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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What would a 16 team Big Ten Look Like: Intro

What would a 16 team Big “Ten” Look like?

Remember the last few years, when we all laughed at how large and unstable the Big East was, and asked how a league could survive with such an unwieldy number of schools? Well, if the rumors are right, the Big Ten is going to murder the Big East in the name of achieving the same size.

Six months ago I said wasn’t convinced the Big Ten was serious about expanding. Now it is a question of whether the Big Ten is going to go for the Nuclear Option, become the first all-sports mega conference.

This should be, at a minimum, a little exciting and a little unsettling, to ALL Big Ten fans. The Big Ten prides itself on academic excellence and being close knit. There have been only 3 membership changes since the 1910’s (Chicago leaving , MSU joining, and Penn State joining).
Right now Illinois has a 9.09% share in a very valuable and prestigious group. With the addition of 5 members, Illinois’ stake in the conference drops to 6.25%. Put another way, we are giving 31.25% equity in the league away to schools who are just joining the league, who don’t have a century (or even 15 years) of history to keep them in place. Schools don’t leave the Big Ten, they commit to this league for life, at least that is the image we want to project. The Big Ten is taking a risk. It’s not a terribly big risk, but we, as a league, are wagering our identity, image, and prestige in order to grow a very valuable sports and entertainment property. This is the reality we live in.

The fact of the matter is that the academic reputation of the Big Ten is a convenient tool to market what is a multi-billion dollar sports machine. YES, Missouri and Nebraska are a bit below the median in terms of academic reputation, but they are good schools and bring a lot to the league (especially money, which is what we are after). YES, Syracuse has Nancy Cantor as a chancellor, get over it. YES, Rutgers isn’t exactly an athletic powerhouse, well, we need someone to be competitive against.

The point of this little writing exercise is to take a look at what a 16 team conference would look like. For the sake of argument, I’m going to go with the 5 schools that have been getting the most press lately: Missouri, Nebraska, Rutgers, Syracuse and eh…… let’s say Pittsburgh. Notre Dame might be in the mix, especially once they realize what is going to happen to the Big East, but for now I will assume they stay where they are, which is fine, it’s their call, I will not waste my time wishing them into the Big Ten or laughing at their potential misery.

Other schools, like UConn, could be in the mix for one of the 5 spots, but the point of this exercise is to look at the mechanics of a 16 team league, not chose new members, so MU, NU, RU, SU, and Pitt it is.

The Consequences

So the Big Ten adds the 5 schools mentioned above. What happens to Division I? Well, for starters, the Big Ten has just straight up murdered the Big East. As a football conference, it is likely dead. At a minimum they need to get to 8 football schools. With 5 members, they will have to claw after Conference USA schools. Central Florida is a pretty logical addition, as they would be a good rival for USF, and are a large campus. After that, the Big East is pretty screwed. They could jump after Memphis, maybe come crawling back to Temple, or go after a MAC school… but there is no hope of the football league putting much fear into, well, anyone.

The Big Ten, with 16 football schools, will probably campaign to strip the Big East of automatic status and argue that they should be able to get 3 schools into the BCS. As a basketball league, the Big East would still be “ok”, but Syracuse and Pitt are huge losses… and except for possibly Memphis, nothing they could get would give much credence to the league.

What of the Big 12? Well, they would need to find 2 schools fast or the 2013 Football Season won’t have a Big 12 Championship Game…. Something that would make them lose that fat income from the Dr Pepper Snapple Group.

Doomsday scenario the schools going different ways… Texas, TAMU, Oklahoma, etc get fought over by the SEC and Big 12, Kansas and K State could either be screwed or wind up in the Pac 10. Iowa State will be lucky to land in the MAC. A less bleak future would have the Big 12 calling up Utah and Brigham Young and having things “fixed” quickly.

*DISCLAIMER: a word on nomenclature, I use “Big Ten” and “Big 16” to describe the future league interchangeably, mostly because I’m scared and confused by all of this, hopefully you can figure out what I’m saying*

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