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.”
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)