The speculation has become quite a pastime. With information at our fingertips, sports fans have ramped up their conversations on message boards around the web regarding the Big Ten’s expansion possibilities. Where will the Big Ten go? It’s hard to say for sure, but let’s look at some basic nuggets of information that have come out:
Jim Delany has said that membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU) is important… Maybe a requirement?
The Big Ten Network revenue drivers are a consideration.
Population shift to the Sun Belt is a concern.
With those nuggets, we can probably piece together some possible target schools of the conference. First, who is a member of the AAU? A list including the state and some private universities that have major athletic profiles include:
Arizona, Buffalo, California, Colorado, Duke, Florida, Georgia Tech, Iowa St., Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Pitt, Rice, Rutgers, USC, Stanford, Syracuse, Texas, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, Virginia, and Washington
That is 25 schools. Driving revenue for the Big Ten Network and for the current schools can help us to eliminate conservatively the non-BCS conference schools at the very least: Buffalo and Rice at the very least. But, schools like Iowa St. and Pitt do not expand the network’s footprint. So, I'd say we’re down to 21 schools.
Major, untapped TV markets represented by these remaining schools include New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Portland, St. Louis/Kansas City, Dallas/Houston/Austin, Washington DC, Charlotte, Nashville, Atlanta… essentially every school left on the list taps a large TV market and expands the BTN footprint.
Now the question is will rivalries and regional aspects of conferences come into play? Do travel expenses for non-revenue sports matter? To some degree, they may. For these reasons, you can almost certainly eliminate the western schools: Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Arizona, USC, Stanford, and Cal to bring us down to 14 schools. The regional and travel issues stem from crossing 2-3 time zones more than pure mileage.
It has been said that Delany isn’t intent on breaking up conferences or causing chaos. Do we believe that’s possible? I’m not so sure. Regionality (if that’s a word) would make schools like Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Maryland, Rutgers, Syracuse and Virginia the best fits…that’s 7 schools.
With regard to population shifts and trends, North Carolina, Duke, Florida, Georgia Tech, Texas, Texas A&M remain a good fit…that’s 6 more schools. Who are we missing… Vanderbilt. But, at this point, I doubt that drops us below 14 schools. This is where Notre Dame comes back into the picture. ND is the only non-AAU school I see joining the list. Why? It is because ND is consistently ranked among the Top 20 undergraduate higher learning institutions in America. It’s academic profile has apparently been slowly evolving to include more focus on research, which is a hallmark of the AAU institutions.
So, what are the possibilities? If some combination of athletic might, financial benefits, regional fit and rivalry implications are all a part of the search, then what do the 14 remaining school offer?
Duke (est. athletic budget=$60mil) – No significant football tradition, strong basketball tradition, would open North Carolina market (pop. 9.38 mil) to BTN, no direct regional or rivalry ties. Strong rivalries with North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia and conference rivalry with Georgia Tech from this list.
Florida (est. athletic budget=$73.87mil…2004) – Strong football tradition, recent basketball success, would open up Florida market (pop.18.5 mil) to BTN, no direct regional or rivalry ties.
Georgia Tech (est. athletic budget=$41mil…2004) – Some football tradition, some basketball tradition, would open up Georgia market (pop. 9.83 mil) to BTN, no direct regional or rivalry ties. Conference rivalries with Duke, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia from this list.
Kansas (est. athletic budget=$40.76mil…2004) – Recent football success, strong basketball tradition, would open up Kansas market (pop. 2.82 mil) to BTN, close regional ties, no real rivalry ties. Strong rivalry with Missouri and Nebraska and conference rivalries with Texas and Texas A&M from this list.
Maryland (est. athletic budget=$46.5mil…2004) – Limited football tradition, strong basketball tradition, would open up Maryland (pop. 5.7 mil) and Washington DC (pop. 600K) markets to BTN, direct regional link to Pennsylvania, no real rivalry ties. Strong rivalries with Duke and Virginia and conference rivalries with North Carolina and Georgia Tech from this list.
Missouri (est. athletic budget=$46.35mil…2004) – Recent football success, strong basketball tradition, would open up Missouri market (pop. 6 mil) to BTN, direct regional link to Illinois and Iowa, strong rivalry with Illinois. Strong rivalry with Kansas and conference rivalries with Nebraska, Texas, and Texas A&M from this list.
Nebraska (est. athletic budget=$55.8mil…2004) – Strong football tradition, no basketball tradition, would open up Nebraska market (pop. 1.8 mil) to BTN and has strong national following in football, direct regional link to Iowa, no rivalry ties. Strong rivalry with Kansas and conference rivalries with Missouri, Texas, and Texas A&M from this list.
North Carolina (est. athletic budget=$54.6mil…2004) – Limited football success, strong basketball tradition, would open North Carolina market (pop. 9.38 mil) to BTN, no direct regional or rivalry ties. Strong rivalry with Duke and conference rivalries with Georgia Tech, Maryland and Virginia from this list.
Notre Dame (est. athletic budget=???) – Strong football tradition, limited basketball tradition, would not open up any new territory for BTN but has strong national following in football, direct regional link, strong rivalries with Michigan, Michigan St., and Purdue and conference rivalries with Syracuse and Rutgers in sports outside of football from this list.
Rutgers (est. athletic budget=$38mil…2004) – Recent football success, no basketball tradition, would open New Jersey (pop. 8.7 mil) and New York City (pop. 8.36 mil) markets to BTN, direct regional link to Pennsylvania, no rivalry ties. Conference rivalry with Syracuse… and Notre Dame outside of football from this list.
Syracuse (est. athletic budget=???) – Limited football tradition, strong basketball tradition, would open New York market (19.5 mil) to BTN, direct regional link to Pennsylvania, no rivalry ties. Conference rivalry with Rutgers and Notre Dame from this list. Small athletic department sponsors sports that don’t match-up well to the Big Ten’s sponsored sports.
Texas (est. athletic budget=$110mil…$82.4mil in 2004) – Strong football tradition, strong basketball tradition, would open up Texas market (pop. 24.78 mil) to BTN with strong national following, no direct regional or rivalry ties. Strong rivalry with Texas A&M and conference rivalries with Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska from this list.
Texas A&M (est. athletic budget=$58.87…2004) – Strong football tradition, limited basketball success, would open up Texas market (pop. 24.78 mil) to BTN, no direct regional or rivalry ties. Strong rivalry with Texas and conference rivalries with Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska from this list.
Virginia (est. athletic budget=$59.8mil…2004) – Limited football tradition, limited basketball tradition, would open Virginia market (pop. 7.88 mil) to BTN, close regional ties and no rivalry ties. Strong rivalries with Duke and Maryland and conference rivalries with Georgia Tech and North Carolina from this list.
What does it all mean? What is most important? Well, first, Florida—as much as their football program, large TV markets, and large athletic department budget has appeal—seems to be the odd man out. Since we eliminated Vanderbilt, there are no other SEC teams remaining to help draw in a rival. Plus, they just don’t seem likely to leave the SEC.
To maintain rivalries, some schools would likely have to be package deals… like Duke and North Carolina or Texas and Texas A&M since their regional tie is non-existent. While some people may not think rivalries are important, I believe it is rivalry that establishes the emotional ties that create viewers or consumers of televised sporting events…the first sign of a bad move will be fan backlash. How much interest will there be in a key conference football game between Texas and Minnesota in early November versus a Texas-Oklahoma game in the 2<sup>nd</sup> week of September? For that reason, at least one of those pairs would be eliminated and my guess is it would be the schools with the smaller TV market and lower profile football programs: Duke and North Carolina.
The remaining schools with regional approximation to Big Ten country that can likely forge new rivalries with some ease on their own seem to have several pairs as well: Syracuse and Rutgers, Kansas and Missouri, Maryland and Virginia.
Syracuse-Rutgers: which school better opens up the NYC TV market? Many have said that Rutgers, while closer, won’t move the dial. Syracuse, despite having a small athletic department, has a better overall athletic profile and perhaps a more natural opportunity to establish a rivalry with Penn St.
Kansas-Missouri: football is a toss-up, while Kansas is the clear leader in basketball. But, honestly, the built-in rivalry and regional link may make Missouri the better fit. That and they’ll still draw in Kansas City while providing the St. Louis TV market.
Maryland-Virginia: in this case, which team better draws the Washington DC market? Seems Maryland has an edge from things I’ve read, but I don’t know. Plus, Maryland has the direct regional link and stronger athletic profile although I’ve read some fan accounts that aren’t too warm to the idea.
So where do we stand? Looks like we’re down to 8 schools: Georgia Tech, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Texas and Texas A&M. We haven’t mentioned Ga. Tech, Nebraska or Notre Dame yet. They are sort of islands on their own. Georgia Tech’s strongest rival isn’t necessarily a conference school. Not knowing this region, my impression is that it’s Georgia, so they could jump the ACC ship and not affect this rivalry. Add in the Atlanta market and they’re still on the list. Nebraska isn’t necessarily a stronger rival with any of the Big XII teams named than the pairs identified. Their strong national football identity and seeming willingness to get out from under the Texas dominated conference politics keeps them on the list. Lastly, Notre Dame… they are the best fit and the worst fit. They are smack in the middle of the conference borders…good for regional identity, bad because it doesn’t widen the TV market boundary. But their national appeal would certainly help draw more subscribers to cable/satellite sports tiers in the out of state markets. ND is not a member of the AAU, but they are a highly ranked academic institution. The Big Ten has wanted and I believe still wants ND, but ND hasn’t and likely still doesn’t want the Big Ten… quite a soap opera.
In the end, I believe if the Big Ten wants Notre Dame, they will have to raid the Big East to force their hand, which might bring a school like Rutgers back onto the list. Otherwise, Syracuse is an uneasy fit in total because their athletic department is small and the sports do not match up very well with the Big Ten’s sponsored sports. Of course, reeling in a big fish like Texas could dislodge Notre Dame too.
See, this is why all of this speculation is a difficult task. What are the scenarios? First how many teams will the Big Ten add? 1? 3? 5?
If Notre Dame comes to terms, I’d say they will add five. If not, I suspect they’ll only add three. Either way the one school that seems to be a lock is Missouri. Now does the population shift to the Sun Belt comment from Commissioner Delany have any real meaning? If it does, a five team addition including ND could be one of these two (strip the Big East method or bait them with Texas method):
Nebraska (larger budget and national football fanbase) or Georgia Tech (larger population)
Syracuse or Rutgers
If the Big Ten lures Texas, they would be the one school that could set off dominoes that could force Notre Dame’s hand. But, if ND continues to spurn the Big Ten’s advances, a three team addition could look like any of these:
Nebraska (larger athletic budget) or Missouri (larger TV market)
Virginia (larger athletic budget & TV market) or Maryland
Nebraska or Missouri
Hey, I never said I was going to lead you to the answer. But, I think I have provided the most likely candidates to be invited:
Georgia Tech, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Rutgers, Syracuse, Texas and Texas A&M
Is it earth shattering? Nope. I think all of these schools have been mentioned at one point or another. But, if the conference adds five teams, I’m confident that they will come from this list of 9 schools.
Discuss…. Any schools missing? Any schools named that seem unlikely?
These speculations are for entertainment purposes only.