Scouting the contenders for possible inclusion in a Big Ten expansion plan

Big Ten or Bust?
2010-03-21T00:00:00Z Scouting the contenders for possible inclusion in a Big Ten expansion planAnalysis By Paul Trembacki, Times Sportswriter nwitimes.com
March 21, 2010 12:00 am  • 

College athletics are never more relevant than these two weeks in March. Alumni, current students and fans who never went away to school swell with pride for their team (or teams).

The NCAA basketball tournament generates nearly $500 million in TV revenue alone, and interest in the event permeates everyone from the big boosters to the least active fans. College football is the other cash cow, as all money earned from bowl berths, just like the revenue earned from NCAA tourney berths, is split among conferences and distributed among member institutions, making it very beneficial to have a strong conference from top to bottom.

As a conference grows in strength and power with every major win, it gathers more revenue in a cyclical process that only adds to its facilities and makes it more attractive to world-class athletes who, in turn, generate championships and therefore more revenue, presumably ad infinitum.

So, why, then, has "Big Ten expansion" been a hot topic for the last three months?

At first glance it appears a conference that is 114 years old, supports more broad-based sports programs than everyone but the Ivy League, awards $100 million in scholarships to 8,500 student-athletes across 270 teams in 25 sports, where national titles are the goal if not the expectation, and is one of the "Big Six" conferences alongside the ACC, Big East, Big 12, SEC and Pac-10 would have little room for improvement. However, this is business and competition, which are seldom mutually exclusive, and there is always an edge.

The Big Ten's last major move was in 1990 when Penn State expanded the conference from 10 to 11 schools, elevating the conference's strength in football, volleyball and other sports in a major way while also edging the league closer to that lucrative East Coast market.

In those 20 years there have been major overhauls, most recently the Big East's expansion to 16 teams, which was reaction to the ACC expanding, which was fostered by overpopulation of the still-voluminous SEC. That's why the Big Ten doesn't carry as much clout as some of those conferences when it comes to BCS rankings in football. It's also why eight teams from the 16-team Big East made the field of 64 for this year's men's basketball tournament while only five Big Ten teams are in it. Only two Pac-10 teams are in this year's Big Dance, so it should come as no surprise that the West Coast is abuzz with talks of Pac-10 expansion, too.

So in December when the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors announced that it reviewed the issue of conference structure and expansion, it made sense. The Big Ten's December statement on the topic, which noted its efforts to explore expansion in 1993, 1998 and 2003, said the conference has asked the league office to obtain, "information necessary to construct preliminary options and recommendations without engaging in formal discussions with leadership of other institutions." Commissioner Jim Delany has 12 to 18 months during which he is to report findings.

Until any announcement is made, the best we can do is speculate on which teams might make the best fit for the Big Ten, just like Delany and his staff.

Six candidates for inclusion in the Big Ten:

(Enrollment figures are rounded, based on undergrads)

Iowa State

Mascot: Cy the Cardinal

Established: 1858

Enrollment: 28,000

Current conference: Big 12

Pros: Brings comparable competition across the board from Big 12. ... School has 19 total national titles. ... Wrestling team has eight national titles. ... Makes sense geographically. ... Has long history in athletics and academics, including mention as top-100 school by U.S. News and World Report.

Cons: Member of Big Eight (which became Big 12 in 1994) since 1908. ... Low profile throughout major athletics programs and therefore would not make the Big Ten much more elite. ... Does not have much of a consistent history with Big Ten teams other than Iowa.

Natural rivalries: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota

Missouri

Mascot: Truman the Tiger

Established: 1839

Enrollment: 31,000

Current conference: Big 12

Pros: Has elevated profile in football and basketball, with a national No. 1 ranking in football in December 2007 and 22 NCAA men's basketball tourney appearances. ... Would give Big Ten more exposure in St. Louis market. ... Top-100 school by U.S. News and World Report. ... Upgrades have made facilities among Big 12's best.

Cons: Member of Big Eight (which became Big 12 in 1994) since its formation in 1907. ... School has two national titles in its history. ... Although it has a great rivalry with Illinois, its showdowns with Kansas trump anything going with the Illini.

Natural rivalries: Illinois, Iowa

Notre Dame

Mascot: Notre Dame Leprechaun

Established: 1842

Enrollment: 8,000

Current conference: Big East (Independent in football)

Pros: Athletic director Jack Swarbrick said "seismic" changes in conference landscapes could force school to reconsider its coveted independence in football. ... Despite drop-off in last 20 years, football team is a national destination and probably the most storied in the land with 11 national titles. ... Is smack in the middle of Big Ten country and couldn't make more sense geographically. ... Has long history in athletics and academics. ... Teams outside of football have won 14 national titles, including women's basketball in 2001. ... Among top 20 undergraduate programs in U.S. News and World Report.

Con: Publicly rejected Big Ten's offer for inclusion in 1999. ... Lucrative, exclusive national TV contract with Notre Dame would be hard to leave and complicate broadcasting for Big Ten. ... Private institution would be joining group of mostly public schools. ... Football independence would be huge sticking point, but independence means keeping all bowl money without having to share and scheduling freely.

Natural rivalries: Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue

Pittsburgh

Mascot: Roc the Panther

Established: 1787

Enrollment: 32,000

Current conference: Big East

Pros: High profile in athletics, with strength across the board, particularly football and men's basketball, including four national titles in the former. ... Close enough geographically. ... Plenty of scholar-athletes and school ranked in top 60 nationally by U.S. News and World Report.

Cons: Would be almost as isolated as Penn State, although not as far, from heart of Big Ten country.

Natural rivalries: Ohio State, Penn State

Rutgers

Mascot: The Scarlet Knight

Established: 1766

Enrollment: 35,000

Current conference: Big East

Pros: Gives Big Ten more exposure in East Coast market. ... Although not always competitive, athletic program dates to 1873, and it has never been in one conference for more than 20 years. ... Elite women's basketball program. ... Football team's attendance among Big East's highest. ... Eighth-oldest college in America ranks in top 70 nationally according to U.S. News and World Report.

Cons: Outside the geographical boundaries of Big Ten country (New Brunswick, N.J.). ... Only five Big East titles total in all sports since joining league in 1995. ... Distinct lack of national titles.

Natural rivalry: Penn State

Wild Card

Texas

Mascot: Bevo the Longhorn

Established: 1883

Enrollment: 38,000

Current conference: Big 12

Pros: Dubbed by numerous entities as a top-five overall athletic program in America, with perennial contenders in nearly every sport and 47 total team national championships. ... Would automatically boost the Big Ten's stature across the board. ... Large enrollment and alumni numbers would add greatly to Big Ten's already huge base.

Cons: Member of old Southwestern Conference from 1915 to 1996 when it shrunk and merged with the Big Eight to make the Big 12. ... Might be too dominant in warm-weather sports such as baseball, softball and tennis. ... A strain on travel budgets for almost everyone else that might not offset the potential gain from its inclusion.

Natural rivalries: None.

Honorable mentions but much less likely: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Syracuse, Nebraska, West Virginia.

COLLEGE SPORTS | BIG TEN EXPANSION

Big Ten schools

Illinois

Established: 1867

Enrollment: 31,000

Joined conference: 1896

Indiana

Established: 1820

Enrollment: 30,000

Joined conference: 1899

Iowa

Established: 1847

Enrollment: 21,000

Joined conference: 1899

Michigan

Established: 1817

Enrollment: 26,000

Joined conference: 1896

Michigan State

Established: 1855

Enrollment: 36,000

Joined conference: 1950

Minnesota

Established: 1851

Enrollment: 39,000

Joined conference: 1896

Northwestern

Established: 1851

Enrollment: 8,000

Joined conference: 1896

Ohio State

Established: 1870

Enrollment: 40,000

Joined conference: 1912

Penn State

Established: 1855

Enrollment: 39,000

Joined conference: 1990

Purdue

Established: 1869

Enrollment: 31,000

Joined conference: 1896

Wisconsin

Established: 1848

Enrollment: 29,000

Joined conference: 1896

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