More College Football What-Ifs - Big Ten Edition
The innevitable annual article about Notre Dame joining a conference has begun:
This actually leads to some interesting questions, once of which is: does the Big Ten want to expand, and have an evermore increasingly incorrect title? Would expansion include a championship game? Would it help it's current non-conference record (1-1 against the Sun Belt right now, which is the same as the record against the Pac 10)? Assuming expansion happens, and it's not Notre Dame, what effect would it have on other conferences? Will they somehow manage to have a title game prior to December?
So, here are the possibilities:
A 12 team Big Ten (surely they'll have to come up with a new name, unless they start referring to the current bottom dwellers as the Little 2 - guess that would be Northwestern and Minnesota right now) would almost have to have a Structure similar to the SEC /Big 12 or the ACC. In other words, either you have 2 six team divisions, on a geographical basis, and play 3 other teams from the other division in a 2 year cycle, or you have the same 2 six team divisions, without that geographical distinction, one permanent interdivisional rival, and play the other 5 teams in some sort of rotating schedule. Currently, the Big Ten is set up for every team to have two permanent rivals (PSU has OSU and Mich. State, OSU has Mich. and PSU, etc., etc.).
Here's an idea, with ND, of how a geographical split would go, with East vs. West:
East: PSU, OSU, Mich, MSU, Purdue, ND
West: Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northwestern
Pluses for this: the Big Ten teams ND plays semi-regularly are all in its division, and it maintains some of the primary rivalries.
Downside: Much like putting Miami and FSU in separate divisions so (theoretically) they could meet again in the title game, the Big 2 (Mich and OSU) would knock each other out, with only Wisconsin (to round up the top 4 with PSU) in the other division. If you want to include Iowa and Purdue, you've got 4 better teams and 2 better teams (typically) split up.
So, how about non-geographical? Well, here are the lists of the current permanent rivals:
Illinois: Northwestern, Indiana
Indiana: Illinois, Purdue
Iowa: Minnesota, Wisconsin
Michigan: Michigan State, Ohio State
Michigan State: Michigan, Penn State
Minnesota: Iowa, Wisconsin
Northwestern: Illinois, Purdue
Ohio State: Michigan, Penn State
Penn State: Michigan State, Ohio State
Purdue: Indiana, Northwestern
Wisconsin: Iowa, Minnesota
The problem here is someone will have to lose "traditional rivals" for this to work, and other teams to keep theirs. Since PSU and ND would be the newcomers, and we want Michigan and OSU to be in seprate conferences, the line-up would be something like this:
Div. A: OSU, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, PSU, ND
Div. B: Mich, MSU, Purdue, Illinois, Indiana, Northwestern
Permanent rivals: OSU/Mich; PSU/MSU; Iowa/Illinois; Minnesota/Northwestern; Wisconsin/Indiana; ND/Purdue
This allows some balance in the divisions, maintains all the traditional rivals either within division or permanent rival, and also allows the current ND/Purdue game to be pretty regular, as well. It also creates some new divisional rivalries, with the Iowa/Illinois, Minn/NW, and Wisconsin/Indiana. This is the optimal setup, I think, for a 12 team Big Ten.
So, here's the Big Ten if ND joins, as I would see it - but what if not ND?
What are the other possibilities? The Big Ten is the only Division I conference to have all of its member institutions affiliated with the Association of American Universities, an invitation only grouping of schools meeting certain scholarship and research standards, and that is likely going to be a requirement. Also, a new TV market for the floundering Big Ten Network is also going to be a requirement. Current Big Ten bylaws, any expansion must either be in current Big Ten territory, or next to it. So, assuming this isn't changed to allow for a Texas or Colorado, what states can the Big Ten cherry pick from: New York, New Jersey, Maryland, West Virginia, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, and the Dakotas, as well as it's current states, PA, OH, MI, IN, IL, MN, WI, and IA. The leading contenders, according to Wikipedia.com, are Rutgers, Syracuse, Missouri, Nebraska, and Pitt. Texas has been mentioned, but it fails because of the geographical rule. Other teams in the area aren't considered, either because they don't bring enough market, new or otherwise, to the table (Iowa State, any MAC team, rising Western Kentucky), lack of competitiveness on the field (Navy, Army, the MAC teams - though almost every year the MAC teams get their vengeance on a Big Ten team), or strong conference ties elsewhere (Kentucky, Maryland, and ultimately, probably, Nebraska and Missouri). Other teams that might be interesting don't seem to get considered are Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia. It's hard to say that the Big East has that much die-hard loyalty, so perhaps a combination of no major new markets and that all three aren't members of the AAU, mentioned above.
Of all these teams, Rutgers and Pitt make the most sense. Syracuse just doesn't bring much to the table, and I think Nebraska and Missouri have too many ties to the Big 12. Rutgers brings the NYC market to the table, and Pitt brings longstanding ties with PSU, plus being in the heart of Big Ten country as it is. Both are AAU members, which, ironically, Notre Dame isn't.
Assuming, then, the Big Ten does expand, what happens to the new teams former conference. The Big East would likely want to get back up to 7 football teams, and the most likely option would be going after Marshall from the C-USA or trying for a current MAC team (Temple, Miami OH, Toledo or Bowling Green are possibilities). Obviously, former Big East member BC and current ACC member Maryland would be attractive, but I think both are pretty much off the radar. Picking from the MAC would actually allow the MAC to have an even number of teams again, and end what must be creative scheduling with 7 in the East and 6 in the West. Taking from the C-USA, though, would probably prompt them to try to pick up another team, and a pretty sensible target would be LA Tech, from the WAC. It would get the C-USA back up to 12, and would also allow LA Tech to cut a lot of costs, considering it's closest conference member is in New Mexico right now. Moreover, the WAC doesn't have a pesky divisional structure to keep balanced.
So here's a peak into how the dominoes might fall in the wake of a Big Ten expansion. Of course, none of this would do anything about the fact that the Big Ten has just been embarrassing so far on the gridiron this year.