In a 10 day fit of fury, the titanic affair of conference expansion came and went. As my roommate pointed out, “The Pac-10 has 12, the Big 12 has 10 and the Big Ten has 12.” So much for higher institutions of learning, right?
But considering all of the armageddon scenarios – four super conferences of 16 teams!!! – life on the other side looks relatively, well, benign.
Still, the shifts (and non-shifts) are significant. The Pac-10 attempted to pick up half of the Big 12, including marquee target Texas, along with Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado or Baylor. Certainly it would have been a coup for the Pac-10 to get Texas and Oklahoma. But the Big 12 convinced the Longhorns to stay put in a 10 team Big 12 conference using a bit of fuzzy math and the promise that Burnt Orange would reap most of the bounty. In the end, the Pac-10 picked up Colorado and Utah, overall a net loss IMHO.
The Big Ten, meanwhile, moved on the University of Nebraska after the Big 12 conference issued the Cornhuskers an ultimatum – either commit to the conference or tell us you’re leaving. Despite an 18-month timeframe, the Big 12′s ultimatum instigated the Big Ten to issue an invitation to Nebraska to join the conference, and Nebraska’s application was approved unanimously by the university presidents and chancellors.
There’s a number of factors involved in conference expansion, and many of these factors fall outside of the realm of general fandom. It’s about dollars and cents as much as any other factor. Despite perceptions that Big Ten football is slower and less athletic than it’s counterpart in the Southeastern Conference, there’s no doubt that it’s still the richest conference in the country.
So while consideration of a possible expansion candidate certainly involves athletic and academic fit (a factor that very significant in the Big Ten), it’s important to point out that any school that is added to the conference also needs to be a net positive financially. For the Big Ten, that really means adding a school that brings the Big Ten Network into a new TV market. I’m not sure Nebraska really does that – there is a little less than 300,000 people in the metro Lincoln area. But the Cornhuskers bring a nationally prominent football powerhouse, and potential annual match-ups with teams such as Ohio State/Michigan/Penn State are easily a draw for national broadcast.
To me, Nebraska was the best option available outside of the Big Two – Notre Dame and Texas. I don’t think the Irish are off the table yet. Twelve teams is a nice even number. But Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said they’re still reviewing options. That doesn’t mean the Big Ten will add more teams, and it doesn’t mean it won’t. If any team will be added, I think it has to be Notre Dame, plus one more to keep things even. Since Texas is off the table, the “one more” likely won’t be nearly as strong of a candidate, but the addition of ND would likely more than compensate.
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