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Friday, July 27, 2007

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


Anonymous said...

I love how a program who had to hire a semi-pro team to beat Cincinnati has the nerve to criticize Huggins LMAO!!

Anonymous said...

Oh no, not corporate sponsorship on a football stadium! Why, think of the dishonor a school with sponsorship would bring the conference if they went to the Rose Bowl presented by citi or the FedEx Orange Bowl! How could you allow yourselves to make money from a school with such shameless corporate ties?

Anonymous said...

From here in Kansas, your preferences for Texas and against Missouri seem well founded. Many of your observations seem correct. I do think you seriously undervalue Nebraska in sports other than football. Basketball not so good, but NU is surprisingly strong in baseball and some olympic sports. Because TV would be the driving consideration, apart from Notre Dame, it seems to me that no school in the present B-10 states would add much. Nor would a school in KY.

Anonymous said...

"Rutgers? Not really on par with Big Ten schools for academics.

You're kidding right? Rutgers is ranked with or above more Big Ten schools than below. Look at US news, various internet measures, international rankings, etc. We finished 17th nationally last year in the all sports rankings. You guys really need to get a grip!

Unknown said...

Rutgers in the Big 10 is an interesting concept.

I think it might have the same type of backfire though that BC in the ACC has .. Namely the geography is crazy ...

Only school within 1 days easy driving distance would be Penn State (who makes more sense in the Big East) ..

The pro is that would make for great rivalries in Women's College B'ball (Purdue, Ohio State and Rutgers would be the high level (and Illinois has big Rutgers connections in coaching as does Iowa) .. And would be stronger schools academically ...

As a whole, I think it makes more sense for Rutgers to stay in the Big East.

Anonymous said...

Cincinnati (CIN-CIN-NATI) is better academically than you think, with top top programs in Design, Architecture, Music, Engineering, and Medicine. Certainly better than UL or WVU. Billion dollar endowment. 5th oldest 1a football program in the country. Hall of Famer Sid Gillman refined his west coast offense for nearly a decade before taking it to the pros. Basketball? Five straight final fours. Six overall. Three straight NC games. Two straight championships.

With that said, Cincinnati is too close to be a contender, and haven't hit our stride in BCS football yet. Too soon.

Thanks for thinking of us though.

SportsBiz said...

Personally, I think Delaney is blowing smoke. That said, I think Louisville is closer to a real candidate than you might think. Is it ready? Not yet, but then expansion is probably not ready for a couple of years yet anyway. Give the school a few years to continue the work in place on the academics and they might actually get within shouting distance of the CIC thing.

The basketball program, at least under Pitino, is no longer a JUCO haven. Kragthorpe will stay around and keep the Cards at the high level that Bobby P had them humming at. With a 28 finish in the Directors Cup standings this year and likely higher next year, Jurich has the whole athletic department firing on all cylinders.

The problem will be whether the rest of the league can accept a metropolitan research university making strides to overcome a number two position in a state which has historically not valued higher education - hell it hasn't valued education of any sort. ND doesn't provide access to the NYC market or any new market for that matter - only Rutgers or Syracuse does that. If Delaney is serious about this as a market expansion, then the discussion begins and ends with Rutgers, otherwise Louisville is worth a look.

Hermano said...

"Hall of Famer Sid Gillman refined his west coast offense for nearly a decade before taking it to the pros. Basketball? Five straight final fours. Six overall. Three straight NC games. Two straight championships."

Big Ten would like something in the last 50 years, thank you very much. This won't happen, because the bigger schools won't go for it, and the smaller schools we don't want.

Also, you forgot a con for WVU: They marry their cousins.

ckopech said...

pitt and uconn would need a heluva push out of the Big would basically kill the basketball side of the conference, as those two teams (and WVU and G'Town) have been the best four teams in the league over the last 6 years or so. I would love to see Jim Calhoun in the Big 10, though

Anonymous said...

Mizzou to the Big Ten, Arkansas to the Big 12, and East Carolina to the SEC. That is how it is going down here in Hog Land according to many.

Anonymous said...

I think Syracuse provides a lot more potential on the East Coast than Rutgers. Like you noted, Rutgers has basically one good year to hang its hat on. Plus, NYC isn't a one school town - Syracuse draws as much interest there as Rutgers on normal years (they just do bandwagon coverage if one of the teams is particularly good, like Rutgers was last season). If it's going to be a school other than Notre Dame, I'd go with Syracuse for sure. Here's a blog post that I wrote last year on this very subject:

Also, Louisville definitely doesn't fit in with the Big Ten academically or in terms of expanding our geographic footprint for the better. The Cardinals are fine on the field, but everything else doesn't pass the "smell test" at all. We need to go east because that's where the media market growth is as opposed to other midwestern schools or south.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget about Colorado as an option

Jeff said...

As a Texas fan it's an interesting idea but I'm not sure how realistic it is for many of the very reasons you pointed out. The hype, publicity, match-ups, etc, would be great (maybe even great enough to deal with the fact that suddenly we'd be playing a Big 10 slate, A&M, OU, Rice, and a C-USA/WAC/Sunbelt cupcake every season) but would the money gained be negatively balanced by flying our soccer, swimming & diving, track & field, etc, teams up to that way multiple times every year?

The baseball stuff might be more important than many outsider would think which points to the Pac-10 as a better fit (which history says was the original plan until Texas politicians with ties to other in-state schools hitched Tech, Baylor, and A&M's waggons to the back of ours).

Also, while there are certainly things that aren't great for us with the Big XII, we end up getting the advantage of having conference tournaments, conference championship games, etc, in-state... or in a few cases up the road in Oklahoma City. I honestly don't know the answer to this but how likely do you think it would be to have the New Big Whatever Conference football championship game in Texas ever few years? Basketball? Baseba... er... never mind. I mean, between recruiting and wanting to get to somewhere warmer certain times of the year there could be reasons to consider it, but on the other hand 11 schools (and the majority of their fans) are in one part of the country and we'd be in another. It just seems like they'd end up choosing the place that would be accessible to the greatest amount of fans and while there are a lot of us, there are 11 schools worth of the rest of you.

It's kind of funny... the distance thing would end up being a likely hindrance to this actually working... but if it's really the TV Network that is the force behind all of this the distance (and resulting addition of a completely different geographic region) would be one of the things that would make Texas one of the most attractive options.

Whatever happens, if it's a Big XII team that goes I expect there will be several teams looking for new homes before it's done (especially Texas or Nebraska... but maybe even Mizzou since I don't know if we'd be able to pry Arkansas away from the SEC and I'm not convinced that TCU would bring much, even as impressive as they've been recently). If Nebraska leaves the north collapses and there really aren't any viable teams to patch up the already weak division (BYU or Utah would be as close as you could get and that wouldn't do it). If the North implodes the conference follows. If Texas leaves the entire conference will be scurrying. I'd expect a lot of knocks on the SEC's doors (with a couple... CU and UT if they're still around... looking to the Pac 10).

Your assessment of the other options is pretty good. I'd agree with another poster that Nebraska DOES have more to offer than just football athletically, though if you're only interested in Football, Basketball, and... Hockey...? you'd be right. Their Basketball team would win an upset game or two in your conference but wouldn't be a "power". They were 27th in the "Directors Cup" standings this past school year. (To put that in perspective, Michigan was 4, Texas 8, Ohio State 14, Wisconsin 16, Minnesota 20, Penn State 21, Notre Dame 22, Northwestern 30, with the rest of the Big 10 ranked below 30).

Most of the other schools don't bring a "full package" kind of deal. Notre Dame is the best fit and would be the one school that could bring in more viewers that isn't outside the Big 10 region. Beyond that there are several gambles and several schools that would be pretty "average" additions to your conference.

Regardless of what happens, would love to see the Horns and the Wolverines face off on the gridiron again. The fans were great last time (much better than our more recent Big 10 fan interactions) and the game was an instant classic (even before the ball limped through the goalpost).

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jeffrey. As a Texas fan the possibility of hooking up with the Big 10 is very interesting. The same goes for the PAC 10. Frankly, I don't think very many Texas fans care about the Big 12 and I think quite a few feel that we would be a better fit elsewhere. But, as Jeffrey and Brian pointed out, we're pretty limited by geography. That and the fact that the Big 12 is a money-maker probably mean that Texas joining the Big 10 is a no-go.

Anonymous said...

Rutgers is a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities just like every existing Big Ten school. Rutgers has a good all around Athletic Department that includes most of the Men's and Women's sports of the Big Ten. Rutgers currently has one of the best graduation rates of their athletes in Division One sports. Rutgers is the only school that can bring in a piece of the New York City TV Market, which is the number one TV Market in the United States. As a 12th school, Rutgers would enable the Big Ten to get another Bowl agreement, which would mean more revenue for every school in the Big Ten. Rutgers is also a Land Grant institution and a state school in the Northeast Corridor like Penn State. Rutgers would be a natural rival for Penn State. Penn State would love to have them added to the Big Ten.