Archive for May, 2010

Dirty South for the Big Ten?

Posted: May 25, 2010 in Uncategorized
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Let me preface this blog post by stating that I am not an “insider” regarding Big Ten expansion nor have ever claimed to be.  However, as this blog has received more attention from across the country, I’ve been sent a good amount of information from people that actually do have relevant contacts.  Parsing through it all has been interesting since there has been a fair amount of conflicting stories by people who swear to be in the know (which has occurred in many places throughout the blogosphere and message board world).  So, I don’t blame anyone for taking this particular blog post with a grain of salt.  There’s a fairly good chance that all of this will be debunked by next week just like many other Big Ten expansion rumors.  I will say that the ultimate sources of this information would be privy to what was stated last week at the Big Ten meetings with Jim Delany.  Frankly, I couldn’t make this list up as it flies in the face of a lot of arguments and assumptions that I’ve set forth in this blog.

It appears that the Big Ten has been heavily discussing the following five schools:  Texas, Texas A&M, Maryland, Virginia and Vanderbilt.  I’m not saying that these are the only five schools being discussed, none of the “usual suspects” such as Nebraska and Rutgers will end up being included, or the Big Ten has forgotten about Notre Dame, but these are apparently all targets that the conference is focusing on.

Now, let’s not completely get tunnel vision with the names of the 5 particular schools that I listed above for the moment.  (I’ll give my personal opinion at the end.)  Instead, this is an opportunity to take a step back and re-evaluate and possibly re-calibrate what a lot of us have been assuming the Big Ten wants to do.  Here are my main takeaways:

1.  Texas is the Ultimate Goal – I know a lot of people believe that I’m a shining example of a Texas-to-the-Big Ten fanboy, yet there are multiple accounts from both the Big Ten and Texas that getting UT is the ultimate goal for the conference regardless of what anyone else is saying publicly.  So, this isn’t something to be passed off as, “Well of course the Big Ten wants Texas, but they’re never going to get them, so let’s move on.”  It is becoming clearer that the reason why the Big Ten is taking so long with its expansion plans is NOT because Texas and/or Notre Dame have rejected the conference outright, as many bloggers and message board posters seem to want to believe, but rather the exact opposite where at the very least Texas is returning Jim Delany’s phone calls.  There’s a whole lot of public posturing going on here.

2.  “Shifting Population” Comment is Literal – When Jim Delany made his comment that “shifting population” to the South and demographic changes was right alongside the Big Ten Network as the top factors for examining expansion, I initially was in agreement with Adam Rittenberg, who believed that the Big Ten really wasn’t looking South outside of Texas and wanted to shore up more population bases in the North. However, there are two things that all of the 5 schools listed have in common:  they are all located south of the Mason-Dixon line (yes, even Maryland) and in areas that are projected to grow rapidly in population over the next 20 years.  Just as importantly, those population changes are based more upon solid economic underpinnings (energy in Texas, federal government in Maryland and Virginia, health care in Nashville) than, as uber commenter Richard has argued, “Ponzi scheme” real estate aimed at investors and retirees in places like Florida, Arizona and Nevada.  Considering the slow-to-no growth population trends in the home states of the Big Ten’s marquee schools of Michigan and Ohio State, getting into higher growth areas, not just new markets, may be key for the conference to maintain its current demographic advantages for the long-term.

3.  Academics with a Capital “A” – Looking at this list of 5 schools, AAU membership in and of itself may not be enough for the Big Ten’s academic requirements.  The Big Ten appears to be looking to raise its “academic brand” as much or even more than its athletic brand.  Adding Vandy (top ranked BCS school after Stanford, Duke and Northwestern) and Virginia (in the discussion as the nation’s top public university) doesn’t just upgrade the academic reputation among the wonks that look at ARWU rankings and research funding numbers, but also for the average Joe upper middle class suburban high school student looking for colleges.  In the academic world, there is an image associated with being a “Big Ten school” in a manner that doesn’t exist for any other conference outside of the Ivy League, so the university presidents are going to be fiercely protective of that.  There would be no dilution of the Big Ten’s academic standing whatsoever, whether looking at the populist US News rankings or graduate research-focused metrics.

4.  No Mass Annexation from One Conference – This particular mix consists of 2 schools from the Big XII, 2 from the ACC and 1 from the SEC.  Whether this is ultimately the exact composition of expansion schools for the Big Ten (or even anywhere close to it), my general feeling is that we’re not going to see, say, 4 or 5 schools added from a single conference.  Part of the reason that the Big Ten is so strong is that it operates as a cohesive unit more than 11 separate bodies.  Therefore, in the event of a multi-school expansion, it would make sense that the conference would avoid adding too many schools from a particular source in order to prevent those schools from forming a “bloc” that never really integrates with the rest of the members.

5.  The American Pastime – Baseball is likely reason number 1,587 on the priority list for Big Ten expansion, yet it’s hard not to notice that the conference would have a kick-ass baseball league with these 5 schools.  As of the date of this blog post, Virginia and Texas are the top 2 ranked baseball teams in the nation while Vandy and Texas A&M are traditionally strong programs.  Come to think of it, one of the most prominent criticisms of the Big Ten from Texas fans is the poor baseball league, so if adding some great baseball teams makes a potential move a little bit easier, then all the better.

6.  Vanderbilt? – When Andy Katz said that a Big Ten source suggested Vandy as a potential expansion candidate a couple of weeks ago, I put about as much stock in it as the conference adding USC and UCLA.  It seemed to be almost a lose-lose situation – a school that would be incredibly difficult to pull away from the extremely stable SEC and a clear #2 in its own home market to Tennessee.  As much as I tell people to think like a university president instead of a sports fan, that doesn’t mean being sports ignorant.  Out of all of the conference realignment scenarios, the one thing that I consistently assumed is that the SEC wouldn’t lose any members.  Heck, I’ve continuously been skeptical about any schools bolting from the ACC.

Digging deeper, there is shockingly a lot of smoke around Vandy.  One key fact to note is that there is an extremely important personal connection: Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee, who is in the midst of his second stint in that position in Columbus and was the chancellor at Vanderbilt from 2000-2007.  As far as university presidents go, Gee is about as high profile as you can get.  Time named him the best college president in the country back in November and I recall when I was an upper middle class suburban high school student flipping through the US News rankings 15 years ago or so (ugh – it doesn’t feel that long ago) reading a day-in-the-life account of him in his first stint at tOSU.  By all accounts, Gee was incredibly popular at Vandy.  The main hiccup during his tenure was a report in the Wall Street Journal that his wife at the time was using medicinal marijuana in the chancellor’s residence along with hoarding the university’s supply of Doritos while listening to The Dark Side of the Moon and watching The Wizard of Oz at the same time.

Regardless, Gee is extremely influential in the academic world overall, not just the Big Ten.  He left Vandy on a high note and took the very un-SEC-like step of eliminating Vandy’s separate athletic department and consolidating its activities under the Division of Student Life.  If Vandy somehow ends up joining the Big Ten down the road, this connection may prove to have been a key factor.  I go back-and-forth as to whether this is a good idea (I don’t know if Vandy could get the Big Ten Network on basic cable in Nashville), but the main point is that Andy Katz’s original report has some legs.

So, if the Big Ten were to hypothetically add the 5 schools that I listed, I’d consider it on par with the LOST finale: pretty good overall and definitely can’t complain because it hit the main target, yet there’s a lingering feeling that there could’ve been a little more.  Replacing one of the schools other than Texas with Notre Dame or Nebraska would still seem to make it a blockbuster sports move as well as still having an overall improvement to the academic standing of the league.  In fact, one of the cited reasons that Vandy might be a consideration is that its academic strength would balance out adding a school like Nebraska in the minds of the university presidents.

As for the usual suspects, I still think Nebraska and Rutgers are in good positions to eventually get Big Ten invites if Texas doesn’t ultimately want to join, while Syracuse continues to hang around.  The schools that need to worry appear to be Pitt (logical deduction based on such a heavy focus on shifting population while its academic fit argument could be trumped by demographically-friendly schools like Vandy and UVA) and Missouri (multiple separate rumblings that it wouldn’t receive a Big Ten invite in any scenario – please don’t kill the messenger on that one).

So, that’s the latest scuttlebutt on Big Ten expansion.  Apologies to Twitter follower Cory Stinebrink for starting a rumor.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111)

(Image from Inside Vandy)

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The Big Ten athletic directors and coaches are meeting this week, where supposedly nothing regarding what we actually care about will be talked about. (Of course, I’m very ready to find out why Jim Delany went Tony Montana on someone’s ass in a conference meeting.) So, in light of the anticipated non-news that will doubtlessly spur about eighty rumors anyway, let’s take a look at some of the players and issues in conference realignment that actually haven’t been talked about enough by the national media and blogosphere.

1.  Fox – There were two very surprising developments out of the new ACC TV deal that is reportedly close to being finalized. First, the ACC received a substantial increase over its previous deal from ESPN, which was a feat in and of itself considering the “meh” football play coming out of that conference since it expanded, the still dragging economy, and the fact that everyone thought that ESPN blew its college sports wad on the SEC and Big Ten a couple of years ago. Second, that substantial increase was forced on ESPN by Fox as a legitimate competing bidder for the ACC’s TV rights. There had been a lot of speculation that Fox was simply getting out of the college sports business at a national level after losing the rights to the BCS bowls, yet it looks like Rupert Murdoch’s empire is thinking otherwise.

Now, as many of you know, Fox is a 49% partner in the Big Ten Network with the Big Ten Conference, so it has already had a significant role in conference realignment in an indirect sense (unless you buy into the theory, as some readers have suggested, that this is really a ploy for Murdoch to take over all of college athletics). Still, the fact that Fox was seriously in play to get the ACC games can alter the strategic thinking of the Big XII and Pac-10. One of my readers that does some consulting work for a conference speculated that having Fox as a potential deep-pocketed TV suitor for marquee games puts the Big XII, even without Nebraska and Missouri, in a much more stable position down the road… assuming that schools like Texas can stick around for a few years before the conference’s current TV deal expires. That arrangement might not make the Big XII on par with the Big Ten or SEC in terms of TV revenue, but if the Longhorn Sports Network (which I’ll get to in a moment) is a viable property for Texas, then UT in particular might be satisfied and continue to make a go of it with whatever is left in the Big XII. This also gives more credence to the possibility of a “Western Alliance” that is aligned with Fox for media purposes even if the Big XII is depleted and the Pac-10 doesn’t expand, where that alliance could form its own network or enter into joint ventures on TV deals.

So, maybe Fox has a bit more up its sleeve than slamming Glee down our throats during May sweeps.

2.  Longhorn Sports Network – The commenters on this blog have been going back-and-forth for quite awhile about the prospect of Texas starting its own TV network, but it seems as if though the national media has paid scant attention to it other than a cursory acknowledgment from time-to-time.  The thing is that outside of the Big Ten Network itself, there’s arguably nothing more important in this conference realignment cycle than the Longhorn Sports Network.  The fate of the LSN is likely going to determine which conference Texas is going to be in a couple of years from now over possibly every other issue (although there is another potential Texas-based complicating factor that I’ll describe later on). While other Big XII schools may complain that Texas is looking to make more revenue that those other schools can’t take advantage of, it’s in their best interests (at least the ones that don’t end up in the Big Ten or Pac-10) to ensure that the LSN works. It’s really the only conceivable way that Texas could possibly make as much TV money in the Big XII as all of the schools in the Big Ten and SEC and that’s what it’s going to take to get Texas to stay and not completely demolish its current conference. Otherwise, there’s literally nothing else for the Big XII to give to Texas – it’s already given the Longhorns as much as it can handle and it’s still far behind what the Big Ten and SEC could provide, so the notion that Texas is trying to extract more concessions from the Big XII is laughable.

The mere threat of this network could also be used as leverage by Texas in negotiating with the Big Ten or Pac-10, just as the SEC used the threat of a network to get ESPN to give it a Godfather offer to prevent that from ever happening. One way or another, the LSN seems to be conceptually far along at Texas and it’s going to be used to extract as much as possible from whichever conference that it ends up being a member of (whether it stays or goes).

3.  Texas Tech – Beyond the LSN, there’s a matter of Texas politics for wherever the Longhorns might end up.  Frequent commenter Hopkins Horn has been covering conference realignment for Burnt Orange Nation and put together an excellent piece speaking to a top state political observer.  The general assumption is that Texas A&M needs to move with Texas or at least find an acceptable alternative home, which isn’t surprising.  Of course, Texas A&M is a top 20 athletic revenue school with huge fan bases in places like Houston and Dallas and a better academic research reputation than schools such as Nebraska and Missouri.  In other words, A&M can stand strongly alone on its own merits.  The Aggies are not some type of political albatross.

So, the critical question for any conference that really wants Texas isn’t whether it’s willing to take Texas A&M because that’s an easy answer: HELL YES.  Instead, the real dilemma is whether that conference is willing to take Texas Tech, which is in the Big XII in the first place because of political protection and is exactly the type of school that could seek such protection again.  The political source that Hopkins Horn spoke to personally believed that Tech may not have to be part of a deal, yet that was the only time that he threw in the caveat that he could be wrong on that issue.  Note that UT president William Powers has been rumored to say that Texas can’t go anywhere without Texas Tech.  Whether that’s ultimately going to be the case is speculative, but having to take Tech on top of UT and A&M might have to be the assumed price for any conference that wants to break into the state of Texas and that certainly wouldn’t be acceptable to either the Big Ten or Pac-10. 

4.  Nancy Cantor – Ms. Cantor is the Chancellor of Syracuse University.  Prior to that, she was the Chancellor of my alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  As a result, Cantor is the only person at any of the usual suspects of candidate schools that has had direct working relationships with all of the decision makers in the Big Ten, ranging from the university presidents to the conference office run by Jim Delany.  Considering that there aren’t really 100% no-brainer candidates outside of Texas and Notre Dame, this is not an insignificant connection.

5.  The LDS “No Playing on Sunday” Rule – I’ve long thought that BYU would be an obvious choice for the Big XII if it needed to find any replacement teams. (Note that there’s NFW that BYU gets into the Pac-10. I explained it here before and Jon Wilner from the San Jose Mercury News expands upon it further.) The fact that Baylor only recently allowed frisky moves such as the Charleston and Waltz on campus seemed to indicate that the Big XII wouldn’t have a problem with religious peccadilloes.  However, I’ve been seeing a number of insights indicating that the inability to participate in athletic events on Sunday due to LDS rules could be a bigger sticking point than anticipated.  The rule isn’t a problem for football, yet virtually every other sport is affected.

Whether the Big XII can deal with that rule (and personally, I think that they should in order to get such a solid fan base if it loses a school like Nebraska) could determine whether the conference replaces any lost members from the west or east.  That has very significant “second wave” repercussions after the Big Ten and/or Pac-10 make any expansion moves.  If the Big XII doesn’t take BYU (due to the “No Playing on Sunday” rule) or TCU (since it doesn’t add a new market as long as Texas and Texas A&M are in the league), then the Mountain West Conference is looking in great shape to survive or even thrive, especially if it ends up adding Boise State as expected in the next few weeks.  Meanwhile, I’ve seen a surprisingly large amount of smoke that the Big XII might pick on the poor Big East even further by taking Louisville and potential Big East replacement member Memphis before it even had a chance to replace anyone in that conference.  Louisville certainly makes a lot of sense to me even if it would be on the geographic fringe of the conference since it has a good football fan base (who has simply suffered through a couple of horrific seasons) and a world-class basketball program that will likely cement itself permanently as the nation’s top revenue generator in that sport once the new KFC Yum! Center (or as I affectionately call it, the “KenTaco Hut Center”) opens up next season.

(On a side note, I’m a little bit frightened to try the KFC Double Down Sandwich.  It’s certainly not because I don’t like the ingredients.  Quite to the contrary, I’m a certified sommelier of bacon and having lived close to the only KFC buffet in the Chicago area for a couple of years means that I no longer can eat Original Recipe like a normal human being anymore – there are no limits to how many pieces I can throw down.  I’m concerned that trying the Double Down Sandwich will end up being like that first hit for a crack addict, which will then doom my body to needing 20 angioplasties by the time I’m 40.  My metabolism has fortunately always been pretty good, but I know that I’m going to slam into that wall sooner rather than later if I start making bacon/Original Recipe combos a regular habit.)

So, what the Big XII thinks about BYU could determine the ultimate fate of Big East almost as much as the Big Ten can.  I’ve actually been someone that is skeptical that there won’t be as many proverbial dominoes falling as predicted even if the Big Ten goes up to 16 schools, but the BYU dynamic is something that have a multitude of repercussions.

We’ll keep a watch out this week to see anything substantive comes out of the Big Ten athletic meetings.  In the meantime, I’ll get my fill of LeBron-to-the-Bulls speculation (I’m not going to lie – when Chad Ford wrote that 3 NBA GMs texted him that LeBron James would end up with the Bulls AND the team could trade the cap killing Luol Deng contract to clear space for signing Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh, I almost wet myself), watching the Blackhawks and pondering the final hours of my favorite show LOST.  Don’t ask me about White Sox baseball, though.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111)

(Image from Mediamonster)

The Big Ten expansion rumor mill continues to churn, with the conference reportedly inviting (or at least welcoming to fill out the online Common Application to join the conference) Notre Dame, Missouri, Nebraska and Rutgers.  Supposedly, if Notre Dame were to accept the Big Ten’s invite this time around, then the conference would add one more school for a 16-school conference.  If the Domers reject the overtures of the “Big Integer” once again, then the conference would decide between staying at 14 schools or finding 2 other schools to invite.  (Note that as I’m writing this, SportsCenter has teased talk about Notre Dame possibly joining the Big Ten about 8 times in the last 20 minutes with nary a mention of anyone else.)

This particular rumor has been denied by various parties, including the Big Ten’s office and Nebraska’s chancellor (who has probably been the most open university president of any of the schools involved over the past few weeks).  Still, I’m suffering from confirmation bias with respect to this specific story because it’s the main scenario that the collective brain power of this blog’s readers has settled upon over the last few posts: Nebraska, Missouri and Rutgers as virtual locks in a minimum 3-school expansion, with the Big Ten only going to 16 if it gets Notre Dame and/or Texas.  I noted this in my interview with Penn State blog Nittany Whiteout a couple of weeks ago (here are parts 1 and 2):

NITTANY WHITEOUT: I’ll have to ask you a three part question.  First: without thinking about money, or logistics, and if saying “no” wasn’t an option, what would be the ideal move for the Big Ten?  Second: getting back to the real world, what’s the best possible decision for the conference?  And lastly, just a shot in the dark, what ends up happening? Does Joe Paterno get that “Eastern Rival” he’s been pining for?

FRANK THE TANK:

1. The Big Ten adds Texas as team #12 and stops there.  There is no single school that can provide more impact for the conference (even Notre Dame).

2.  For all of the focus on TV markets, this expansion is going to require a massive football name in order for it work, which means at least one of Nebraska, Notre Dame or Texas.  Any 14-team scenario with 1 of them would work very well and I think that you need 2 of them for a 16-school conference.  If I were making a recommendation to the Big Ten and it’s not an option to just add Texas or Notre Dame as team #12, I’d go for a 14-school conference with one of those big names as an anchor.  The other 2 schools would provide a base of households (Missouri to the west and Rutgers and/or Syracuse to the east), with the caveat being that if the Big Ten can get Texas but also needs to take Texas A&M, too, then the conference should do it in a heartbeat.

3.  If I were to bet today (and be advised that this changes on almost a daily basis), I believe that the Big Ten will add Nebraska, Missouri and Rutgers to create a 14-school conference.  Nebraska provides the national name, Missouri safely delivers a state of 6 million people for the Big Ten Network, and Rutgers is a reasonable bet to at least get a toehold in the state of New Jersey.  They are all large flagship schools that are members of the AAU, so they meet the academic requirements of the conferences while “fitting” the Big Ten mold.  These are also all schools that will say yes to a Big Ten invite almost immediately.  Finally and most importantly for your readership, JoePa gets one Eastern rival to pummel annually.

What’s interesting is that if the Big Ten were to actually send out 4 invites in the manner that it was reported today, it indicates that the conference is employing something similar to the Super Death Star Conference multi-phase expansion strategy that this blog threw against the wall in a homage to John Nash.  The Big Ten is pot committed to expanding one way or another and clearly isn’t bluffing (as many casual fans across the country continue to believe).  This puts Notre Dame in a precarious position because it will end up holding the key to whether the Big East will live on with just losing Rutgers from the football side.  One line of thinking (which is the one that UCONN football coach Randy Edsall and many Big East fans believe) is that if Notre Dame were given an ultimatum to join the Big East football or give up membership in that conference’s other sports leagues, then the Irish would be “forced” into the Big Ten and the Big East could minimize its losses since Jim Delany wouldn’t pursue the East Coast any further.  (I threw a lot of cold water on this popular suggestion in my post about potential Big East expansion scenarios back in February.  Please see assumption #2.)  On the other hand, the line of thinking in my head (and what I believe is the Big Ten’s modus operandi) is that Notre Dame joining the Big Ten actually would embolden the conference to go for the jugular in the Northeast with a 5-school expansion that includes multiple Big East teams.  Jack Swarbrick has consistently tried to toe the proverbial party line that Notre Dame is fully supporting the Big East.  The Irish will have to decide whether joining the Big Ten or staying independent will end up hurting the Big East more (and if it actually matters to the school).

Now, this blog’s commenters went wild in the last post over this Northwestern Rivals message board rumor about a drunk Big Ten employee supposedly stating that the Big Ten’s true targets are Notre Dame, Nebraska… and Texas.  (What’s up with Northwestern and Big Ten expansion rumors? The university president telling a bunch of sorority girls about how the conference voted at the AAU meetings?  Plastered Big Ten insiders getting toasted with the Wildcat faithful?  Is this why Evanston was a center of the temperance movement?)  The scheduling proposal is whack and would seem to be a non-starter for the Big Ten, but as for the mix of teams itself, no one can really discount this as the ultimate goal for the conference (as much as it might be a shoot the moon attempt).  There have been multiple threads on Orangebloods (the premium Texas Rivals message board) that actually corroborated that if the Big Ten could grab Notre Dame and Nebraska, then that would be the scenario that would get Texas to join the Big Ten (whether or not Texas A&M is included).  So, call me just a little bit titillated that the Big Ten might be sending out 4 invitations to apply to receive invitations with 1 outstanding spot that seems to play right into what that wasted Big Ten guy apparently told his Northwestern alum buddy.  I’m simultaneously laughing off the thought that someone with this type of knowledge would spill it to a message board poster while seeing enough detail in the rumor to think, “Why the fuck not?”  This is what passes for “solid” expansion news when no one with actual authority is willing to go on the record.  A variant of the Super Death Star Conference might be coming along just yet.

Or it could “just” be a 3-team expansion with Nebraska, Missouri and Rutgers.  It continues to amaze me that a few months ago I thought that it was ridiculous to even think that the Big Ten would add multiple teams, yet now believe that 3-team expansion with one of the top 10 college football programs of all-time (Nebraska) that locks up the state of Missouri and possibly enters into the New York City market is a “conservative” move.  That’s how much our expectations of Big Ten expansion have changed in an extremely short period of time.  Hopkins Horn, a frequent commenter and Texas alum, asked the blog’s readers whether they’d be happy with that ultimate outcome.  Personally, I think that it would be a great outcome for the Big Ten.  While I’d love to add on Texas and/or Notre Dame on top of that group for a 16-school conference, a 14-school conference with Nebraska, Missouri and Rutgers as new additions provides a great mix of star power, guaranteed households and East Coast market potential while still maintaining some semblance of an actual tight-knit conference feel (as opposed to being a massive confederation).  As an Illinois alum, I like the natural East/West division split with annual games against long-time Braggin’ Rights rival Missouri.  Expanding further to 16 without Texas or Notre Dame isn’t worth it, in my opinion (as much as I have a huge soft spot for Syracuse).

So, that’s where we are in the expansion rumor cycle at this point.  Hopefully, some real news will come sooner rather than later.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111)

(Image from College Hoops Journal)

The latest Big Ten expansion rumor du jour: a 5 -team expansion with Missouri, Nebraska, Pitt, Syracuse and Rutgers.  South Bend NBC affiliate WNDU (which was owned by the University of Notre Dame until 2006) has a report from “a source in St. Louis”, while Tom Dienhart of Rivals and Yahoo! tweeted about this scenario and then explained to a Nebraska radio station (h/t to Scott C) that he had received his info from Mizzou officials.   The Show-Me State apparently has so many loose lips that we should expect to have the next big expansion news to break out of Branson.  Hooray for more rampant speculation (and beer)!

As far as news stories about Big Ten expansion go, this is at least within the realm of reasonably coming to fruition.  This particular 5-team combination is no surprise to the followers of this blog as we discussed this in detail in the comments a couple of weeks ago with hypothetical pod alignments and the potential financial and prestige merits of this option.  As a far as collective requirements for the Big Ten, this group consists of great academic schools (all are members of the AAU), provides one marquee football brand name (Nebraska), grabs a set of guaranteed households (Missouri) and makes a legit play for the New York City market (Syracuse and Rutgers).  As sports fans, this expansion would look like a mega-blockbuster if one of those schools were to be replaced by Notre Dame, but I’d still characterize this as a game-changing move that improves both Big Ten football and basketball while expanding the conference footprint.  If true, Notre Dame fans will also feel that they’ve dodged a bullet by maintaining independence while simultaneously giving up millions of dollars per year (both in added revenue and reduced travel costs) and watching their league for basketball and non-revenue sports completely collapse.  This is seriously what passes for wonderful news in South Bend these days.

In addition, I found the comments from University of Nebraska president Harvey Perlman to be slightly titillating.  One week ago, he told the Omaha World-Herald the following:

So far, Perlman said, Nebraska hasn’t been approached by another league.

In an article yesterday in the same paper, Perlman was a lot more evasive:

Last week, I asked Perlman if NU had contacted the Big Ten or any conference about joining. His response: “I’m not going to comment on that.”

Things that make you hmmmm…

Anyway, Dienhart suggested that there would be four 4-team divisions if the Big Ten were to go with the proposed 5-school expansion.  Here’s how it could shake out in my eyes:

EAST: Penn State, Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse
WEST: Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois
NORTH:  Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota
SOUTH:  Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue, Northwestern

These “divisions” would really be pods, where the pods would rotate every 2 years.  I’d make the East and West divisions always be opposite each other with the North and South divisions rotating.  At the same time, every team would have a permanent non-division rival as follows:

Michigan – Ohio State
Illinois – Northwestern
Penn State – Nebraska
Iowa – Minnesota
Pitt – Michigan State
Rutgers – Indiana
Syracuse – Purdue
Wisconsin – Missouri

This way, every team has 4 annual rivals while playing everyone else in the conference 2 out of 4 years (with a few exceptions) if there’s a 9-game conference schedule.  The rotating pod mechanism allows everyone in the conference to continue to play each other on a regular basis even in a 16-team conference and still comply with NCAA rules requiring divisions of at least 6-teams each to play an exempt conference championship game.

As for the permanent non-division rivals, despite Pitt’s non-land grant status, I’m fairly certain that Penn State fans will gladly hand over the keys to the Land Grant Trophy (AKA “The Trophy Designed by Rasputin: It Just Won’t Die” or “The Big Ten Bowling League Trophy with a Lion Mold-A-Rama Glued on the Side”) in exchange for an annual game with Nebraska.  Now, if you want a REAL rivalry trophy, check out this bad-ass politically incorrect killing machine that Illini like myself and Northwestern fans get to enjoy… wait a second… WTF?!

I was firmly in the camp of believing that Michigan and Ohio State HAD to be in the same division for a very long time no matter how the conference was expanded and that seriously mucked up logical pod setups if you stuck that principle.  However, I like the aforementioned pods enough that I’ve been convinced that we may be better off splitting the 2 big dogs.  The pods are geographically contiguous and has one marquee football name each.  If Michigan and Ohio State really do have to play each other 2 weeks in a row, maybe that’s not the most horrible thing in the world.  The Worldwide Leader certainly can’t get enough Yankees-Red Sox and Duke-UNC games to slam down our throats, so having a rematch of college football’s best rivalry for the Big Ten championship would be a completely different kind of Armageddon.

All in all, I’d be fairly happy if this 16-school conference came to fruition.  I still think a lot of the value that the Big Ten would be looking for could be achieved in a 3-team expansion with just Nebraska, Missouri and Rutgers (assuming that Notre Dame and Texas aren’t in the mix), but this 5-school proposal would definitely lock up the Northeastern quadrant of the United States for the conference with similarly situated top tier research schools that have big-time athletic departments.  It’s a risk to expand in this manner without either Notre Dame or Texas, yet I do feel as though all of these 5 schools could “feel” like Big Ten schools and fit in well with the current members.  Of course, the only way that this works out financially is if the Big Ten Network takes Manhattan.  That continues to be the gazillion dollar issue to be resolved in this conference realignment.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111)

(Image from FanHuddle)