Thursday, April 15, 2010

Big-10 Expansion Could Impact Everyone

The Big-10 conference has made waves and driven speculation when they announced they were going to explore the possibility of expanding the conference.  If they decide to expand, it may create a domino effect that drastically changes the college football landscape.  Why is the Big-10 looking to expand?  Why else?  Money of course.  

Currently, all conference members equally split all of the money earned by various revenue sources, most notably bowl game payouts and television contracts.  Included in that television money is revenue from the Big-10's own network.  The Big-10, which actually has 11 teams, would seemingly look to add one team to get to 12.  So in order for this expansion to make sense, a new school would have to increase the overall pool of money enough so that once it's divided by 12, it will be more than the members' current share when split by 11. 

One way to instantly increase revenue is to play a conference championship game.  The NCAA requires a conference to have 12 teams in order to play a conference championship game, and this is the primary reason the Big-10 is looking to expand.  In my opinion, a Big-10 Conference Championship Game would be a huge success.  The fan following of universities in the conference is second only to the SEC, and you would not see half-empty stadiums like you do at the ACC Championship Game.  I immediately think of several good regional venues for the game too.  The brand new Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis, Soldier Field in Chicago, Ford Field in Detroit, or even Heinz Field in Pittsburgh would all be great places to host the game. 

Currently, the Big-10 ends their season the week before Thanksgiving.  Meanwhile, the rest of the college football world plays games on Thanksgiving weekend, and then again the following week in conference championship games.  So at the most critical point in the season, the Big-10 is ignored and forgotten.  A Big-10 Championship Game fixes that. 

The conference championship game is not the only way to increase profits, and you can bet that the Big-10 will do everything possible to maximize revenue.  The next most logical way to do that is to increase the television revenue, and the way to do that is to get the Big-10 Network into more households.  Adding a school that would bring the Big-10 into a major television market would be a priority.  For that reason, we've heard Rutgers and Syracuse mentioned as candidates since they would bring in the New York market.  We've also heard UCONN as a possibility since they could bring in the Boston market and really add value in basketball. 

This expansion wouldn't be a total money grab however.  The Big-10 has a very high opinion of their academic reputation, and they are very serious about maintaining it.  All universities in the Big-10 are members of the Association of American Universities (AAU), which the webstite defines as "an association of 62 leading public and private research universities in the United States and Canada."  While it's not necessarily mandatory for a school to be an AAU member in order to be considered, the Big-10 will certainly consider it as a factor. 

So who are they going to add?  It's all speculation right now, but that speculation starts with Notre Dame.  Notre Dame obviously exceeds any academic goals the Big-10 may have, and they would open up a national television market.  However, the motivation for Notre Dame to join a conference seems slim since they have their own national television deal and due to the fact they do not have to split their bowl payout with anyone else.  The Big-10 asked Notre Dame to join the conference in 1999, and they declined.  In December, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbick said that, "our strong preference is to remain the way we are."

Some early talk surrounded the University of Texas.  While not a geographical fit, Texas owns the most profitable athletic department in the nation.  Additionally they would open a ton of new television markets, and they are an AAU member.  Meanwhile, Texas thinks they are superior to their Big-12 brethern when it comes to academics and would welcome the improved reputation by rubbing elbows with other academically exclusive universities.   However, the rumors of adding Texas were short lived and seem to have died at this point. 

The University of Pittsburgh may make the most sense from a football standpoint and is the best geographical fit.  They are also an AAU member.  However, they don't open up any new television markets.  The Big-10 network is already in Pittsburgh due to the presence of Penn State.  Missouri is also a good geographic fit.  They are an AAU member.  And they bring the St. Louis television market.  Furthermore, the athletic director of Missouri has publicly stated that they would strongly consider a move.  I already mentioned Rutgers, Syracuse, and UCONN.   Of all those schools, only UCONN is not an AAU member. 

If one of the Big East teams is chosen, the Big East would have to respond by adding a team.  They'd most likely consider Memphis or Central Florida as possibilities.  If Missouri is chosen, then the Big-12 would have to respond with someone.  Perhaps they take a look at TCU.  Many speculate that Arkansas would be a candidate, but Arkansas makes more money in the SEC than they would in the Big-12, and I don't see them leaving even though they would be a great traditional and geographical fit.  If Notre Dame joins the Big-10, then the Big-10 schools all get rich and everyone else goes about their business. 

Recent talks are that the Big-10 may be looking to make an even bigger splash, one that would change college football as we know it.  They are apparently exploring the option of expanding to as many as 16 teams and forming college football's first super conference.  In one scenario, the Big-10 would raid the Big East and add Rutgers, Syracuse, Pitt, and UCONN.  In theory, Notre Dame would then be unable to refuse the invitation to be the Big-10's 16th team.   The Big East would essentially have to disband as far as football goes with only four remaining members left.  Would the ACC or SEC then try to snatch up West Virginia, Louisville, South Florida, or Cincinnati to form a Super Conference of their own?   Would current southern ACC teams such as Miami, Florida State, Georgia Tech or Clemson be willing to leave the ACC to join the SEC?  Would the SEC consider expanding west into Texas? 

Would the Big-10 consider raiding the ACC?  Maryland, Duke, North Carolina, and Boston College would bring in the Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Washington D.C., Baltimore, and Boston TV markets.  All but Boston College are AAU members.  Those schools would add a ton to Big-10 basketball as well. 

The possibilities are endless and speculating on all of them could take forever.  But it's apparent that the Big-10 is looking to a make a move.  The question is whether that move will shape the future of the Big-10....or all of college football.


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