The Big 14

22 02 2010

I am a huge college football fan, so let me warn you upfront that this blog will likely see a lot of college football-related posts. Specifically, this blog will see a lot of Iowa and Big Ten-related football posts. Currently, college football is in the off-season (though spring practices are right around the corner), so news only trickles out through dedicated news sources (ESPN) and newspapers that cover Big Ten college towns (Press-Citizen, etc.) Today, I I bring you news from both kinds of sources.

The topic at hand is Big Ten Expansion (it deserves the capital). Right now, the Big Ten Conference is made up of 11 football teams (Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State). The league went from 10 to 11 in the 90’s when Penn State was voted in. In the late 90’s, an offer was extended to Notre Dame to join up as the 12th team, but that offer was denied.

The problem with having less than 12 teams is the inability to have a Conference Championship game. The Big Ten champion is determined by wins and losses against conference opponents, making it a likelihood that the championship is “shared” by multiple teams, some times as many as four. The Southeastern Conference (SEC), home to Florida, Alabama and the like, has 12 teams. The teams are split into two six-team divisions, the winners of which play each other for the conference championship at the end of the season. Were the Big Ten to expand to 12, they could have a similar set up. It has been proven that having a conference championship garners more money and publicity to the league, which can only be positives.

Following this bowl season (and Iowa’s victory in the BCS Orange Bowl!), the Big Ten announced it would begin investigating expansion once again. Big Ten fans, and college football aficionados across the country, instantly began speculating on teams that would get the nod. Amidst all the swirling rumors and ideas, the Big Ten has hired a firm to investigate possible candidates, reports ESPN’s Big Ten Blog: http://espn.go.com/blog/bigten/post/_/id/10329/big-ten-hires-firm-to-explore-expansion

Obviously the first name to pop up among fans was Notre Dame. The school fits within the Big Ten’s geographic footprint, joining Indiana and Purdue in the State of Indiana. Plus, Notre Dame already fills its regular season schedule with a slew of Big Ten opponents. I personally don’t think ND will jump on board, because they enjoy being a “national” school with no conference ties in football. It allows them national recognition, and the ability play schools like USC, Stanford and Navy on a yearly basis. They have a lucrative multi-million dollar TV contract with NBC, which also could play a part. Truth be told, due to profit sharing, all Big Ten schools got twice the amount of money from media contracts than ND received last year, so money isn’t really the issue. ND won’t be #12.

Other names tossed about include Pittsburgh, Missouri, Syracuse, Rutgers and Nebraska. All of these schools have ups and downs that I won’t go in to too much detail about. Rutgers, Pittsburgh and Syracuse open up more of the East Coast media market, while Missouri and Nebraska gently extend the Big Ten’s already impressive Midwest representation (Mizzou more so with Kansas City and St. Louis media markets).

The only other impressive name being bandied about is the University of Texas. Texas is a wet-dream for Big Ten fans. It’s a great football school, located in one of the best football recruiting states in the country. It’s not geographically connected to the Big Ten, but that wouldn’t bother anyone if the school actually joined up. Personally, I don’t think it will ever happen. Money could play a factor, since the Big 12 (which Texas is a major player in) doesn’t have equitable profit-sharing like the Big Ten. However, I think Texas’ prominent role in the Big 12, as well as existing rivalries with Big 12 teams, will keep it from being the Big Ten’s 12th team. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think it will happen.

During the hunt for the suspected 12th team, the Big Ten came out and said it is not exactly ruling out picking up 3 teams, going to 14 teams total with two 7-team divisions. I don’t think this is going to happen, as I don’t see 3 big Ten-worthy candidates out there. But, stranger things have happened. The Des Moines Register outlines a possible 14-team league, dubbed “The Western Conference”, and splits out the teams into North and South Divisions: http://blogs.desmoinesregister.com/dmr/index.php/2010/02/18/if-nebraska-and-mizzou-want-to-play-ball-with-the-big-ten-to-heck-with-it-—-lets-go-to-14-baby/

The Register pegs Pittsburgh, Missouri and Nebraska as the new additions, and sticks Iowa in the South Division. I don’t think anything like this would happen, but it is a scenario I’d be open to.

Any thoughts on Big Ten expansion? Leave a comment below

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