Big 12 expansion

Besides my College Football Top Ten, I don’t talk much about sports on this blog, but I’ve been thinking recently about the Big 10(+1)’s plans to look into adding another team (or more). As a Rutgers University alumnus, this is particular interesting to ponder since they are one of the teams being mentioned. I may be biased, but I see them as the best fit. I do think, however that Missouri is a close second and Pittsburgh is a possibility as well.

According to Wikipedia, rumored teams include:

* University of Notre Dame
* University of Texas
* University of Connecticut
* Rutgers University
* Syracuse University
* University of Missouri
* University of Nebraska
* University of Pittsburgh
* University of Cincinnati
* West Virginia University
* Iowa State University
* University of Maryland
* University of Kentucky
* University of Louisville

Before we get into why I like these teams, lets talk about some of the other teams I’ve heard speculated by some informed or not so-informed people. The first thing people need to remember is that unlike many other major college conferences, the Big 10(+1) is not separable from the academics and missions of the University members. In fact, I believe the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (which is made up of the Big 10(+1) and University of Chicago) has veto power over any additions to the conference. This means, if you are not a member of Association of American Universities (or likely to become one), you are not going to make the cut. The following on Wikipedias list are not currently a member of AAU:

* University of Cincinnati
* University of Connecticut
* University of Louisville
* University of Notre Dame
* West Virginia University

A few of the above could probably get in if they wanted to, but the fact remains they haven’t tried to make that leap to be recognized by the AAU as a leading research-intensive university. Add to the fact that none of these (besides Notre Dame) adds a lot to the conference overall in terms of market or prestige, I will eliminate all of them besides Notre Dame from my short list on these grounds.

Notre Dame would be such a huge win on the athletic side, that the Big 10(+1) would take them in the heart beat and while they are a smaller school (11,300 students) by Big 10(+1) standards and are not an AAU school, they are excellent in what they do academically, so I am sure the CIC would not stand in the way. However, what does this alignment gain Notre Dame? Not much. They already have a conference for other sports. And not just any conference, the Big East, which is a (the?) top conference in many of them (especially basketball). Notre Dame with being able to stay independent and have their own TV contracts has nothing to fain from joining in. They really are a better fit academically with the Georgetown’s of the world anyway.

Moving on, University of Texas? Why would they leave the Big 12? They already have the highest or second highest sports revenue because of the way the Big 12 profit sharing works. Would the other public Texas schools let them even if they wanted to? How about the Texas legislative branch? Also, they aren’t a fit geographically. I have read that any new schools must be in a current member state or a contiguous state. While I’m sure rules can be broken, this doesn’t make sense.

Syracuse is an AAU school and brings a good football traditional and a great basketball one, so I can see why it is one of the most mentioned. However, it is a private school, not huge (12,491 FTE undergrads), and doesn’t bring a big media market. Athletically and academically it might be a nice fit, but I don’t see what it brings in monetarily compared to the other schools being talked about.

Iowa State seems to be mentioned by a lot of people. However, mostly on blogs by people from Iowa or adjoining states. Sure Iowa v. Iowa State in conference would make a nice rivalry, but don’t they already play every year? US News and World Report has them ranked 88 in national universities and is an AAU school. While 88th is a little on the low side, I think if the Big 10(+1) could show that Iowa State would add enough academically that the CIC wouldn’t put up a huge fuss. Still, what do they add? Not really any new markets since they already have Iowa. I don’t see it.

University of Maryland fits the bill academically (53rd in US News). They could land the DC market, so I can see some interest. However, I don’t see what leaving the ACC does for Maryland. They get to play the likes of North Carolina and Duke in basketball every year and their football team normally (but not this year) does okay there. Plus, it isn’t a great fit geographically. Doesn’t seem like a good fit.

The University of Kentucky hasn’t gotten a lot of press as a possibility, but like Maryland I don’t see it happening. Why would they leave the SEC? They are one of the top 20 or 25 in college sports revenue and the SEC confines are a good fit. Also, the academic rank of 128 in US News isn’t going to bring any love via the CIC either.

University of Nebraska has been mentioned by some. It does add one thing that I don’t think any other rumored school besides Notre Dame could bring and that is the level of football history and excitement nation-wide, They don’t add much in basketball, but I’m not sure that would be a deal-breaker. Since Lincoln is on the eastern side of the state, they are not a real bad fit geographically. Academically they are 96th in US News. I think that would make a harder sell to the CIC though as I am sure they do not want to make this look like it is all about money and a 96th ranked school makes it look that way a lot more then a 71st ranked school would. While Nebraska would bring some notoriety, again, not a huge market. Also, I think the Big 12 has served Nebraska well and I don’t see the Big 12 letting them go very easily even if they wanted to leave. Thus, I think the Corn huskers are staying where they are.

This leaves the three teams I think have the biggest chance of being asked and accepted: Pittsburgh, Missouri, and Rutgers. All of them bring some good things to the table and are worthy of consideration. Also, I can see all of them being willing to leave under the right circumstances. And in fact, if the Big 10 wanted to be the Big 14, I can see all three of them being added, but I think they will probably stop at 10 despite statements saying they would consider 14 or 16 teams.

Missouri is ranked lower then Nebraska on the US News and World Report (102) but I don’t think the perception that this will only be about football would be as strong with them as it would be about Nebraska. Missouri has made rumblings that they are unhappy with how revenues are split in the Big 12 and they have been jumped over by worse teams for bowl games so I am not so sure they are thrilled with the Big 12 right now. They also bring in both the Kansas City and strengthen the ties to the St. Louis market. Not as big as New York/Philly like Rutgers, but still a nice addition. Still, I don’t think the Big 12 would let them leave without a fight.

One thing some people may not know is that the University of Pittsburgh is actually a fairly large (17,427 undergraduates) public university. It has a good tradition in basketball and football, and is closer to the center of the conference than Penn State. It is raked 56th in US News and is home to the internationally renowned University of Pittsburgh Medical Center so it makes sense academically and geographically. While it would seem that it would add the Pittsburgh market, it really doesn’t since Penn State already encroaches on it (as, I would imagine to some extent, Ohio State does from the west). Also, while Pitt is good in both major men’s sports, I’m not sure the Big 10(+1) is really interested in a top basketball program joining in. In this case, I think the basketball, if anything, might be a minus. Also, as a founding Big East member, I think they might be less likely to leave the Big East than Rutgers would be. Thus, why I wouldn’t be surprised if they were offers a spot in the Big 10(+1), I think television markets are working against them.

The last one on the list is Rutgers. As I mentioned, I received a degree from the fine institution so I am biased, but I think Rutgers makes a lot of sense. They are in the New York market and, often overlooked, are close to the Philadelphia market as well. They are raked slightly lower then Pitt (66th) but have a great reputation. One thing that hurts their ranking a bit is endowments, but I think Rutgers will start seeing that go up compared to other similar schools due to the history of the University (It didn’t become Rutgers The State University until 1956). With 28,031 undergraduate on the New Brunswick campus, it is a large(r) school and that means alumni watching TV. Also, while nay-sayers point out NYC is a pro-sports town, one needs to remember a lot of New York and New Jersey residents went to school at Big 10(+1) schools. This means alumni receptions at Rutgers stadium. This also means recruiting in the area. Geography is not as much of an asset as with Pittsburgh or maybe even Missouri, but it has good transportation hubs so it is not horrible. Rutgers has one four straight bowl games so they are an up and comer. While they won the first football game ever, they are not really a perennial powerhouse, but they have been pretty good of late and I think they can hold their own through Big 10(+1) conference play and might be able to grow into one of the teams in the top half of the conference. Mens basketball hasn’t been great either, but again,I’m not sure that is a problem. One plus that Rutgers (along with some other schools in the list that I didn’t mention) is the women’s basketball program is very good. I think that helps them a little bit as well. Also, I am pretty sure that Rutgers, as a large land grant institution, would love to join the CIC, which I think would be offered if they joined the conference.

With all that said, I think Rutgers is the choice 1a and Missouri 1b. Pitt is a not so distant third. Maybe that 14 team league is sounding good if the Big (10(+1) is thinking along similar lines.


1 Comment

  1. Vincent said,

    January 13, 2010 at 15:01:53

    I see the Big Ten expanding by three to 14 members, adding Rutgers, Syracuse and Maryland. The first two give the Big Ten and its cable network the NY metro market — something neither can do by itself — while Maryland delivers Washington and Baltimore to the conference. With those three, plus Penn State, the Big Ten has the four top BCS programs (all of them Tier I academic institutions) in the New York-to-Washington corridor, establishing dominance along the eastern seaboard.

    Would Maryland leave the ACC? It might waffle were it the only school invited, but with Syracuse and Rutgers also in the mix, it would be less geographically isolated. Moreover, the benefits it would give College Park — athletic revenue at least twice what it currently gets from the ACC, the allure of Big Ten football (enabling expansion of Byrd Stadium, more of a sure thing than the largely disappointing post-expansion ACC), the Big Ten academic consortium — would more than offset losing basketball games with North Carolina and Duke. The Big Ten would be the only conference Maryland would leave the ACC for.