Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Big Ten's Eventual Expansion to 12 Teams

The Big Ten Conference consists today of 11 universities:

Michigan State
Ohio State
Penn State

Eleven teams is an odd configuration. In college football, each Big Ten teams plays 8 conference games and 4 non-conference games. This means Big Ten teams miss at least 2 conference opponents on their schedule in any given year. The odd configuration does not allow the Big Ten to be divided into even divisions, nor does it allow for a conference title game at season's end. Adding a 12th team would even things out in the Big Ten and allow for the revenues a conference title game would afford.

Positives of Adding a 12th team

The main benefit of adding a 12th team would be to even out the Big Ten Conference into 2 divisions, and provided for a 13th football game the first week of December to decide the conference champion. A 12th team might also allow for an extra 9th conference game, with 3 non-conference games. The new 12-team Big Ten conference football schedule would likely still involve "missing" two conference opponents each season, unless the league wished to play 10 conference games and 2 non-conference games. This is possible to organize, but most Big Ten teams and coaches would be against it since no other 12-team football conference runs such a gauntlet.

Another positive of adding a 12th team for the Big Ten might be in securing more regional strategic advantage in recruiting. Depending on the caliber of the 12th team, recruiting competition would likely increase tremendously for all Big Ten teams in that region, and also for any Big Ten opponents in that same region, i.e. Big East, MAC and Independents will find increased competition as Big Ten conference schools wade in their territory for more athletes.

Adding a 12th team in football would probably increase the Big Ten's competitiveness in post season play. Traditionally, the Big Ten conference has to have one of the worst post-season records in all of college football. There are many factors that might contribute to this poor performance in bowl games. One obvious factor is the absence of a 13th game in Big Ten play. Other schools practice an additional week for their conference title game. At the BCS-level games, the Big Ten conference football teams do not get this extra week and extra game of preparedness.

Finally, adding a 12th team would likely aid not only football, but also other marquee, money-generating athletics like basketball to a strengthen the conference's power in national competition both on the field and with recruiting.

Drawbacks of Adding a 12th team
The cost of adding a 12th team might include sacrificing some tradition in scheduling. If the Big Ten were divided into North and South divisions, it's possible that for an 9 game conference schedule, some traditional rivalries would have to be forgone. One need only look to the Big 12 where Nebraska and Oklahoma were instructed to play in two separate divisions. The season-ending rivalry game disappeared, the teams meet occassionally during mid-season of the schedule, and the Cornhusker-Sooner rivalry has all but died. Interestingly, Oklahoma's other major rival, Texas, plays in the same division as OU (South) and plays the Sooners every year without exception. The UT-OU rivalry has always been one of the nation's best in college football, but it's reached white-hot levels in the Big 12 over the last 10 years.

Situations like Nebraska-Oklahoma could be overcome by intentionally scheduling such rivalry games each year in the Big Ten, such as Indiana-Purdue, Michigan-Ohio State and Wisconsin-Minnesota, Michigan-Michigan State, even if the two teams might meet a second time in the conference title game. At the same time, it's entirely possible that previous Big Ten rivalries might "die on the vine".

Nebraska vs. Oklahoma. Great Rivalry Successfully Destroyed By the Big 12 Conference.

Another drawback might be that any new 12th team may not be as attractive academically, or athletically in other sports besides football. Any additional 12th team must add significant value to the Big Ten conference as a whole. The new school should also be a natural fit from a proximity and regional point of view.

Oh God. Here we go. There are many candidates for a 12th Big Ten team. Very few make sense from an athletic tradition and regional proximity point of view. Some candidates make an incredible amount of sense, but are just not going to happen....ever.

I will discuss below several candidates for the 12th team, why they make sense, why they don't and the likelihood of them joining the Big Ten to form a new "Big Ten + 2 Conference".

1.) The Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Why Notre Dame Makes Sense:
You cannot talk about a 12th team for the Midwest-centric Big Ten without mentioning Notre Dame. There is a massive amount of athletic tradition at Notre Dame on the gridiron, on the basketball court and in athletics as a whole. Two other Big Ten schools reside in Indiana (Indiana U. and Purdue). Why not Notre Dame?

In football, the Fighting Irish are all but a Big Ten team, scheduling regular season contests against Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue (and curiously none against Indiana!?). Notre Dame's athletic tradition and the midwest location of South Bend make the Fighting Irish not only a natural candidate, but a preferred choice.

Why Notre Dame Doesn't Make Sense:
Because Notre Dame doesn't want anyone telling them what to do. Want examples? In basketball, Notre Dame is part of the Big East conference. In football, Notre Dame is an independent, right alongside 2 other remaining independents Army and Navy. Secondly, the Irish have a large national following, including their own lucrative and directly negotiated TV contracts with NBC for football. Assuming Notre Dame football earns bowl eligibility, the Irish get paid a pretty penny for bowl appearances. Although the Big Ten conference has been rather weak in football in recent years, Notre Dame would be up against increased competition each season. That said, Notre Dame is 58-36-1 vs. the Big Ten since 1978 (.616). If past performance is any indicator of future results, the likelihood of bowl eligibility as a member of the Big Ten might very well increase for the Irish. However, the good news about not being bowl eligible when you're affiliated with an athletic conference is that your school receives some of the spoils that Penn State earned in the Rose Bowl and Ohio State earned in the Fiesta Bowl. As an Independent, unless you earn it yourself by getting bowl eligible, you don't get jack.

Likelihood Notre Dame Joins the Big Ten?
Never. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will never join the Big Ten, so let's just remove any such thought from our brains and move on to the next candidate, shall we?

2.) The Pittsburgh Panthers

Why Pitt Makes Sense:
Penn State is already in the Big Ten. The next logical choice, if not Notre Dame, has got to be Pitt. Pittsburgh fields a respectable athletic program in all sports, but especially football and basketball. There is a long dormant rivalry between Pitt and Penn State that would be recharged by Pitt's introduction. Pitt is regionally proximate to the other schools and would increase Big Ten football and basketball recruiting success in the talent-rich states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland.

Why Pitt Doesn't Make Sense:
Pittsburgh's football program has lost it's luster considerably since the early 1980s and has had difficulty recovering. Penn State's program has outgrown them and performed far better nationally than the Panthers have. Then Pitt joined the Big East and sunk further into mediocrity, making mini-regional rivalries become more important such as the matchup with conference foe West Virginia. Pitt's basketball success in recent years has been noteworthy and it will be interesting to see whether it can continue given the high level of competition in the Big East.

Likelihood Pitt Joins the Big Ten?
Of all of the available and realistic candidates, Pitt really does make the most sense and should join the Big Ten conference.

3.) The Syracuse Orangemen

Why Syracuse Makes Sense:
Regionally proximiate. Strong basketball tradition. Some good football history (Art Monk, Bill Hurley, Joe Morris, Donovan McNabb) , although, aside from a major upset of Notre Dame last year, Syracuse has been the armpit of college football. Syracuse has played a few intersectional games with Big Ten opponents over the years like Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa, but there are no established mini-rivalries, not even in basketball. Syracuse' success in football and basketball could change if they joined a more competitive conference than the Big East. In the case of joining the Big Ten, Syracuse's basketball fortunes would likely improve while their football wins would likely decline.

Why Syracuse Doesn't Make Sense:
Athletically speaking, Syracuse' relevance in athletics is limited to basketball (until Jim Boeheim retires). The Syracuse Orangemen are today part of the Big East, and from this blogger's point of view are way better served in that conference. Syracuse offers the Big Ten very little value in terms of athletics, academics. Syracuse is about as regionally proximate as Pitt to other Big Ten teams. The other problem with Syracuse is their football venue, the Carrier Dome. The Big Ten finally rid itself of the MetroDome in Minneapolis. Any addition of Syracuse should include a clause demanding that a proper, modern, outdoor facility be constructed for Syracuse football.

From a recruiting standpoint, the addition of Syracuse doesn't necessarily add any new recruiting grounds or strengthen existing regional recruiting pipelines for the Big Ten.

Likelihood Syracuse Joins the Big Ten:
In my view, the Big Ten conference is better off with 11 teams than adding a Syracuse. Likelihood is very low, or just a few percentage points above zero.

4. Rutgers

Why Rutgers Makes Sense:
Rutgers doesn't make sense. The schools is based in East Rutherford, NJ and close to NY city. There are few if any rivalries or connections in athletics, aside from some games played against Penn State in the distant past.

Why Rutgers Doesn't Make Sense:
Rutgers is an eastern, coastal school and really does belong in the Big East in terms of football. Rutgers is not proximate to any Big Ten schools, aside from Penn State.In basketball, well, does Rutgers even play basketball?

Likelihood Rutgers joins the Big Ten?
A few percentage points below Notre Dame ever joining, which means never. Rutgers is in the Big East conference. Right where they belong.

4. The Missouri Tigers

Why Missouri Makes Sense:
Wait a minute. The Missouri Tigers belong to the Big 12, don't they? What the....?

Well, yes they do. But Missouri has always been the red-headed step child when they were part of the Big 8 and even today as member of the Big 12 North division. Nobody liked them. And Missouri certainly didn't like anybody else either. During the 1970s and 1980s, Big 8 powers Oklahoma and Nebraska sweated bullets when they faced the Missouri Tigers on the gridiron. Actually, of all the candidates listed so far none provide quite the complete athletic package of both strong football and basketball programs and traditions that Missouri does. The Tigers are bitchin' in both. Columbia is regionally proximiate to most Big Ten schools, and offers opponents tough venues in football and basketball. In college football, Missouri's program has been on the rise recently while playing in a tough conference (Big 12). In basketball, Missouri remains a respectable and competitive force. The Tigers have an existing non-conference rivalry with the Fighting Illini of the Big Ten.

Why Missouri Doesn't Make Sense:
Two main arguments against Missouri:
1.) Missouri is already part of Big 12 and
2.) Distance.

In reverse order, the Tigers campus is 240 miles south of Iowa City, and some Big Ten traditionalists might say that's just too far away for the Penn State's, Ohio State's and Michigan's to travel. I disagree.

Minneapolis, Minnesota is 830 miles from State College, PA. Columbia, MO is 778 miles from State College, PA. Nittany Lions and Gopher fans travel well. So do Missouri Tiger fans. Distance is not an big issue.

And first, Missouri has it's Big 8-based "Border War" rivalry with Kansas. Missouri also has it's intersectional hatreds for Oklahoma and Nebraska as well. Missouri is part of the Big 12 and fits nicely in the Big 8ish North Division. But Missouri could continue such rivalries in non-conference play as a member of the Big Ten. Also, the Big 12 can easily add good, regional programs from the state of Texas to replace a Missouri such as SMU, TCU, Houston or Rice. Even Utah, BYU and Colorado State come to mind here as meaningful replacements. The Big 12 would not want to lose Missouri. But if the choice were open to the Missouri Tigers, I think they might pounce on it.

Likelihood Missouri Joins the Big Ten:
If Pitt were the most likely to join and Notre Dame is the least likely to join, then I would put Missouri in second place behind Pitt in terms of all candidates.

5.) The Iowa State Cyclones

Why Iowa State Makes Sense:
They have a good basketball tradition and an annual rivalry with Iowa.
They are regionally proximate and low risk.

Why Iowa State Doesn't Make Sense:
Iowa State is a small university and athletically hasn't had much to crow about since Earle Bruce left town in 1979. Their value-add to the Big Ten is nominal and would be equivalent to adding another Minnesota-level athletic program to the conference.

Likelihood Iowa State joins the Big Ten:
Probably never, but much more likely than a Rutgers, Notre Dame or a Syracuse.

Other candidates and some quick notes:

Boston College:
I like this school very much. It's got a decent athletic program history, is part of the ACC, and has good academics. It's also got some minor history with Big Ten teams like Penn State and Michigan on the gridiron. The academic upside is high. The athletic upside is nominal.

Marquette University:
No football program. And that's a shame. I will always call these guys the Warriors. We don't need any more "Eagles" mascot teams for crying out loud. In basketball, the Marquette Golden Eagles would be an outstanding addition to the Big Ten. In football, well they'd offer the Big Ten zero, unless Marquette brought their football program back from the dead. Not that I don't believe Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin is too small a football market, but it's risky. Indiana can somehow miraculously support 3 Division 1A college teams, and Wisconsin can't? Whatever.

Good basketball school. Improved football program over the last several years. Regionally proximate as Kentucky borders southern Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

The Big Ten should add a 12th team. The conference should do all it can to preserve the intersectional rivalries of Purdue-Indiana, Michigan-Ohio State, Michigan-Michigan State, Penn State-Ohio State. The Big Ten conference should also do what it can to promote new rivalries. The best candidate for the Big Ten expansion is Pittsburgh. The second best candidate is Missouri. The least likely candidates are Notre Dame and Rutgers.


Mr. W. said...

Well thought out posting. The only question it does not address is what the conference losing the team will do to replace the loss of a school. Another question I have is what are the monetary dealings for expanding a conference. Does the Big Ten have to pay the conference they are receiving the team from?

Markusr2007 said...

Thanks for the comment Mr. W.

Very good questions. And you're right. I only touched upon the issue of team replacement in the other conferences in the example of Missouri (which would apply to Iowa State equally).

In the Big East examples of Pitt, Rutgers and Syracuse, it seems to me that either Army or Navy would be excellent additions, given their regional proximity. The other issue is that we all know that Temple has no business in the MAC conference. Temple is based in Philly, has an eastern tradition, and belongs in the Big East (my opinion).

As far as payouts and payoffs are concerned, I don't know. There has to be some protections in place given the recent changes from Big East to ACC of Miami and BC. But I don't know that these costs would be prohibitive. It would be easiest, of course, to land an independent like Notre Dame with no strings attached. But even then it's probably not so simple (given certain strings to NBC, etc. and ND's position on schizophrenic attitude about joining conferences - Is ND Independent or Big East, somebody explain?).

Thanks for reading my blog and sharing your view.