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Big Ten Expansion - One, Three, or Five? Or - The Big Ten, eh?

Outback Bowl: Wildcats Versus Tigers - It isn’t the size of the cat in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the ‘Cats.


Big Ten expansion rumors are running rampant. Multiple people are talking about the need to keep the Big Ten in the public eye by extending the season - currently the Big Ten stops about two weeks before conferences like the SEC and Big 12. One step that starts soon is adding bye weeks. An often discussed option is a championship game between the winners of two divisions. And to get to that happy place, the Big Ten needs to add a team so the divisions would be even in number.


There are some constraints on the expansion. They are listed below in what I think is rough order of importance according to Big Ten criteria:

  1. Academic standards must be maintained for the Big Ten at large. Northwestern is the academic powerhouse, but the rest of the Big Ten isn’t too shabby. One could argue that the Big Ten is the best academic conference in FBS/Div-1. This is a source of pride and isn’t going to get tossed aside to add another school.
    1. The lowest rated schools (U.S. News and World Report) in the Big Ten are Indiana, Michigan State, and Iowa at rank 71. (Keep in mind this is out of the thousands of universities and colleges in the U.S., so 71 out of a zillion isn’t bad.) For the record, NU is #12 - the highest in the Big Ten and ahead of some members of the Ivy League.
    2. Another academic requirement is membership in the Association of American Universities - a consortium of the top rated research universities in North America. (Yes, the Canadians get to play too. I’ll come back to this later.)
    3. So lets assume that the Big Ten would “stoop” as low as around rank 100 as long as the school was a member of the AAU.
  2. The deal must make sense monetarily. Given the revenue sharing plan for the Big Ten, the current schools must feel like they are getting more money. They must also feel like their chances at post-season money is at least the same. The new member(s) must have TV appeal, which means adding TV viewership that will not cannibalize current Big Ten eyeballs. And travel costs must remain the same or even drop (so no adding Stanford).
  3. Using the current criteria, the new member(s) must either be within the current Big Ten states or adjacent to them. This means Boise State, TCU, and other top football schools are not in the footprint.

The simplest number is one. As in add one team to the conference and split into two divisions of six. But there’s been some discussion about having a 14 (add 3) or even 16 (add 5) member league.


I will point out that Notre Dame is not part of the AAU. So even if they wanted in, they’d have to fix that.


Looking at the AAU roster and adding in the Big Ten footprint issue, one gets:


Name: Current Conference

University at Buffalo (SUNY) MAC

Iowa State University Big 12

University of Maryland ACC

University of Missouri Big 12

University of Nebraska Big 12

Rutgers Big East

University of Pittsburgh Big East

Syracuse Big East

University of Toronto Canadian Interuniversity Sport


(Note: I don’t think the Big Ten will be poaching from the Ivy League, nor do I think the University of Chicago will rejoin the Big Ten.)


Of course, there are other schools in the footprint, but they would need to join the AAU. These include Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Kentucky, WVU, and Louisville.


There is another way to gerrymander more territory - add a team in a current Big Ten adjacent state (e.g. Maryland), then add yet another school (or more) in a state bordering the new member (e.g. University of Virginia or Kansas).


So taking all of this into account, who gets the Golden Ticket?


Who wouldn’t want to join the Big Ten? I don’t think that Nebraska would want to jump into the Big Ten. They already win their division in the Big 12 on a regular basis. I also don’t think Maryland would jump.


Now let’s look at the others.


Buffalo would likely leap at the chance to move from the MAC to the Big Ten. But I don’t think they’d be at the top of the invite list.


Iowa State, Missouri, Rutgers, Pitt, or Syracuse might be amenable. I’m not sure that Iowa State adds any major revenue over Iowa. The other four may add some eyeballs. Missouri adds a fresh state, as does Rutgers or Syracuse.


But what about the possibility of adding potentially 33 million extra eyeballs to the Big Ten Sports Network? What about the potential for making a breakthrough and adding a new country? The University of Toronto would be a bold move by the Big Ten. As noted above, UoT (whose sports teams are known as the Varsity Blues) is in the AAU. Academically they would be in the upper part of the Big Ten.


The Varsity Blues play Canadian football, vice the American variety. But one imagines that they could quickly adapt. Interestingly, Toronto already hosts an American football game every year - it is called the International Bowl. So there is already exposure to the American game. Adding a Canadian team would certainly make a splash on both sides of the border.


I don’t see UoT at the top of the Big Ten invite list. If the league expands by five teams, they may be a viable choice for one of the slots. It would make a lot of headlines. But don’t hold your breath waiting for this particular selection to happen.


Go ‘Cats!


BJ Mitchell (Former NUMB Spirit Leader)

NUMBSpiritLeader@gmail.com


1 comment:

  1. Maryland would be more interested than you would think. College Park has substantially improved academically in recent years, and joining the Big Ten academic consortium would make it more publicly evident. From an athletic perspective, the allure of Big Ten football would not only help sell recently-built suites at Byrd Stadium, but could pave the way for further expansion to 60,000 capacity or so. Big Ten revenues dwarf what the ACC makes. True, you'd be giving up basketball games with UNC and Duke, but you'd make a heckuva lot more money bringing in Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin to Byrd Stadium.

    What would the Big Ten see in Maryland? Lots of eyeballs for its TV network, from the affluent (and growing) Washington market as well as Baltimore. In fact, were the Big Ten to expand to 14 teams -- also inviting Syracuse and Rutgers to corner the NYC/NJ market (something neither can do by itself) -- the Big Ten would be firmly established along the northeast corridor, the most densely populated part of the nation (and a financial buffer if the midwest continues to struggle). Adding SU, Rutgers and Maryland together -- all three good academic/athletic fits for the Big Ten -- is a no-brainer.

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