February 18, 2010

Thursday Question: Big Ten realignment

It feels like every day there's a new favorite to join the Big Ten. We've heard the pundits roll out their own Big Ten solutions, from a 16-team superconference, to a simple 12-team adjustment. Of course, what else would we cover in this week's Thursday/Almost-Friday Question?

Up this week...
What should the Big Ten look like after expansion?


Since this is a totally hypothetical situation and I’m in total control here I’m going to add Texas into the Big Ten since they are already talking about it (yeah, yeah I know it’s not going to happen but play along anyway, mmmkay?). Here’s how I would stack the two divisions:

Div I: Ohio State, Penn State, Texas, Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois

Div II: Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan State, Indiana

I know it makes no sense geographically but I was putting them together in a way that makes sense from a football standpoint, stick with me. Ohio State and Texas have recently played in the 2009 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and in 2005 and 2006 so they already have a relationship. Developing a Penn State/Texas rivalry would be something any Penn State fan would want and imagine the effect on recruiting. I threw Northwestern in the same division as Iowa because they seem to have the Hawkeyes number every year. I spread out the teams that are traditional powers in the Big Ten (OSU, PSU, Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin) so there aren’t lopsided divisions year in and year out. MSU gets put in the same division as Michigan for obvious reasons. There would have to be a slight change to the scheduling rules, each team would play the teams in their division every year and each team would have to give up one OOC game for another Big Ten opponent so that every team still plays all but 2 teams on a rotating basis. Of course each team would get to choose a team that never rotates off the schedule so the Michigan/OSU rivalry would always play out.


I'll stay within reason. For this model, let's say the college football universe implodes over the next 12 months. All six BCS conferences begin to scramble to win the arms race, adding teams left and right. We will surely tackle the larger college football landscape, but another day, not today. For now, let's just assume that the Big Ten bumps up its efforts after the other conferences join the fray, and goes to 14 teams. Sixteen teams is pushing it right now.

What did Notre Dame do under Knute Rockne to become college football's first, and pretty much still the only national team? The Irish stuck its gold and blue fingers into every corner of the United States, playing teams that back then had no business playing some Catholic school from the dirt fields of Indiana. But it worked, and regardless of all the jokes you want to make, Notre Dame is still the single most popular football team in the world.

So, what? The Big Ten will try again for the Irish? NO. But what the Big Ten should do is follow the Rockne model, and go after teams that will not only help the conference catch up to the Big XII and SEC, but blow by it with breakneck speed. Just imagine this lineup, come 2014:
Big X, East: Rutgers, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue

Big X, West: Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas
The Big X (come on, there's no way with a straight face the conference could keep the "BigTen" logo with 14 teams) would dip its fingers into three of the four largest sports markets in the United States--New York, Chicago and Texas. Throw in the Big X Championship Game, say, at Soldier Field in the driving snow of early December, and you've got yourself a near monopoly on media coverage. I don't really like that this comes down to money, but since when hasn't it been about money? If conference realignments, playoffs, and anything else that would make college football better, were the result of the ever-escalating college football money war, I really don't care. Just give me a Penn State schedule featuring Texas, Ohio State, Nebraska, Michigan, Rutgers and Nebraska over a two or three-year span, and I'll be on board.


Realistically, if a 12th team will be added, it’ll be Notre Dame. Growing up in eastern Pennsylvania this would make me very happy, as I hate Notre Dame with the fire of a million suns and would like nothing more than to see them struggle to reach even a mediocre level in a conference. This scenario has exactly zero chance of occurring.

I have a longer post gestating on this topic, but it is more likely, just incrementally more than zero chance, Texas would join the party. In that case, the Big Ten would add 3 teams, at least. Texas’s governor would push for Texas A&M membership, but I’d much rather see Oklahoma and Nebraska (love their fans, nicest people in the world, but there is never enough retribution for ‘94) come along with the Longhorns. At that point, the BTN would be vastly expanded and probably becomes so attractive Notre Dame might even make advances towards finally joining. If that would be the case, in the interest of business, I’d see Rutgers as the 16th team getting a foot in the door of the NYC market. I know people always say New York’s a pro town (Penn State Football Story airs on YES Network, just sayin’), but with the marquee names that the Big Ten would have on its roster, there would be interest in the BTN in that market. Just for kicks, it might align something like:

East - Rutgers, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Indiana and Purdue

West - Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas


I figure we should have some fun with this and expand to 14 teams. Let's say Jim Delany makes overtures to the East of Ohio and Pitt ends up biting on the offer. In addition, Nebraska and Missouri agree to give up their crappy lives as Big 12 North members and secede to the Big Ten.

Figuring out how to geographically split teams may be another issue altogether, but taking a look at a U.S. map, I figure the setup below might work.

EAST: Pitt, PSU, Mich, OSU, MSU, Indiana, Purdue

WEST: Wisconsin, Illinois, Northwestern, Minnesota, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa

Now, the initial reaction from most people would be to shriek HOLY CRAP, THAT EASTERN CONFERENCE IS LOADED. Lighten up, Francis. You have two solid teams in PSU and OSU plus a decent Pitt squad followed by a Michigan team still trying to find its way under DickRod and two rebuilding teams from the state of Indiana in IU and Purdue. Not to mention, the West features solid teams in Wisconsin, Iowa, a rising Nebraska team, and yes even justNorthwestern. Don't forget, it wasn't too long ago that Missouri was kicking ass and taking names en route to an appearance in the Big 12 Championship Game. Sure, Illinois and Minnesota are down right now but that could change once Ron Zook and Tim Brewster are gone from their head coaching perches.

More importantly though, this setup would accomplish the following:
1. There is no chance of Michigan and Ohio State having a rematch in the Big Ten Championship Game, which would otherwise dilute the rivalry.
2. PSU could finally dump their faux-rivalry with MSU and play Pitt to end the regular season every year. Nursing homes all over Pennsylvania would rejoice.
3. The Big Ten would extend its reach into Midwestern territory and also reign in another Eastern school so PSU doesn't feel like the odd man out.

I admit, I've become numb to this whole expansion process as a result of reading numerous articles on the good/bad of every team that has been mentioned as a candidate and haven't given much personal thought to it. I do feel though, that the prototype I've listed above could make for a good starting point.

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  1. SH*TT on PITT!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Pitt should NOT be in the Big Ten

  2. Joe, would you rather keep playing our joke of a rivalry with Michigan State?

  3. Notre Dame will not be offered to enter the Big Ten as they dissed them the last time. No way they go back to ND again. As to adding only Pitt does not gain any market share or TV money. As to Texas, I can't see that geographically. With the economy, they won't want the long plane rides. If they only add 1 team, it will be Rutgers, for the television market. If they add three, Rutgers, Pitt and Missouri or West Virginia could make sense.
    Either way, I do feel RU is in...