Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Big Ten Expansion: Great idea, but who to take?

I don't think there's any doubt out there that the Big Ten needs a 12th school. The most obvious reason is for football, but it will benefit the other sports as well.

If we only consider football, a Big Ten with 12 teams will allow for two divisions and a championship game, extending the season into December and creating more media buzz during the final push for the national championship. The question now is which school should be the 12th team?

Speculation is all over the place, but there are some common names: Pitt, Cincinnati and Missouri have been mentioned many times. I think Pitt and Missouri are strong candidates, if they are interested. Missouri would have to be convinced to leave the Big 12 conference, where it has played second fiddle to Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska in football for years. There's no guarantee the Tigers will quickly rise into the upper division in the Big Ten, but athletic department officials may be willing to consider a change.

Cincinnati is not as strong a candidate. The Bearcats just joined the Big East four years ago and I don't think they would be ready to switch affiliations again. And with the moving of coach Brian Kelly to Notre Dame, the quality of their football team has become suspect.

Cincinnati as an institution also does not fit the profile of the Big Ten. Conference officials may say that's not a factor, I think it will be a consideration if it comes to a vote. Both Pitt and Cincinnati are city schools, but Pitt has a long tradition as a research center, with one of the most prestigious medical schools in the world. No disrespect to Cincinnati, but the school does not have that reputation.

Syracuse or Rutgers would be interesting choices because they would extend the conference's reach to the east coast. But they could find opposition from the western schools like Minnesota and Iowa because of the travel issue. It may not pose a problem for football, but non-revenue-driving sports like field hockey and wrestling would have either long bus trips or expensive plane rides to matches on those campuses.

Iowa State is a possibility, but I'm not sure the Big Ten would want to expand in a state where they already have a presence. Granted, there already is a Big Ten presence in Pennsylvania, but Pitt and Penn State are on different parts of a large state and are in different geographic regions of the country. Pittsburgh is a more Midwestern city, while State College, Pa. is likely more split between the Midwest and east coast ties. Iowa is solidly Midwestern.

Nebraska will not leave the Big 12 and the rivalry with Oklahoma. Kansas or Kansas State may be interested and would be bring football and basketball power to the conference, but will those schools give up their rivalry game?

My money would be on Missouri or Pitt, assuming the conference decides expansion is a good idea and the schools are interested.

The divisions for football would fall into place relatively easily with either school. Missouri would join the Big Ten West along with Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Northwestern. The Big Ten East would include Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State.

If Pitt is selected, the Big Ten East also would include Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern. Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa would compose the Big Ten West.


brophy said...

take NOTRE DAME.....please!

Get them out of Independent status and force them to be exposed for the joke they are

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