Today there is an article in the AP that is saying that Big Ten conference commissioner Jim Delaney is putting expansion back on the table - he says “in the next year”. Pretty quick timetable there Jim!
The Big Ten (or Big Televen, as I like to call it) is clearly one of the dominant national conferences in the nation as far as fan base and revenue goes, second only to the SEC in my opinion. The Big Ten has immense universities and absolutely huge fan bases nationwide.
This year the Big Ten becomes the very first conference to start its own TV network, the Big Ten Network. For the most part they will be broadcasting the crap games in the conference, like the Illinois - Minnesota game I will be attending in November. This is equivalent in interest to Kentucky vs. Vandy in the SEC. I think as time goes by the BTN will start collecting more of the important games. The current contracts with ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 and ESPNU and other networks go for a while here, but will run out eventually. Then I think the BTN will be one of the largest pay per view conference networks around.
The SEC has openly admitted that they are watching the BTN closely to see how it works out. The BTN may stumble at first but eventually they will get it right - and the SEC will be quick to follow with a network of their own.
It is no coincidence that Delaney is talking expansion at the same time that the BTN is debuting. If the Big Ten gets one more team, they can split into two six team divisions and rake in the ca$h on a conference title game. Kirk Ferentz, the head coach of Iowa doesn’t like it. He says that a conference title game could hurt a teams chances (if they lose) of playing in a BCS game. He has a good point, but it cuts both ways. If you are just outside of the BCS and win the game, you could be vaulted into the BCS.
So, who are the candidates?
Notre Dame. The Big Ten has made runs at the Irish before and been rebuffed. I don’t see ND ever in the Big Ten - for football, at least. Notre Dame is a relatively smallish school compared to the behemoth schools of the Big Ten and would love to have a better place than the Big East for their other sports to play. But I don’t see the Big Ten making that concession for the non-revenue sports. I think the Irish can make more $$ on their own in football with their large fan base. I would put the odds at ND joining the Big Ten at pretty close to zero.
Big East remnants - The Big East is under assault now, as other conferences are inviting their football teams to join. I think it will disintegrate within one or two years as far as football goes. From a Big Ten fans standpoint the most attractive of these teams is Pitt. They have a natural rivalry with Penn State and their football program has been decent. As of late their basketball program has been great. The names of Syracuse and Rutgers have been thrown around as well. The only reason the Big Ten has these names on the table is for market penetration. Rutgers has sucked for the better part of a century in football, the last few seasons have certainly been not the norm for them. Syracuse has a great record for basketball, but not so much for football. I don’t see too much of a draw for either of them to join but the money counters at the Big Ten may see different. The teams won’t like it for sure with all of the extra travel to the east. But the entry into the gigantic east coast market may be too much for the Big Ten to leave on the table.
Big Twelve candidates - Iowa State has been talked to over the years as well. They have a very good rivalry already with Iowa and are pretty close geographically. But they have never really been a power of any sort on the national scene and the Big Ten already has coverage in that area with Iowa. Which leaves MY preferred choice…Missouri. The Tigers already have a heated rivalry in football and basketball with Illinois and share that long border. Geographically they aren’t too far from most of the teams and this addition would give the Big Ten an entry into the St. Louis (and whole state of Mizzou) market. To me, Mizzou makes the most sense for a Big Ten twelfth team but then again, what do I know about football and economics. I am just an avid Big Ten football fan. Also, I don’t know how much of an attachment Mizzou has with the Big Twelve, and how intense their rivalries are.
Cross posted at Saturday Football Update.