a basketball perspective, I would think the DC market would be attractive, and UVA fits the profile ...

For that matter Maryland is not much further down and both would anchor the market.


April 30th, 2010 at 12:10 PM ^

see below.

The short of it is they're not very good at football, basketball is better in the ACC, baseball is a revenue sport, North Carolina is their biggest rival, and sticking around in the ACC is likely to pay off in a few years.


May 3rd, 2010 at 2:48 PM ^

Excellent work but when you look at schools that make sense geographically in terms of travel time and cost for athletics (remember that all your non-revenue teams have to travel to all of those far away but academically worthy schools as well), potential TV revenues, as well as academics and AAU membership, and a certain natural sense of fit, the "aesthetics" of the move you might say, the schools that make the most sense, whether they add 1, 3, 5 or 7 of these schools, this is the group that makes the most sense:






Notre Dame


Using the numbers in the OP, the inclusion of all the schools listed above would lower the rating to 51.31, still the best academic conference in the nation.  With all of the new TV revenues that come from new markets for the Big 10 Network, the current conference members will hold their noses and make the move.

My thought is that unless the Big 10 adds only Notre Dame, they will have a hard time not expanding to at least 14 teams.  If you raid the Big East for one team, such as Rutgers, to secure the TV markets where a lot of Big 10 alumns live and work, then it makes sense to take Syracuse and Pitt with them.  If you raid the Big 12 for Missou to get access to the St. Louis TV market, you might as well take Nebraska and then be somewhat forced to take Kansas (Perhaps you could take Colorado, but why leapfrog Kansas geographically) to even the numbers out unless you went with a 15 team model?  There is still something to be said for some measure of geographic cohesion).

If the Big 10 raids only one of either the Big 12 or Big East, I could envision ND deciding to hold fast to their independent status.  But if the Big 10 raids both conferences at once, it would seem that the pressure would rise for ND to come to the new super conference with hat in hand.

Looking at the dollars involved, the more that I look at it, the move to some sort of super conference makes the most sense.  Just in terms of dollars and cents, the move eastward makes the most sense.  When you add in academics, east looks better than west.  And if I were a gambling man, and had to pick an either/or between the Big East and the Big 12, I would lay money on the Big 10 raiding the Big East only.

Possible scenarios:

Cherry pick to add one team only (Most likely to least likely):

Rutgers ( TV market speaks )

Missou (TV market speaks + rivalry with Illinois)




Three team raid of one conference:

Rutgers - Pitt - Syracuse (most likely)

Nebraska - Missou - Kansas/Colorado

Four team raid

At this point, unless you add ND to a one conference raid, likely if you raid the Big East, unlikely if you raid the Big 12, you would have to raid both the Big 12 and the Big East in which case, the move to an 18 team super conference becomes a real possibility, but you could end up with a three division, 15 team superconference by doing:

Either of the one conference 3 team raid scenarios above + ND (Most likely if you raid the Big East)

Three Big East teams above + Big 12 team in the order above in the add one team solution.

Three Big 12 teams above + One Big East team in the order above in the one team solution.

Five team raid

Without Notre Dame you would have to take three Big East and two Big 12 teams or three big 12 teams and two Big East teams and would look like this:

Rutgers - Pitt - Syracuse + Missou - Nebraska

Missou - Nebraska - Kansas/Colorado + Rutgers - Pitt

With Notre Dame coming on board you can add the best two from each conference and get this likely scenario for adding five teams:

Rutgers - Pitt + Nebraska - Missou + ND

18 Teams

I do not see any reason why a 17 team conference would work and so the natural move to go to three six team divisions if the superconference thing gets really hog wild would likely add Notre Dame plus three from each of the Big East and Big 12 or instead of Notre Dame you might add a fourth team from the Big 12.

Most likely possibilities?

Unless the one team is Notre Dame, a move to 12 teams seems unlikely with 14 or 15 teams being the most likely numbers.  But if the numbers are there, the 18 team solution might end up becoming reality.  The Big 10 has been way ahead of the curve in terms of setting up the Big 10 Network, and perhaps we might see some sort of visionary move to capitalize on that television property, making it the 800 lb gorilla in the football broadcasting jungle.  

In terms of revenue, academics and conference vulnerablity, the most likely direction the Big 10 will go a'raiding is east.  If I were to put money on it, I see the league grabbing three Big East schools and in that move pulling ND into the mix for a 15 team conference.  My second place bet would be Notre Dame being left in the wilderness and they add two from the Big East and Big 12 each (Rutgers. Pitt, Nebraska, Missou).  But the Big East + ND scenario seems to make the most sense academically and economically.   

Pea-Tear Gryphon

May 8th, 2010 at 9:29 AM ^

Misopogon, again you do not disappoint. When I saw another diary on expansion, my initial reaction was to ignore. But then I saw you were the author and clicked. Another satisfied customer. Your noble work embiggens the smallest man.