Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Big Ten Expansion? Go for It!

The Big Ten is studying expansion again, and this time it looks like darn near a sure thing that the conference is going to get bigger. The motivation for the Big Ten is pretty strong--and it has something to do with increasing revenues, I think. (Ya think?) And, the motivation for somebody to join is pretty strong, too. The Big Ten TV network paid $22 million to each school last year, whereas Big 12 teams get $6.5 million from their network, and even Notre Dame gets a mere $15 million from its national TV football contract. In the Big East, it's less than a lousy $3 mil.

So something is going to happen.

Now, let's be honest. Football is where the action is. Merely by increasing from 11 teams to 12, the Big Ten will be able to have a post-season championship football game. That alone is worth several million bucks, even if the expansion goes into a crappy TV market such as Nebraska, or if it adds a crappy football program that happens to be in a good TV market (read: Rutgers). And if it adds a football powerhouse and a good TV market, well, suddenly it's a gravy train.

Of course, the only candidates that are football powers and represent a solid TV market are Notre Dame and Texas, and the smart money says they're not coming in. So while it's possible the Big Ten will add just one team, it can't accomplish all of its goals that way.

So, if the Big Ten is going to add more than one team, how many do you want? Right now, most of the speculation is three for a total of 14. But five for a total of 16 isn't out of the question. After all, there are as many as a dozen teams being talked about:

ACC: Boston College
Big East: Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, West Virginia
Big 12: Iowa State, Missouri, Nebraska, Texas, Texas A&M
Independent/Big East: Notre Dame

Again, the smart money (and Notre Dame spokesmen) say that the Fighting Irish aren't interested, so the hell with them. And Texas A&M is only being touted on the assumption that the Texas legislature would never let the Longhorns leave all by their long gone lonesome. It says here, they won't let 'em go at all, with or without the Aggies.

And then Boston College just left the Big East a few short years ago, but so what? That just proves their mercenary enough to do it again, and the ACC TV network pays less than the Big 12 (though almost twice what the Big East pays). Connecticut and Rutgers are the other schools that bring in the big eastern mega-media market, though it's also true that Syracuse has a big following in the New York City area.

Missouri gets you the St. Louis market and a terrific rivalry with Illinois. Nebraska gets you another big name in the football game. But, let's be honest. Iowa State, Pitt and West Virginia bring almost nothing to the Big Ten. Penn State already delivers the Pittsburgh TV market, and West Virginia is academically suspect. And the smart guys aren't talking about Iowa State, that's just some fanboy talk.

So where does that leave us? Well, Boston College, Rutgers and Syracuse deliver the eastern TV market; Missouri has been described as a done deal pretty much from the get-go; and Nebraska is just too good to pass up (and the Big Ten too good for the Cornhuskers to pass up, it would $eem). Still, BC and Nebraska aren't slam-dunks, and therein lies the difference between a 3 and a 5-team expansion.

But if 4 teams accept an offer and either BC or Nebraska says no, then Connecticut looks like the next best bet.

Again, all of this is mostly about football. But this here is a basketball blog. How does this affect Big Ten basketball? Well, unlike the Big East, you go to divisional play, even though you don't need a post-season playoff. You've already got one.


Boston College or Connecticut or both*
Penn State
Ohio State
Michigan State


Nebraska (or not)*

The problem with any divisional set-up is that your most central states that could swing either east or west each has 2 Big Ten schools--Michigan and Michigan State, and Indiana and Purdue. Depending on where the new Big Ten schools are located (regardless of whether it's 1 or 3 or 5) you might have to split them up. Or, do something completely illogical such as leapfrog Ohio State out to the west, while leaving the Michigans or the Indianas in the east. For football purposes, it might make sense, however, to get two each from among Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Penn State in each division.

In basketball, it really doesn't matter because you've got a post-season tournament to fall back on. During the regular season, you'd probably play a round robin within your division (for a total of 1o or 12 or 14 games) and just enough games with the other division to get to your number, whatever it is. (There's been talk lately that 18 Big Ten games is too many. I guess everybody wants more laughers than that.)

So in summary:

Option 1: Add 1 team and a football playoff and make a few million bucks. If you add 1, obviously you want Notre Dame. But since the Big Ten is not going to get Notre Dame, then maybe Missouri is inevitable, but I don't care. If it's 1 team, I want Syracuse for the added eastern media markets.

Option 2: Add 3 teams, and now you damn well are going to go after the big media money, so it's Boston College or Connecticut, Rutgers or Syracuse. But, at this point, maybe Missouri does become inevitable and you can only get 2 eastern teams. Then I want BC or Connecticut, along with the Orangemen.

Option 3: Add 5 teams. And, like I said, now you grab BC, Rutgers, Syracuse, Missouri and Nebraska, and if anybody says no, then Connecticut. If 2 teams say no, then cut Rutgers and scale back to Option 2.

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