Lots of people have been discussing in the comments section on the “Template for Shooting Down Any Argument Against Texas Going to the Big Ten” post a story from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel stating that the Big Ten has hired a research firm to evaluate an “initial list” of 15 schools, with a quote from Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez saying that Texas isn’t on that initial list. (H/T to WolverinePhD, among others, for sending in the link.) I don’t interpret this study as Texas not being a target. As Dennis Dodd stated on CBS Sportsline (who has voiced skepticism about Texas joining the Big Ten):
[I]f Notre Dame and/or Texas showed a willingness to join the Big Ten, there wouldn’t be much research to do. The two schools are seen as the only slam-dunk candidates in an otherwise muddied expansion picture.
Exactly. The Big Ten doesn’t need to pay presumably tens of thousands of dollars (if not more) to hire a research firm to say that “Adding Texas and Notre Dame would be sweeeeeeeeeet!!!”. The conference knows that already and its university presidents don’t need to be convinced of the attributes of those schools. Instead, you hire a research firm to evaluate the schools that you AREN’T sure of and look at the positives and negatives of them. A research firm that’s providing value is going to look at issues that aren’t obvious, such as whether Syracuse or Rutgers can really deliver the New York City market or Nebraska’s national brand name can compensate for its small home market. It’s a waste of money to have someone come in and state that “Texas would really add a lot of eyeballs to the Big Ten Network while being awesome in sports and academics.” No shit, Sherlock. Tell me something that I don’t know.
The fact that the Big Ten has a list of 15 schools that it’s looking at is an indication that the conference is looking at numerous schools that are significantly outside of its conference geographic footprint. To me, this exercise looks a lot more like an evaluation of “Who do we add on top of Texas and/or Notre Dame if we’re willing to go to 14 schools?” From a realistic standpoint, schools from the SEC aren’t going to ever move while the 2 schools that the Big Ten would want from the Pac-10 (USC and UCLA) are no-brainers in the same category as Texas and Notre Dame where there’s no point in even examining them because they’re in if they want to join. Here is my semi-educated guess as to who is on that list of 15 schools as well as the key questions that the Big Ten ought to be asking about them:
1. Syracuse – Does it really bring in the NYC market? Can it bring in the NYC market when it’s combined with Penn State? If yes, does Syracuse or Rutgers do this better?
2. Rutgers – See comment for Syracuse.
3. UCONN – Can it make inroads into both the NYC and Boston markets? It’s not an AAU member but its overall rankings are pretty solid, so is that good enough academically? Is the youth of the football program at the Division 1-A level a complete non-starter?
4. Pitt – Great for both academics and athletics, but can they really add much in terms of TV viewers with Penn State already delivering the Pittsburgh market, especially when there are other candidates that are similar but can bring in new markets?
5. Maryland – Is it more trustworthy in its ability to deliver the DC and Baltimore markets than the other East Coast candidates with respect to their own markets? What does a Maryland/Penn State combo do for the conference in terms of delivering the Mid-Atlantic region? Is there enough commitment to the football program in terms of long-term competitiveness?
6. Virginia – An unequivocal academic superstar, but are its athletic programs good enough to add more value? Can it really deliver the DC market any better than Maryland?
7. Virginia Tech – Rising in terms of academics but not an AAU member, so is that satisfactory? Can it really deliver the DC market any better than Maryland or UVA?
8. Boston College – Can it really deliver the Boston market? Is the fan base large enough to justify inclusion? Very strong undergrad program but isn’t an AAU member, so will it fit academically?
9. Miami – Can it deliver the Florida market by itself? It’s not an AAU member and doesn’t have great graduate programs, but it’s a top 50 undergrad school. Is that enough in terms of academics? Is the poor attendance and traveling fan base for the football program trumped by its extremely strong national TV drawing power?
10. Missouri – Has the ability to draw in the St. Louis and Kansas City markets, but is that enough considering that there are options in more populous regions like the Northeast, Florida and Texas? Many assume that it’s an academic fit as an AAU member, but it’s actually lower in the US News rankings than Nebraska, so does it really meet the Big Ten’s academic requirements?
11. Nebraska – Is the national drawing power of its football program enough to compensate for its tiny home TV market? Lots of questions as to whether it would be an academic fit even though it’s an AAU member already. Does it meet the Big Ten’s academic standards?
12. Colorado – Long assumed to be a top Pac-10 target, but could it be a viable Big Ten candidate since it’s actually a better academic and cultural fit with the Big Ten than anyone in the Big XII besides Texas? Is the population growth trend in the Denver area more attractive than adding presently larger markets like the state of Missouri when looking at this decision 20 or 30 years down the road?
13. Oklahoma – Obvious national football power, but without AAU membership (unlike Missouri or Nebraska) or high academic rankings (unlike UConn), can it fit in academically?
14. Kansas – 99% of these decisions are about football, but Kansas isn’t any ordinary basketball school (where only Duke, UNC and Kentucky can compare nationally). Is the elite status of its basketball program enough to compensate for a historically weak football program that no longer has the services of Baby Mangino?
15. Texas A&M – Is the Big Ten truly fine with the thought of Texas A&M coming along with Texas in a package deal? Are the Aggies really a threat to go to the SEC if the Big Ten doesn’t invite them? What do they bring to the table that Texas doesn’t bring alone?
The Big Ten will NOT expand unless it adds Texas and/or Notre Dame. The conference is in a financial position where it doesn’t make any sense to settle for anything less. This “initial list” is examining who might come along for the ride on top of the main targets.
(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111)
(Image from Scout.com)