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)