Expansion discussion began as a simple, slow-paced isolated change, but has evolved into what might become the reworking of collegiate athletics at break-neck speed. Hold on tight.
A couple of months ago, the Big Ten announced it would look into expanding to a twelve team conference.
Some rumors were thrown around, little quotes were given here and there and little speculation was warranted. Supposedly, nothing would happen for 12-18 months, and the likelihood for anything to happen at all was fairly slim.
But last week it was rumored the Pac-10 invited six Big 12 schools to form a 16 team conference. That turned out to be false, although Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott has since been given permission to officially invite those six schools, believed to be Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado.
And with that, expansion has quickly turned into a collegiate game of chess, with each conference trying to move one step ahead of all other counterparts.
School presidents are playing the same game on a parallel, as no one wants to be left out of the four potential super conferences--the "super conference" theory revolves around the Pac-10, Big Ten, SEC and one other conference all expanding to 16 teams. The "other conference" would probably consist of a merger of the ACC and Big East.
In other words, a gesture of possible expansion from the Big Ten has led to the possible reshaping of major collegiate athletics, with four super conferences and a couple mid-major conferences underneath.
But first, let's take a look into what criteria the Big Ten is requiring for an additional university, and under what circumstances will allow expansion.
Historically, the Big Ten has explored the possibility of expansion every half decade or so. In 2003, Notre Dame was courted, but to no avail. The Fighting Irish have always been the belle of the ball, but financially it never made enough sense for either side (especially on the side that boasts the Golden Dome) to warrant a marriage.
With the success shown from the recently unveiled Big Ten Network, expansion appears to be only uber positive for all sides evolved.
The Big Ten Network, Big Ten Commisioner Jim Delany's prized bull, has revolutionized how conferences can rewire their tv contracts. The likes of the Pac-10 and Big 12 are trying to play catch-up to what is now the more innovate conference in the Big Ten (the SEC just signed a 15 year megadeal with ESPN). The Big Ten reportedly receives 70 cents on the dollar (around five times what most TV networks receive), so adding a university that also adds a new TV market (Rutgers and Syracuse would add the lucrative New York TV market, Missouri would add St. Louis, and so on) is a big staple on who will be invited.
Each school looking to join the Big Ten will need to expand the Big Ten footprint (geographically add new exposure for the network), have enough success in football and men's basketball to increase or at least sustain the revenue garnered (which is put into a pool and distributed among each university equally), and increase the conference's resources in research and development and academics. Due to the importance of the latter, membership in the AAU (Association of American Universities) is extremely important. AAU member schools share facilities and research.
Only Notre Dame will be granted an exception to not being a part of the AAU, thanks to their impecable academic reputation. South Bend wouldn't expand the Big Ten Network's footprint either, but ND's reputation of athletic excellence and the prestige associated with it's football program trumps it's less-than-satisfying geographic location.
Most talk surrounding expansion has centered around football. The Big Ten would benefit from a twelfth team and thus the opportunity to institute a championship game in December. This game would bring in an estimated $15-22 million dollars and lessen the lay-off from conference play to the bowl season.
However, the possibility to expand the Big Ten Network's reach and thus increase TV revenue, a school's excellence in academics and research (each school currently apart of the Big Ten is known as a very good research university) and a university's athletic excellence will roughly play an equal role in what school(s)--if any--are invited to join.
With those three objectives in mind, here are the schools linked with Big Ten expansion:
Rutgers--Again, the Big Ten is desperate to weave their way into the lucrative New York TV market. Adding Rutgers means publicity and more importantly advertising in the worlds biggest market. That's quite a selling point, even if Rutgers may fall short on the field and court.
Syracuse University--Like Rutgers, Syracuse adds the New York market. The Big Ten may try to add both and rake in a bigger piece of the pie. Financially it makes sense, but adding these two schools wouldn't exactly make the Big Ten a more formidable athletic conference (although in Syracuse' case, it would add an elite basketball program to go along with Michigan State).
University of Connecticut--Connecticut makes sense geographically and athletically, but UConn is not apart of the AAU. Unless a vote is held to add them as the 64th university, Connecticut will not be apart of the Big Ten. Many view expansion as only affecting athletics, but it must be noted the Big Ten is adding a university, not just a team.
University of Missouri--Mizzou adds the St. Louis market and is at least average on the field. It's not flashy, but it makes sense.
University of Nebraska--The Huskers are home to one of the most notorious football programs in the country, and would extend the reach of the Big Ten Network. Sure, the basketball program falls short of Big Ten standards, but football is king.
University of Texas--The first of the "home run" candidates. We know the Big Ten is interested in Texas from e-mails sent from university presidents Gordon Gee and Bill Powers. Texas is the only school that brings in more money annually than Ohio State. Athletically, it can be argued that Texas is the best school in the country, and if you combine baseball to football and men's basketball, it's without question at the top of the list. The campus in Austin is also the only campus in the same ballpark as Columbus, and the amount of money sent to UT for research grants is staggering. Obviously, adding Texas adds the Texas market. This is the only school that fits all three criteria to a T (bad pun intended). However, this university comes with baggage...
Texas A&M University--You don't get the Longhorns without the Aggies--simple as that. Texas legislatures simply will not allow for one to leave without the other. It's not too big of a stretch anyway. The Aggies aren't terrible athletically, and Texas A&M is a land-grant based research university, and thus has fantastic available resources.
University of Pittsburgh--Pittsburgh wouldn't extend the network's reach, but would have a natural rivalry with Penn State. Athletically, the Panthers are up to snuff and adding this school wouldn't add to travel costs. Pittsburgh, like the next university on this list, has always been a name whispered in expansion talks because of it's neighbor-like geography.
University of Notre Dame--The other "home run" school. The prestige alone makes the Irish the main target of expansion. Athletically and academically, adding Notre Dame adds to the lure and prestige of the entire conference. No AAU? Doesn't matter. Doesn't add a TV market? Doesn't matter either. The lure that follows the Irish alone will be worth an invite. Whether or not ND would accept is another story. Ironic that the same reason many people outside of South Bend dislike ND is the same reason why they may get an invite.
Also, a quick note on the University of Cincinnati--many (in Cincinnati) believe the Big Ten hasn't invited the Bearcats out of fear of losing to an in-state rival. This is simply not true. Cincinnati doesn't add a TV market (Ohio State has it's home state covered), doesn't boast any elite programs (above average, but not elite) and isn't apart of the AAU. It's simply not a good fit from any angle.
With all that being said, there are several variables one must realize to see how this all might play out. The entire college sports landscape is now involved, with every move interconnecting each conference, not just the Big Ten.
Variable 1: Notre Dame--it begins and ends here. The lure of the Big Ten Network and the success financially that will come with it will be enough to bring the Irish to the table. However, it probably won't be enough to force a signing. ND will make more money with the Big Ten, but in order to leave the Big East--where all it's other athletic programs play except football--the four 16-team super conference theory would probably have to come to fruition. Basically, the Irish make the most money by going to a BCS Bowl game. With only four super conferences (64 teams) running the country, it'll be nearly impossible for Notre Dame to stay independent and still make a BCS Bowl. IT would also make it extremely difficult for Notre Dame to schedule opponents. Maybe the Big Ten and Notre Dame finally agree just as a twelfth school, and if that happens, that will most likely be the only major expansion in the country.
Variable 2: Nebraska and Missouri--It's been noted that both schools have become disgruntled with the Big 12. In response to expansion rumors, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe issued an ultimatum: publicly announce your allegiance with the Big 12 or declare you'd like to leave and wait out for the Big Ten's (possible) invitation by Friday (June 11). If Nebraska and Missouri both decide to stay in the Big 12, that would bring unity throughout the conference, and the dominoes would fall. That being, the Big 12 stays together, the Pac-10 looks elsewhere to add two teams, the Big Ten most likely only adds one university and the college landscape stays roughly the same. If each school proclaims they'd like to test the waters and leave the conference, it's probable the six schools invited by the Pac-10 (Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado or Baylor) all accept. Texas and other schools in that conference want to keep the Big 12 together, but will leave if it sees the warning signs.
This leads to the Big Ten adding five schools, the SEC adding four, and the super conference theory brings about the ending of the world as we know it.
In the end, I believe at least Nebraska leaves the Big-12.
Variable 3: Texas Legislatures--At all costs, legislatures and politicians in Texas want to keep all four Texas universities--Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor--in the same conference. Baylor wasn't invited to the Pac-10, and if it's left behind it will lose millions each year while the Big 12 implodes and Baylor is forced to join a mid-major conference. We know that Texas and Texas A&M will be connected, but Texas Tech (the third state school) and Baylor may be forced to tag along. If all four Texas schools are forced to move together, that probably ends any chance for the Big Ten to add the Longhorns. Neither Texas Tech nor Baylor are apart of the AAU, and both are subpar athletic universities. Currently, Texas legislatures are doing everything in their power to have Baylor replace Colorado as the sixth team to join the Pac-10 in the event of expansion. It's possible they screw this entire thing up, and nothing can overtake this Texas sized roadblock.
To put it all on paper, here are some scenarios:
Scenario 1: Notre Dame stays independent. Nebraska and Missouri stay with the Big 12. Big Ten adds one team among Rutgers, Syracuse, Pittsburgh or Connecticut.
The Big Ten gets their twelfth team and adds a championship game. The Pac-10 stays pat while the Big 12 survives.
Scenario 2: Big Ten invites Notre Dame, they accept. Nebraska and Missouri stay with the Big 12.
The conference adds the university they've wanted for ages, and gets the twelfth team it needed to form two six-team divisions. The Pac-10 may look to add two schools from another conference, but the basic outlook of collegiate sports stays true.
Scenario 3: Big Ten invites Notre Dame, they accept. Nebraska and Missouri decide to leave the Big 12 (it's also possible this scenario comes to fruition if only Nebraska leaves).
The Big Ten adds all three schools, as well as any two schools left (Syracuse, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Connecticut) to fill 16 slots. It's possible the Big Ten invites only Nebraska in this scenario, and leave Mizzou out to dry.
The Pac-10 adds the six they invited. The SEC adds a couple schools from the ACC/Big East (Florida State, Miami etc.), and a fourth conference somehow emerges to form four super conferences. In many scenarios like this, Kansas and/or Kansas State and/or Iowa State are left to die in a ditch. What's left of the Big 12 will have to add to a mid-major conference such as the WAC or Conference USA.
Scenario 4: Nebraska and Missouri decide to leave the Big 12, Texas decides to join Big Ten.
The Big Ten would take on Texas, Texas A&M, Nebraska and Missouri, with one more slot available. Notre Dame would have the first shot, followed by one of the New York schools, then Pittsburgh and so on.
Whether or not the Big Ten would still choose to add Texas and Texas A&M if Texas Tech and/or Baylor is very doubtful, but possible.
Scenario 5: Everything stays the same, the Big Ten stays at 11 teams, and we do this all again in five years.
In other words, smoke without fire.
If I had my pick of the litter, I'd add Texas and Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Nebraska. That'd add three elite football programs, two elite basketball programs, three schools with fantastic reputations, and three TV markets, including New York.
If Texas doesn't join and depending on what Notre Dame does, I'd prefer these schools in order: Notre Dame, Nebraska, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Missouri, Rutgers, and UConn. I'm guessing Syracuse and Rutgers are both higher on Jim Delany's list--money talks.