Sunday, July 29, 2007

Big Ten Expansion: Dollars vs. Sense

Why expand the Big Ten from 11 teams to 12? Simple: Money. The Big Ten Network--which has yet to launch and is a topic of concern on many message boards--was the first cash cow brought to us by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.

And if cash is the one and only consideration in expansion, it's somewhat unfortunate, because it would rule out a couple schools that make sense. To me, that would rule out a team like Iowa State. While the geography works, a second Iowa team wouldn't be the cash-cow Delany is likely after. The lack of riches has also been an argument against Nebraska.

There are numerous possibilities that would make sense. Notre Dame is always bandied about as a potential 12th team. Unfortunately they've never seemed inclined to come aboard. Any self-respecting college football fan knows how much $$ Notre Dame would add to conference coffers. And, quite clearly, a Notre Dame addition would add value to the Big Ten Network.

But for puropses of speculation, I'll run through a handful of programs that might make sense because of either financial riches or athletic prowess.

** Pittsburgh Panthers: The basketball program would be a nice fit in the Big Ten. A Pittsburgh addition would also give Penn State an in-state rival in the conference. This advances the conference east and into a mid-size market in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh, like Minneapolis, is more of a professional market and is more urban than your typical Big 10 school. Pittsburgh, however, is a top 30 media market nationwide--behind Minneapolis according to Nielsen. In my opinion, the school makes sense financially and in terms of bringing a competitive program to the conference.

** Nebraska Cornhuskers: In mgoblog's very thorough look at contenders, the blogger argues that becuase Nebraska only brings cachet in football, that they'd be a mistake as a 12th team. I disagree. Penn State came to the conference as a football stalwart and a basketball afterthought. Nebraska would do much the same, and help advance the network, er, conference west. It's been pointed out elsewhere that adding Nebraska doesn't do much in terms of adding a team that would bring in new, big markets for the BTN. I can't disagree with that, but the excellent football tradition would be a nice addition.

** Syracuse Orange: It's in a state contiguous with the eastern part of the conference. And adding Syracuse would open up the New York markets and give Penn State an eastern rival. That all sounds great. But let's remember, Syracuse isn't a New York city school, it's located in the northwestern New York hinterland, much closer to dreary Buffalo than the big city. Again, according to Nielsen, Syracuse is a mid-70s market nationwide.

** North Dakota State: I'm not serious.

** Missouri Tigers: Both its football and basketball programs have been, well, a lot like Minnesota's. That is, nothing much to talk about. The addition would open up a new state for recruiting and television dollars and move the network south. When pitted against eastern schools like Syracuse and Rutgers, in terms of financial benefit Missouri takes a backseat. But St. Louis is a top-30 media market, and in my opinion, the school would make good geographic sense. The Tigers would work to create border rivals with Illinois and Iowa.

** Rutgers Scarlet Knights: Pretty much every writer who has addressed this issue has tossed Rutgers into the mix. The argument is, as Black Shoe Diaries lays out, that the Scarlet Knights would bring the New Jersey and New York markets into the mix and expand the conference east. But it also adds a school that has had limited athletic success.

I leave out Notre Dame because I don't see the Irish giving up their current indepndent football status. But others disagree. Steve Grinczel at Spartans Insider does the best job I've seen breaking down the who, what, when and why of a 12th team.

On why the Irish might be thinking differently:

The conference would allow Irish basketball to regain its late '70s status and add major brand-name cachet. There could even be talk of a Big Ten ice hockey championship, and the non-revenue sports would get an immediate upgrade with Notre Dame's excellence in that area.

Maybe Notre Dame felt it had nothing to gain football-wise from joining a conference, but the rest of its athletic department did. Plus, its campus occupies Position A in Big Ten geography. While that hunk of land in Southwestern Michigan -- I mean Northwestern Indiana -- is a distant outpost in the Big East, its priceless property in Big Ten land.

Can you say "Ca-ching"? The presidents could, and were content to sit there like the big oil execs waiting as long as it takes to get their drills into Iraqi oil.

Let's hope that is true, and Notre Dame sees the benefit in coming aboard. But if it doesn't happen, my only hope is that Delany brings someone in that brings more than dollars. Nebraska might not bring the cash, but it makes the Big Ten the foremost football conference in the land. Would you rather travel to Nebraska on a Saturday afternoon in November to cheer for the marron and gold amid a sea of red or to New Jersey to watch Rutgers? I'll take the tradition and pride over the bottom-line.


Jon Marthaler said...

Just to point out the academic perspective: Nebraska, Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse, and Missouri are all major research universities. Notre Dame is not.

Splitting hairs, perhaps, but given the background of the Committee on Insitutional Cooperation (the "Academic Big Ten"), it could make a difference.

PJS said...

Good point. But my bet would be all the university presidents would take the increased cash flow from Notre Dame's arrival.

Frank the Tank said...

In my opinion, it's Notre Dame as the very first choice. If the Big Ten is 110% sure that the Irish won't join, then the next best option is Syracuse. Even though the city of Syracuse isn't a large TV market, you can argue that the Orange draw more media interest in New York City than any other college. Pitt really draws from the same media base and Penn State (and isn't nearly as prominent in that region), so they wouldn't really expand the footprint. Illinois also already provides a base in the St. Louis market, so Mizzou wouldn't really add much to the footprint, either. Rutgers needs a lot more time to develop its athletic programs if it's going to be a Big Ten school - the location is fantastic, but the Big Ten needs a ready-made power, not just potential.

The "major research university" isn't going to be factor when it comes to Notre Dame. The Big Ten already extended an invitation to them a decade ago, so it obviously wasn't a factor. The trade-off is that Notre Dame's undergrad program is one of the top-15 in the nation, which none of the other potential invitees are even close to. There's no splitting hairs with the Irish - if they want to come to the Big Ten, the conference will take them. The splitting hairs will only come with anyone considered for membership other than Notre Dame.

Anyway, here's a blog post that I wrote last year about this very subject:

Erik said...

Please God, let this not come to pass.

I'd be infinitely more pleased with kicking out one school and having full round-robin ala Pac-10.