Posts Tagged ‘Notre Dame to the Big Ten’

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In a move that came out of nowhere, the Big Ten will be adding Notre Dame as a hockey member starting in 2017-18. A few quick thoughts on an otherwise sad day with all that has happened in Belgium:

  • This is by far the most surprising move that I’ve seen from the Big Ten (and possibly any conference) ever since I started following conference realignment. The timing of the Maryland/Rutgers expansion was stealthy, but anyone that has followed this blog since 2010 had been tracking those schools as high on the Big Ten candidacy list. Johns Hopkins coming to the Big Ten as an affiliate member was a natural fit academically and in terms of the need to get a 6th lacrosse member to obtain NCAA auto-qualifier status. In contrast, Notre Dame joining the ACC as a non-football member and then placing its hockey program in the extremely strong Hockey East, seemed to be give the Irish everything that it wanted in preserving football independence, membership in strong conferences for its other sports and kowtowing to the segment of its alumni base that wanted to cut off all possible relationships with the Big Ten. Meanwhile, the Big Ten seemed to move on from any possibility of Notre Dame joining the league in any capacity. To see this new arrangement come up is quite remarkable even if it’s just for hockey. Ice hockey could be thawing Big Ten – Notre Dame relations in the way that baseball helped that U.S. – Cuba relations.
  • Notre Dame coming into the Big Ten creates a 7-team hockey league, which is unwieldy for scheduling purposes. The discussion naturally is going to turn to which school comes in as #8 and it continues to look like Arizona State. The Big Ten and Sun Devils have been contemplating possible membership for over a year and I discussed it in depth during last season’s NCAA Tournament. Pretty much everything that I stated a year ago still applies today (minus the part where I didn’t believe that Hockey East members like Notre Dame would join the league as associate members), where Arizona State hits a lot of metrics that the Big Ten is looking for at an individual school level with its key Phoenix market location and the league overall seems to open to adding more affiliate schools. Think about MIT joining the Big Ten for rowing or Rice bringing its top level baseball program to the conference. There are a lot more possibilities for academically-aligned schools in the non-revenue sports.
  • Hockey fans that might be pushing for a powerhouse hockey program like North Dakota to join the Big Ten are engaging in the classic behavior of thinking like a fan instead of a university president. The academic, market and demographic needs of the conference are completely different than on-the-ice considerations. I’m sure the Big Ten would be very open to the top hockey schools in New England, such as Boston University and/or Boston College, but that is more driven by the league’s interest in the Boston market than competitiveness.
  • Speaking of markets, an underrated aspect of this move for the Big Ten is that it finally has a hockey presence in its most important market and alumni home of Chicago. Unfortunately, I don’t have an extra $100 million laying around for me to start-up a new Division I hockey program at Illinois despite it having had one of the most competitive hockey club teams and strongest fan bases for the past two decades. Meanwhile, Northwestern has many other athletic funding priorities in building new facilities, so hockey doesn’t seem to be on the radar. The Big Ten would love to rotate its hockey tournament into the United Center in Chicago to go along with Detroit and Minneapolis/St. Paul, especially with the basketball tournament needing to be outside of Chicago more often with the league’s push into the New York and Washington, DC markets. Note that the 2017 NCAA Frozen Four will be played at the United Center and sponsored by Notre Dame.
  • I’m someone that takes Notre Dame at its word that the school will stay independent in football. There is no “forcing” the Irish to join any league and its independence is as much of an institutional identity issue for the school’s alumni as it is a football issue. I don’t see this hockey membership having any correlation with Notre Dame possibly joining the Big Ten as a full-time football member down the road.
  • That being said, the bigger picture issue is whether the Big Ten would consider offering Notre Dame a full non-football membership in the manner of the ACC (and the old Big East before them). Notre Dame’s agreement with the ACC ends in 2025, so this is more long-range thinking for the conference. Would the Big Ten offer Notre Dame a deal where it would be a basketball and non-revenue sports member in exchange for, say, 6 football games against B1G opponents each season (compared to the Irish commitment to play 5 ACC opponents per year now)? Previously, I never thought that would even be an option on the table since the Big Ten is as much an “all for one and one for all” league as Notre Dame is an independent school, yet this hockey arrangement legitimately puts that into play. The Big Ten really didn’t care about Notre Dame’s relationship with the old Big East, but the ACC deal with the Irish might have been perceived by Jim Delany and others in Rosemont as much more of a potential threat down the road. This is a huge shift in the Big Ten’s thinking, where there is now a large crack in the league’s decades-long insistence for Notre Dame to be “all in” or “all out”.

The upshot is that this is great for Notre Dame in terms of leverage against both the ACC and Big Ten in the future. The ACC might have gotten a bit cocky with how close it thought it was with Notre Dame over the past couple of years and (at least in some quarters) deluding themselves in thinking that they’ll eventually join as a football member. However, the Irish are now openly stating that they have plenty of options. If Notre Dame could get the Big Ten to budge on hockey membership, it’s no longer a stretch at all that the B1G could eventually make a play for Irish basketball and other non-football sports along with a more robust football scheduling arrangement.

(Image from The Daily Domer)

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Before we get to talking about Notre Dame, the fate of the entire college sports landscape is being decided in Austin and College Station this week.  Who knows if the Big Ten will ultimately be a part of this (I know that they are trying very hard), but I do believe this: Texas A&M would be insane to turn down an invitation from the SEC.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of my discussions with Texas fans over the last few months, but the prevailing belief among the Longhorn faithful that A&M would be making a mistake by taking that deal is complete nonsense.  As much as I hate parroting the ESECPN talking points, the SEC has definitely been the top football conference overall for several years now.  Its conference TV revenue per school today is larger than the projections for the proposed Pac-16, while A&M could also sell local TV rights on top of that.  Financially and culturally, it’s a no-brainer for the Aggies.  It puts its rivalry with Texas at great risk, but remember that Penn State gladly threw away its own Thanksgiving rivalry with Pitt a few years after joining the Big Ten.  Remember that Pitt used to be considered Penn State’s equal not all that long ago.  Now, Pitt is hoping for a Big Ten invite itself while Penn State rolls in revenue like few other programs.  In this environment, it’s always better to be a member of a stronger and more established conference as opposed to trying to “control” a less stable and newer conference.  If you had to bet your entire life savings, is the SEC going to be the more stable and lucrative conference in 10 or 20 years or is it going to be the new Pac-16?  I would bet it all on the SEC, so how anyone could think that A&M would be making a mistake in choosing that option is being disingenuous.

Now, I mentioned in a post last week that a Big East message board obsession might be coming true.  In reality, it’s really more like 2 related Big East message board obsessions coming up to the surface: a mandate to Notre Dame and a possible split of the league.  It had been my belief for a very long time that there really wasn’t anything that the Big East could tell Notre Dame (as I explained in this post looking at Big East expansion options a few months back).  Well, it turns out that I may be wrong since there is a mechanism that has a lot of teeth (and it’s counterintuitive as to who is pushing the issue).

A source with knowledge of the agreement that was entered into by the Big East schools following the ACC raid of 2003 states that in the event that 2 football members leave the conference, the football and non-football members can split the league without any penalty and retain their respective revenues, such as NCAA Tournament distributions.  What is surprising is that the Catholic non-football members comprise the faction that is pushing the issue.  If you recall, those schools met back in March to discuss “contingency plans”.  Apparently, the Catholic schools have decided that they will exercise the split option if 2 Big East schools leave the conference (no matter who they might be) and have informed Big East commissioner John Marinatto as such.  Financially, the Catholic schools would actually be in a fine position because they would have a large reserve of NCAA Tournament credits with Georgetown and Villanova having both made it to the Final Four in the last 4 years.  There is also the stability and cultural fit standpoint, where the Catholic schools are not enthralled with the “usual suspects” of Big East expansion candidates from Conference USA.  (In a side note, FedEx CEO Fred Smith has reportedly offered millions of dollars to a BCS league that would invite Memphis.  Someone suggested to me that this type of offer could run afoul of Federal anti-corruption laws for inducing a public official, such as a public university administrator, to perform an official act.  If there are attorneys practicing criminal law out there, let me know if that would be the case.)  As much as the football members may complain about the hybrid model, the Big East is in a position where it will always need to leverage its basketball league in order to provide coverage for the football side.  The Catholic schools are the ones that give the Big East an entryway into New York City, Chicago and Washington, so removing them actually hurts the football members more than the other way around.

This affects Notre Dame from several different fronts.  Externally, it’s still optimal for the hybrid to stay together for all of the Big East members, so Catholic schools like Georgetown may be willing to sacrifice its connection with Notre Dame in order to preserve the hybrid model and its basketball games with Syracuse and/or UCONN.  This gives to teeth to the rumored pressure from the Big East on Notre Dame to make a decision on whether to join for all-sports.

Even if there isn’t an ultimatum per se, the Big East is on notice that it will split up with the loss of 2 members without question.  Therefore, if the Big Ten takes Rutgers and Syracuse, for example, it automatically forces the break-up of the Big East (where it’s not just a hypothetical threat).  My understanding is that Notre Dame simply will not join an all-Catholic league for non-football sports when push comes to shove.  Notre Dame’s alums may believe that it will be okay only because it would still be a pretty good men’s basketball league, but the problem is for all other sports.  The athletic department size disparity between Notre Dame and the Catholic Big East members is the equivalent of USC or UCLA moving their non-football sports to the West Coast Conference.  That’s just not going to cut it for an athletic department of Notre Dame’s size and stature, no matter how much its alumni base believes football independence matters more than everything else combined.

That’s the angle a lot of people are missing: Notre Dame’s decision on conference membership actually has very little to do with football.  The Irish can still keep its NBC contract and there really is no danger of the program being shut out of the national championship picture even if 16-team superconferences are formed.  A lot of Notre Dame haters go overboard in arguing that the Irish are heading toward football irrelevance.  In reality, Notre Dame has as strong of a fan base as ever and it’s shown every time that the team is halfway decent.  However, the rest of the Irish athletic department will suffer a ton of damage if the Big East loses any members.  Once again, the Notre Dame alumni base might be perfectly fine with throwing every other sport under the bus, but the leadership at Notre Dame won’t be.  There is little rational justification to let that happen when the Big Ten offers more football revenue anyway plus a major reduction in travel expenses.

The rise of superconferences might give Father Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick the PR cover with Notre Dame’s alums to make a move to a conference, but it’s really the terms of the Big East agreement combined with the stance of the Catholic membership that are putting the legitimate pressure on the Irish.

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

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Here’s the latest of what I know from the Big Ten side of the ledger (not the maybe Texas/maybe Pac-10 perspective that is found elsewhere):

The Big Ten is focused on Texas and Notre Dame.  I don’t mean that in a “Duh, of course they want them!” way.  I mean in a serious/this may happen by this weekend way.  There are 3 scenarios for the Big Ten (please note that these additions are on top of Nebraska):

(1) Add Texas and Notre Dame alone – If Texas A&M goes to the SEC (and it appears that the Aggies are hot and heavy with that conference with Oklahoma possibly behind them), then the Big Ten would stop at 14.  This is actually the optimal situation for the Big Ten.

(2) Add Texas, Notre Dame, Texas A&M and a team to be determined – If Texas A&M decides to join, there’s going to be a rigorous internal debate about who is school #16.  Missouri, Rutgers and Syracuse, not surprisingly, are named as the most likely contenders for that last spot.

(3) Add no one else – Same debate regarding Missouri, Rutgers and Syracuse (and maybe others) applies here, where the disagreement about who else could be added may result in the Big Ten only adding Nebraska and stopping at 12.

My understanding is that Texas DOES want to join the Big Ten despite public posturing.  I might have been throwing crap against the wall a few months ago about that, but I’m NOT now.  Texas and the Big Ten have been dancing for a VERY long time in this process.

Also note that there are reasons why Notre Dame might be “forced” to join a conference that are different than the overall “seismic” shift that Jack Sarbrick has talked about.  Namely, a Big East message board obsession has apparently come true.  Read into that what you will.

That’s what I know.  Here’s what I think:

Texas A&M entertaining an offer from the SEC is the best thing that could happen to the Big Ten.  The way to remove the “Tech problem” politically is to expose just how much more money Texas and Texas A&M are leaving on the table by having to drag its in-state cousins to the Pac-10 (or with the addition of Colorado today, the Pac Televen).  Indeed, check out the message being set forth by A&M tonight:

Former Texas A&M football coach R.C. Slocum, who now works as a special adviser to [Texas A&M President Bowen] Loftin, said football programs are carrying an increased financial burden to support other sports, so they’re drawn to potentially massive TV contracts for more revenue.

“You look at the level of funding that all programs need to have, and it’s a business decision that universities now have to make,” Slocum said.

Slocum said any decision A&M makes will be based purely on its financial impact, and not on more intangible elements, like preserving traditions and rivalries.

The Texas A&M athletic department has around $16 million in debt, so if/when it gets an invite to SEC, it’s on the record that it’s not going to take a haircut in order to be in the same conference as Texas Tech and Baylor.  So, if A&M asserts that it can control its own destiny, Texas has the moral/political authority to do whatever it wants.  As I’ve argued from the beginning, the Big Ten makes the most financial and academic sense for Texas and my understanding is that the powers that be in Austin (the campus as opposed to the capitol) agree.  Texas wouldn’t be publicly calling for the saving of the Big XII in order to start a Longhorn Sports Network only to head to the Pac Televen, where the projected TV revenue from the proposed 16-team league doesn’t even match what the Big Ten (and for that matter, the SEC) provides to each member today.  Something is amiss there and I hope some journalists put aside their personal assumptions about what “should” happen and attack that angle seriously over the next few days.  Whoever does is going to end up with the scoop of the year.

In the meantime, as JB Kirby that runs the506.com (of NFL TV Distribution Maps fame) said today, this a special moment in history where the Big Ten, Pac-10 and Big 12 all have 11 members.  Enjoy it because it’s not going to last for long.

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

(Image from Kaboodle)

Any other evening I’d be writing a full blown expansion post considering all of the news and speculation today, but the mighty Blackhawks have just won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years!!!  It was a little weird that Patrick Kane was the only person in the building that realized that he scored a goal for about 5 minutes, but it more than worth the wait considering that Chicago hockey fans have been suffering for five decades.  A tad over 3 years ago, I went to a Hawks-Red Wings game with one of my buddies where the United Center was about half full and the majority of people that were there were Detroit fans.  Yet, Rocky Wirtz has been able to completely reverse what seemed to be irreversible damage that his late father had caused to its fan base.  I wrote this piece last year about the Hawks being the “Prodigal Franchise” of Chicago and how it has gone about regaining an entire generation of lost fans.  Well, those fans definitely aren’t lost anymore.  As I sit here in my Blackhawks sweater tonight, I’ve been able to witness arguably the greatest NFL team ever (the ’85 Bears), the greatest set of basketball teams ever (the ’90s Bulls dynasty), my baseball team crush the Curse of the Black Sox (the ’05 White Sox), an Illini berth in the national championship game (with the ’05 Elite Eight comeback game against Arizona that was the most unbelievable sports event that I have ever witnessed) and now a Stanley Cup.  Heck, Illinois might retroactively win the Rose Bowl that I attended 2 years ago depending what sanctions get hammered on USC.  Looking back, the Sports Gods have blessed me beyond belief.  Plus, we’ve got many more years to enjoy Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.  Congrats Hawks!!!

Now, as for the latest on expansion:

Reports all over are confirming that Nebraska has been invited to the Big Ten, including the Chicago Tribune.  Most of the regular readers of this blog established fairly early on that Nebraska would be the most likely school to be invited to the Big Ten and I’ve been getting info for awhile supporting that.

It can’t be that simple, though, right?  If you’ve been following my Twitter feed (@frankthetank111), I had a brief interaction with @FakeJimDelany where he asked me whether I had bugged his phone, to which I replied, “I only get my info from Northwestern message boards.”  Well, the Northwestern message boards put up another doozy of a rumor tonight: in addition to Nebraska, the Big Ten will be offering invites to Texas, Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Missouri.  The Missouri invite, however, is contingent upon either Texas or Notre Dame accepting.  Who knows how this is going to play out and whether the Big Ten would truly hand out invites (or more specifically, asking the candidates to fill out the applications for invites) without knowing whether the answer is yes, but I do know that the poster (who had written the infamous post that reportedly sent Jim Delany flying off the handle, was removed for a couple of weeks and is now back online) has a legit and direct connection to the Big Ten office.  So, if this offer is true, the choice for Texas is what I laid out in yesterday’s “Double Chess” post: the comfortable Kia of the Pac-10 that won’t upset its Lone Star neighbors or the Rolls Royce of the new Big Ten.

Regardless, Chicago is the center of the sports world on multiple levels for the next few days.  The Blackhawks are bringing the Cup home.  Let’s see who Jim Delany ends up bringing over to Park Ridge.

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

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

Here’s the latest chatter from the world of conference realignment:

Multiple sources have told me that Notre Dame, Missouri and Nebraska are all poised to receive invites from the Big Ten.  An announcement could come as early as Wednesday, with other projections looking toward before the end of this month.  Of course, this scenario has been rumored on message boards over the last day, so whether this is a legitimate deal remains to be seen.  With the Big Ten’s past experiences in attempting to invite Notre Dame, nothing can be guaranteed until Jim Delany and Father Jenkins make an announcement together.  Note that I stated Father Jenkins, who has to make the ultimate call for the Domers, as opposed to Jack Swarbrick.

There are a few takeaways from this formulation being put out there.  At the top, if Missouri gets an invite to the Big Ten, it will have Notre Dame to thank.  Without Notre Dame, the Big Ten would not have an interest in breaking up the Big XII and pushing Texas to the Pac-10, so it would likely have only invited one school to the immediate west: Nebraska.  Indeed, Teddy Greenstein from the Chicago Tribune put up some analysis focused specifically about the prospect of Nebraska going to the Big Ten and he’s not going to be just engaging in idle speculation at this point in the game.  However, if Notre Dame is in the fold, then the Big Ten does not have as much of a need to go after Big East schools (even though it still might) with the heavy Irish fan base in places like the New York area.  A lot of the demographic factors that might have tipped the edge toward a school like Syracuse over Missouri without Notre Dame included would now be switched around.  At the same time, it allows the Big Ten to make one last massive power play.  The most interesting comment that Jim Delany had in his press conference was that this could be a multi-phase expansion for the Big Ten.  This sounds a whole lot like attempting to build a Super Death Star Conference.  I’ll explain that in a moment.

The Pac-10 hired an interesting choice to analyze its expansion options: Creative Arts Agency, the high-powered Hollywood entertainment industry firm.  Contrast this with the Big Ten, who has been using investment bankers to perform analysis.  In a slightly off-topic note, CAA also represents LeBron James, which means that entire worlds of college sports and NBA basketball are probably going to determined by a line of cubicles in LA.

What is CAA all about?  Package deals.  The franchise that gets LeBron isn’t just going to be able to sign him based on the quality of the existing team in place right now.  Otherwise, there are only 2 choices for him in that scenario: staying with Cleveland or heading to the Chicago Bulls.  On paper, the Clippers might have the talent, but that’s ignoring the fact that every good or decent player in that team’s history has broken a leg, torn an ACL or lost the use of both knees within a month of joining.  The Knicks and Nets shouldn’t even be in the discussion.  Instead, LeBron wants “his team” (meaning all of his handlers that don’t add value to any franchise) taken care of.

So, it’s not a surprise that the Pac-10/CAA is approaching Texas, the equivalent of LeBron in the conference expansion sweepstakes, with the idea of selling the school a package.  (Another sports columnist made that LeBron/Texas comparison but I can’t find the applicable article to give the appropriate credit.  I’ll put up a link as soon as I can locate it again.)  If this were about making the most money for Texas, then there are only 2 real choices for the school: the Big Ten and SEC.  The proposed Pac-10 expansion is projected to only hopefully match the per school revenue that the Big Ten and SEC members already enjoy today.  CAA understood that it couldn’t win the financial game for its client, so what it recommended the Pac-10 to sell Texas is “comfort”.  It’s all about making it as easy as possible for Texas to make a move: politically expedient, easy travel companions and keeping all of its Big XII South rivalries on the conference slate.  Who cares if the Pac-10 has rejected the notion of adding BYU for many years based on religious grounds and then all of the sudden has Baylor fever when Texas is now an option.  (I have nothing against Baylor, but shame on the Pac-10 if it adds that school while turning its back on BYU for so long.)  It’s like buying a Kia – you’re not going to break the bank, it’s certainly better than the used Ford Pinto of the Big XII that Texas is currently driving, and it won’t upset the neighbors in Waco and Lubbock.  This can only mean one thing for the Pac-10: it’s inviting LeBron to become a member, moving its conference headquarters to Akron, and John Calipari will be installed as the new commissioner.  Worldwide Wes will get it done.

Does that mean that Jim Delany and the Big Ten are just going to give up on Texas?  Hell to naw!  Anyone that thinks otherwise clearly doesn’t understand the long-term demographic, academic and financial ambitions of the conference.  The double chess smack talk has only begun.  IF the Big Ten gets a commitment from Notre Dame (and once again, that’s a massive IF), then the conference has a completely different sale strategy to make one final power play to Texas.  The Big XII will effectively be destroyed with Nebraska and Missouri joining.  That leaves the Big Ten at 14 schools with 2 natural spots remaining to get up to 16.  Instead of selling a quick and easy Kia like the Pac-10, it’s telling Texas that it can have a Rolls Royce.  Imagine Delany calling up UT president Bill Powers over the next few days:

“Bill, we’ve got 2 spots left reserved for you and the Aggies.  With Notre Dame aboard, we’re going to be the most powerful entity in all of sports outside of the NFL with or without you.  You can receive around $40 million per year in TV revenue just for showing up and we’re not even getting into the academic benefits of the CIC.  Are you going to let some meth-on-the-breath legislators down the street from your campus determine your future and shackle you with a ‘Tech-Baylor-UTEP-UTSA-UTD-Northeast Texas Community College problem’ forever?  Maybe you can tell them that the legislature is going to have to figure out a way to make up for the $20 million per year in athletic money that you’re leaving on the table if you don’t get to actually do what’s best for your school, you know, like any other president of a world-class university is empowered to do without thinking about appeasing some overzealous politicians that would rather save a couple of football games in Waco and Lubbock than create the best flagship school possible.  Heh, your friends at Missouri and Nebraska are looking to make twice as much TV money as you because they don’t have a ‘Tech problem’.  That would suck for you.  Let me know.  We’ll need to know by June 30th whether we’re going to invade New York and New Jersey instead.  Delany out.”

The Big Ten has to be true to its brand – its selling point to Texas is to be the highest class academic and athletic conference top-to-bottom.  It can’t and shouldn’t try to get into a fight with the Pac-10 on concessions on the low end.  If Texas can’t fend off the legislators or the school actually would rather be part of a provincial Eastern appendage to the Pac-10 or keep the Big XII as opposed to joining the top national conference, then it is what it is.  At that point, Jim Delany just has to say, WTF and make his move.  Looks like the University of Pittgers!

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

(Image from Chess Variants)

Whether the Pac-10 wanted it or not, it just stole a whole lot of headlines, no?  I warned you that my post from last week could be debunked immediately.  Chip Brown from orangebloods.com is reporting that the West Coast-based conference is looking to swallow half of the Big XII by inviting Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado.  Please note that Mr. Brown is not a hack (unlike me) and was the former Texas beat writer for the Dallas Morning News, so don’t let the fact that this is originating from the Texas Rivals site fool you into thinking that this is standard message board fodder.  Colorado’s AD has now stated that he believes that his school is getting a Pac-10 invite, which may or may not be an indication of more things to come (as CU has long been rumored to be the most likely Big XII school to end up in the Pac-10).  For what it’s worth, Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott has issued a standard denial which no one on the interweb will believe unless/until nothing happens over the next few days.

Here’s what I’ve heard:

A source from a Big XII school other than Texas has stated to me that the main basis of this story is legit and it has known for several days that this proposal was on the table for the schools in question.  A Texas A&M insider that runs the premium content on TexAgs.com also has stated that these invitations are forthcoming, with the Aggies (at least publicly) being wary of making the move.  What’s extremely unclear is whether the Pac-10 is making these invites before it knows whether it’s receiving a “yes” answer from everyone.  One would think that the Pac-10 isn’t going to be inviting Texas Tech unless it has been assured that Texas is coming along.  This seems to be a contingent offer where everyone would need to sign on for it to happen and then official invites would be sent out.

The Big Ten not being interested in Nebraska, though, is the one piece of the article that doesn’t correlate with any of the information that I’ve received.  My understanding is that Nebraska is a lock to be invited to the Big Ten.  I have had multiple independent corroborations that the main substance of the infamous Northwestern message board rumor (which has disappeared from the Rivals site in the same manner as the missing minutes from the Watergate tapes) is correct, where the Big Ten’s intended invitees are Nebraska, Texas and Notre Dame.  Now, things may have changed in the last couple of weeks, but if the Big Ten were to have to choose between Nebraska and Missouri, there is little doubt that it would take Nebraska.  In fact, if a school needs to “break the seal” of causing an avalanche of schools to leave the Big XII, do not be surprised at all if Nebraska ends up being the first mover in all of this.  I’ve received indications that Nebraska could be invited to the Big Ten quickly (possibly in the next week), where the conference would grant the school a fully vested revenue share (including a full stake in the Big Ten Network) in order to cover the higher Big XII exit fees for a 1-year notice period for leaving.  This would allow the Huskers to begin Big Ten play for the 2011 football season.  It could also set into motion something similar to what I had theoretically posed in the “Multi-Phase Big Ten Expansion: How to Build a Super Death Star Conference” post, where the Big Ten inviting Nebraska puts pressure on Texas to join.  Now, that could ultimately just give Texas and other Big XII schools the political cover necessary to bolt to the Pac-10 en masse as rumored, but let me be clear on this one: THERE IS NO SCHOOL MORE LIKELY TO END UP IN THE BIG TEN THAN NEBRASKA.

There continues to be mixed messages about where Missouri stands in this process.  Chip Brown stated in his article today (along with his previous articles) that the Big Ten has sincere interest in Missouri.  However, I’ve received separate indications from people in positions in the know from Big Ten and Big XII schools that Missouri would be very unlikely to receive an invite.  My understanding is that Missouri would probably need to have a 16-school Big Ten that has either Texas or Notre Dame in order to get invited.  Otherwise, in a 14-school Big Ten scenario, Nebraska and Rutgers would be likely choices, with Syracuse getting the nod over Missouri.  If neither Texas nor Notre Dame are in the fold for the Big Ten, then securing the New York City market specifically and an East Coast presence generally is going to be the only way that a multi-school expansion can work out financially for the conference.  Please note that the Big Ten’s argument to move into the New York area is NOT about believing that Rutgers and Syracuse alone can deliver that market.  Instead, it’s about the “penumbra effect” of combining those schools with the existing large Big Ten alumni bases in that market (particularly Penn State and Michigan) that could theoretically grab the area.  Whether the Big Ten would pull the trigger on that move and if that would work remains to be seen.

That’s what I know.  Now, here’s my general interpretation of everything:

I previously noted that one of the underrated players in this conference realignment process would be Texas Tech because, in reality, there are plenty of conferences that would gladly take A&M either alone or in order to get Texas but having to add Tech on top of that was an entirely different matter.  Texas Tech got into the Big XII because of political willpower and it’s exactly the type of school that would need to lean on political protection again.  Oklahoma State has a similar political relationship with Oklahoma with T. Boone Pickens as a benefactor, to boot.  Well, I don’t believe that it’s an accident that this Pac-10 rumor includes both Texas Tech and Oklahoma State as opposed to, say, Kansas and Utah (who would be more desirable from an additional market perspective).  On the one hand, the inclusion of those schools lends support to the validity of this story because it takes into account what might be politically necessary moves.  On the other hand, with the unanimous vote requirement of the Pac-10 for expansion, is Stanford seriously voting in favor of inviting Texas Tech and Oklahoma State?!  Seriously?! 

The other thing that I don’t understand whatsoever, though, is if Texas has been pushing so hard for the Longhorn Sports Network and maximizing TV revenue, why it would choose joining an expanded Pac-10, which Brown’s article itself stated would only project to make a little less on a per school basis than each Big Ten and SEC school makes today guaranteed.  Indeed, a couple of people connected to the Texas program have told me flat-out that the Big Ten and SEC (in that order) have been the primary choices for the school in this process because it knew that the Pac-10 could never match either financially in any scenario.  Now, it’s fully possible (if not likely) that political factors became intertwined here and Texas simply couldn’t go to its prospective highest revenue home.  This TV revenue issue along with how Standford could have been convinced to vote for Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are the two items that are holding me back from jumping on board with this rumor completely.   

Regardless, while the situation for Missouri is somewhat worrisome, it’s completely rosy compared to Kansas.  I don’t believe that a Big Ten invite is forthcoming for the Jayhawks, the school might be shackled to Kansas State for political purposes if it tries to move by itself and it doesn’t help that the school is in the middle of an embarrassing ticket scalping scandal.  It’s hard for me to believe that Kansas could end up with the leftovers of the Big XII in a Frankenstein league with some current MWC and WAC members, but it’s a very real possibility if this rumor is true.

Finally, the seismic shift that Jack Swarbrick had stated that would force Notre Dame to join a conference might be coming.  I have long been a skeptic that we would see 4 16-team superconferences so quickly, but this type of move by the Pac-10 would start an immediate shift of massive proportions.  So, if the Big Ten doesn’t end up with Texas but Notre Dame finally ends up joining, then maybe it really is mission accomplished for Jim Delany.  We might be going back to the traditional “Big Ten adds Notre Dame/Nebraska/Missouri/Rutgers/Syracuse” rumors as opposed to a Southern demographic shift, yet at least we might be finally getting some closure on this issue sooner rather than later.  UT President Bill Powers is supposed to have a press conference with Big XII Commissioner Dan Beebe tomorrow, which should be extremely entertaining for all of us expansion junkies.

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

(Image from Be a Longhorn)

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)