Founded in 1896, the Big Ten Conference is the oldest conference in Division I college athletics. The conference prides itself on the storied traditions and excellence in academics that the member institutions possess.
It has done a number of great things that have changed the landscape of college athletics. The creation of the Big Ten Network, which was the first conference-owned television network, has been one of the main reasons for the recent conference realignment overhaul that is taking place around the nation.
The tremendous success and revenue that the network has generated has pushed other conferences to create similar television packages. These billion-dollar television deals have universities switching conference partnerships faster than most high school relationships.
Even with the positive influences the conference has created in college athletics, does the Big Ten still need to expand? Here are the two sides of the argument for potential expansion.
Yes, the Big Ten needs to expand further.
The Big Ten started the whirlwind of conference realignment back in 2009, when it stated that they were looking to add members to the conference. The conference ended up only adding Nebraska, which gave the Big Ten twelve members and allowed them to create two (poorly named) divisions along with a championship game.
Since that move, every BCS conference has had some kind of change in its membership affiliations. The push to form 14- or 16-team “super-conferences” seems to be inevitable in the future of college football.
The SEC and ACC have both become 14-team conferences with their recent additions, while the Big East will have at least 12 football members by 2015 and is still currently looking to add more. The Pac-12 and some members of the Big 12 almost formed a 16-team merger last year. Meanwhile, the Mountain West and Conference USA just completed a merger that will have 16 teams for the 2013 season and could potentially grow to a 24-team league.
So while the Big Ten has stayed content with its current 12 members, the majority of other Division I conferences are looking into further expansion. At the speed these conferences are adding teams, the Big Ten needs to actively start pursuing quality football programs now before they are all committed to other conferences.
They need to look at the SEC as a model conference for expansion. The SEC has dominated college football for the majority of the past decade, capturing the BCS Championship the past six consecutive seasons. With the number of quality programs already in the conference, there was no desperate need to expand any further. The SEC did not sit idle, though, and was able to add two respectable programs in Missouri and Texas A&M.
The Big Ten would have no problem adding potential teams to the conference if they would just show interest in them. They could pursue teams farther east that could reel in large audiences from bigger television markets, such as Maryland or Boston College. They could also look to expand west and look at schools such as Oklahoma or Iowa State.
The Iowa Hawkeyes play Iowa State every year anyhow for the Cy-Hawk Trophy, so why not add them and give the Big Ten another in-conference rivalry game?
Oklahoma is not exactly happy with the state of the Big 12 and the way it bent over backwards, giving Texas its own television network. It is the perfect opportunity to extend an invitation to one of the best programs in the country. Imagine the atmospheres that would be created if Ohio State or Michigan played Oklahoma on a yearly basis.
Then there is the popular idea that Notre Dame should join the conference. It would be a perfect fit, as they are right in the middle of Big Ten country and have high academic standards that the Big Ten likes to uphold. The Fighting Irish would bring in an enormous fan base and would strengthen the conference as a whole.
The Big Ten cannot afford to sit around and watch other conferences snatch up all the remaining quality programs around the country. If it wants to be considered as one of the top conferences in college football, they need to act quickly and start talking with other schools about potential membership. For the Big Ten, it needs to be the more, the merrier.
No, the Big Ten is just fine.
The Big Ten has recently said that they are happy with the 12 teams they have and are not actively looking to expand any further. This was evident when they snubbed Missouri from an invitation, who was practically begging to join the conference before ultimately leaving for the SEC. Missouri would have been a perfect fit, both geographically and academically. They have a very respectable football program that could have formed rivalries with the western Big Ten teams such as Nebraska and Illinois.
The Big Ten does not need to react for the sake of reacting when considering expansion. Although other conferences seem to be heading towards the “super-conference” model, some of the schools these conferences are adding make absolutely no sense.
The Big East Conference seemed to add schools by throwing darts on a map and taking whatever school the dart landed on. The Big East will now have schools in every time zone by adding teams such as San Diego State, Boise State, and Houston.
Teams will have to travel across the country to play conference games. Future conference matchups will look like nightmare pre-January bowl games. It will not be shocking to see practically no road crowds or television viewers in those Connecticut–San Diego State games.
Rumors have also been swirling that if the Big Ten does decide to expand again, that it should go after schools in the northeast, such as Rutgers or Maryland, to grab potential big-market viewing audiences in New York or Boston.
First off, there are not any schools in these areas that are consistently quality football programs. If the Big Ten were to add any schools from those areas, it would not increase the overall strength of the conference. The Big Ten already gets enough insults from around the country on how weak the conference is and adding these types of schools would only hurt its reputation.
Secondly, the audiences in the northeast do not follow college football as religiously as they do in the Midwest or the south. College football is not the top priority in the sports world in the New York and Boston areas, so it would be a fruitless venture to add these schools that would only add mediocrity to the Big Ten with a television audience that does not follow the sport that well.
The Big Ten is not lacking anything that any other conference possesses. Just like other BCS conferences, they have two divisions with a title game at the end of the season. The Big Ten Network is highly successful and the fan bases for the schools are both loyal and numerous. They may not have the strength the SEC has from top to bottom, but neither does any other conference. There is no need to fix something that is not broken. Keep the Big Ten with its current 12 teams.