The Big Ten has remained suspiciously quiet while conference realignment takes place. While the Pac-12 flirted with the idea of expanding to 14 or 16 teams and the ACC, Big XII, and SEC have expanded, Jim Delaney, the commissioner of the Big Ten, has stood silent.
Delaney released a statement today explaining that the Big Ten was happy at 12 teams but that could be an illusion to hide what is going on behind the scenes.
It wouldn’t be the first time that Delaney and the Big Ten surprised the college football landscape when just last year the conference invited Nebraska instead of suggested and assumed expansion targets Missouri, Pitt, Syracuse, or Rutgers.
When it comes to expansion, the Big Ten is calculating and deliberate. When the league expanded in 1992 by inviting Penn State to participate for the 1993 season they hit a home run. They hit another home run by adding Nebraska. Both programs provide national appeal, expand the media markets and recruiting grounds, and add to the history and tradition that is so coveted by the Big Ten.
Right now there sits four programs ripe for the picking and if added would make the Big Ten the clear winners in conference realignment regardless of what the other FBS conferences do.
Due to the MLB playoffs being on-going, the addition of each of the four schools will be described in baseball terms.
Rutgers – Base Hit
The Scarlet Knights do not provide the Big Ten with any elite athletic programs but they are an AAU (American Association of Universities) institution which the Big Ten looks favorable upon, more so than any other conference. Rutgers would also help expand the Big Ten Network into the New York/New Jersey media market which would mean more money for all of the Big Ten member schools. Annual trips by Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska, etc (depending on how the divisions are established) would capture audience attention and promote subscriber growth for the BTN.
Missouri – Base Hit
Missouri has long coveted a spot in the Big Ten. The addition of Mizzou would expand the Big Ten’s footprint even more by adding more additional media markets with Kansas City and St. Louis while providing the Big Ten with another AAU school. The Tigers are also competitive in both football (.475 conference winning percentage since the formation of the Big XII) and basketball. Columbia, MO fits nicely into the Big Ten area and they would provide the conference with logical conference games with Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois.
Connecticut – Base Hit
The Huskies have one of the best collegiate basketball teams in the country and would help the Big Ten clinch the New York market while securing the Hartford-New Haven market which is ranked 30th according to stationindex.com. Connecticut also offers excellent academics and rank 58th nationally according to U.S. News. The addition of Rutgers and UConn would clamp down on the New York/New Jersey media market and expand the Big Ten Network further into the Northeast markets while limiting the ACC from establishing a stranglehold on the area by grabbing Rutgers and UConn first before John Swofford could act.
Bases are loaded and now only need to be brought home.
Notre Dame – Grand Slam
The Big Ten and Notre Dame have long flirted with each other. In the early 1990’s Notre Dame considered joining and did so again in 1999. Both times they rejected the overtures from the Big Ten but this time could be different. The Big East is on life support now with the defections of Pitt and Syracuse to the ACC and TCU to the Big XII. That means the Big East is left with only six football playing schools and is at risk of losing its BCS automatic qualifying bid. The Big XII is also considering expanding even further which would mean offering two of Cincinnati, Louisville, or West Virginia. A loss of just one more school would mean the end of the Big East as a viable football conference.
That would also put Notre Dame’s affiliation with that conference at risk. The Big East has long been home to the non-football sports for the Fighting Irish but with a football/basketball split looming in the Big East the Irish would have to consider either keeping their non-football sports in a competitively weakened conference, which the Big East basketball conference would be, or applying for membership with all sports to the Big Ten.
The reason it’s the Big Ten and not any other conference is due to the long standing rivalries with Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue along with dormant rivalries with Northwestern and Penn State.
Notre Dame’s decision likely hinges on what happens with the Big Ten and whether or not the Irish would want to stay in a basketball conference whose power members include Georgetown, Villanova, and Marquette or find permanent, extremely competitive homes for all sports.
If Jim Delaney wanted to be proactive, he would immediately offer all four schools. Those four universities would improve the overall programming for the Big Ten while increasing the media markets to broadcast the Big Ten Network in which means more subscribers and more money for all universities.
The addition of Rutgers, Missouri, UConn, and Notre Dame would balance out the divisions as evenly as possible while maintaining all rivalries while renewing dormant ones and creating new ones.
The winning percentages for Missouri was used from the formation of the Big XII in 1996, 2004 for UConn which was when they first joined the Big East for football, and 1993 for Rutgers and Notre Dame. Using the same criteria used when the Legends and Leaders divisions were first created (1993 as the starting point and competitive balance taking precedence over geographic alignment), the divisions could shake out as this:
- Michigan .674
- Notre Dame .610
- Wisconsin .608
- Iowa .524
- Michigan State .490
- Northwestern .431
- Minnesota .319
- Rutgers .238
- Total Division Winning Percentage .487
- Ohio State .788
- Nebraska .669
- Penn State .624
- Missouri .475
- Purdue .462
- UConn .458
- Illinois .344
- Indiana .236
- Total Division Winning Percentage: .507
The permanent crossover rivalries would be as follows:
Ohio State/Michigan, Purdue/Notre Dame, Illinois/Northwestern, Michigan State/Indiana, Penn State/Minnesota, Wisconsin/Nebraska, Iowa/Missouri, and UConn/Rutgers.
When creating the divisions, all Big Ten rivalries were attempted to be maintained, as well as with Notre Dame's rivalries with their Big Ten rivalries. All but one of the Big Ten rivalries were kept with the exception of the Land Grant Trophy between Michigan State and Penn State. Wisconsin head coach Brett Bielema gets his wish as the Badgers and Nebraska Cornhuskers become permanent crossover rivals.
Iowa and Missouri become permanent rivals due to proximinity and close to the same winning percentage while UConn and Rutgers are permanent rivals due to proximinity as well.
One of Notre Dame's oldest, yet dormant, rivalries will be renewed with the Irish playing Northwestern as a division opponent while maintaing the Purdue rivalry as a permanent crossover game.
Also in these new divisions at least one of Ohio State, Penn State, and Nebraska would make an annual trek to UConn and at least one of Notre Dame, Michigan, and Wisconsin would travel to Rutgers to guarantee viewers in the New York market for the Big Ten Network.
The Big Ten already plays a 9 game conference slate which gives each team the opportunity to schedule 3 out of conference opponents. For Notre Dame, this would give them the ability to schedule USC, Navy, and Boston College to go along with their division schedule of Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern, Minnesota, Rutgers, and Purdue.
The Irish's rivalry with Stanford would have to be sacrificed but they would replace that by renewing a rivalry with Northwestern.
Expansion to 16 teams makes sense by adding currently untapped media markets for the Big Ten Network, adding tremendous academic universities, increasing the conference’s footprint for recruiting purposes – all of which would add more money to the already deep Big Ten coffers.