This past week Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany orchestrated the addition of Rutgers and Maryland to the conference.
Football is the sport that drives conference realignment because it is the sport that brings the most money to the universities and conferences. But what the Big Ten showed with the additions of Rutgers and Maryland is that academics and geographic footprint are the conference's main focus.
With the FBS playoff set to start in 2014 it looks as though the major conferences are trying to get to 16 teams. The Big Ten, along with the SEC and Pac 12, seem to be the most stable conferences because they are growing, not shrinking.
Those three plus one more conference will all likely grow to 16 teams each, 64 in all. With the Big East losing its BCS automatic bid and several members—Rutgers to the Big Ten, Pitt and Syracuse to the ACC—the automatic qualifying conferences will have 63 members by 2014. If those conferences can force Notre Dame to join, then they will have the 64 needed for four 16-team conferences.
This means the Big Ten is looking for two more teams. The criteria has been made pretty clear: Commissioner Jim Delany wants an AAU member—11 of the 12 Big Ten members are AAU members since Nebraska lost their membership right after joining the Big Ten—that increases the conference's footprint and brings big money.
However, I believe the Big Ten would make a few exceptions to those rules if the right school wanted to join. A right school like the first school on my list...
The Big Ten has long wanted Notre Dame to join the conference.
Academics: Notre Dame, despite being one of the most prestigious universities in the country, is not a member of the AAU. However, considering the Big Ten's continued interest in Notre Dame, it seems the conference would overlook their lack of membership and get them in.
Financial Benefit: While Notre Dame would not expand the Big Ten's geographical footprint since it is already in Big Ten country, it will add a ton of money because of the program's huge following.
Athletics: Notre Dame's football program is back, and they already have annual rivalry games against three Big Ten football teams. The other sports programs would also fit well in the competitive Big Ten.
Mutual Benefit: The Big Ten has always wanted Notre Dame, but it won't join until there is a benefit for the school. Perhaps the new playoff system in the FBS will finally put the pressure on Notre Dame and force them to join a conference. With the Big East and the ACC in unstable situations, the Big Ten would likely be the favorite.
It seems the new playoff system will not put any extra pressure on Notre Dame to join a conference. But if the "big four" conferences are successful in getting 16 members, it might intensify pressure on Notre Dame. If Notre Dame is forced into a conference, the Big Ten will have a better than 50/50 chance of adding the Golden Domers.
Texas is the big fish that all the conferences will fight over.
Academics: Texas is a member of the AAU, which fits academically with the rest of the conference's schools.
Financial Benefit: Texas is the big fish in conference realignment. The Longhorns will bring the richest athletics program in the country. Along with that, they will almost double the Big Ten's footprint.
Athletics: Texas, despite a recent dip, is one of the most successful universities in the country when it comes to sports. They would step in and give the Big Ten another national power in football and basketball, but wouldn't have much competition in baseball.
Mutual Benefit: Much like with Notre Dame, the addition of Texas would not have any cons for the Big Ten. However, if the new playoff system works out a deal with Notre Dame, then Texas might consider going independent as well—it's not far-fetched for a state that recently petitioned the government for secession.
There have been unconfirmed rumors floating around that Texas could join the Big Ten, but it just doesn't seem that likely. With the new Longhorn Network and the state's independent mentality, I see Texas going Independent or keeping the Big 12 together as much more likely than Texas joining the Big Ten.
With a fog over the future of the ACC North Carolina might be planning an exit strategy.
Academics: North Carolina fits the bill in terms of academics with their membership in the AAU.
Financial Benefit: North Carolina wouldn't bring in the same amount of money as Notre Dame and Texas. But it does have a good following and is the biggest program in the state, one that is No. 10 in the United States in population. Also, it's a state that is not currently a part of the Big Ten.
Athletics: Historically, North Carolina is a basketball school, and the Big Ten is a football conference. That is changing somewhat. The Big Ten has become one of the top basketball conferences, and with Maryland that is continuing. Plus, North Carolina is getting better in football.
Mutual Benefit: North Carolina would bring a new region to the conference and a large following, plus with Maryland—and possibly some other ACC schools later in this list—they will not be huge misfits.
North Carolina seems to be one of the more likely new additions to the Big Ten. With the ACC searching for security and North Carolina clinging to hope of staying relevant in big-time college sports, the Big Ten would be a good fit. The only question is whether or not North Carolina would leave behind its in-state rivals Duke and N.C. State.
Virginia could follow their border rival Maryland to the Big Ten.
Academics: AAU member, check.
Financial Benefit: A new state that is No. 12 in population, good TV markets and a good following will bring money to the Big Ten.
Athletics: In-state talent has never been the issue for Virginia. The problem has been keeping that in-state talent in the state of Virginia. The sports teams have been average—that's more than I can say for Rutgers—so they won't kill the conference. Possibly a stable situation in a better conference will help keep the talent home.
Mutual Benefit: The Big Ten would benefit financially and Virginia would benefit athletically. However, Virginia would likely benefit more than the Big Ten, and if the conference wants a program in the state of Virginia, then Virginia Tech may be the better choice.
If the Big Ten can't hit a grand slam with Texas and/or Notre Dame, I fully expect one of the Virginia schools to join the conference. Will the Big Ten favor AAU membership with Virginia or better football with Virginia Tech?
Virginia Tech would bring a solid football program and a big following from the state of Virginia.
Academics: Virginia Tech is a great school, but it is not a member of the AAU.
Financial Benefit: It's basically the same situation as Virginia: brings a new, large state and a good fanbase.
Athletics: Unlike Virginia, Virginia Tech has a football program that is a perennial Top 25 team and also has a decent basketball program that is struggling to build consistency in a basketball-driven ACC.
Mutual Benefit: As with Virginia, the Big Ten gets the benefit financially, and Virginia Tech benefits athletically. But, I have to give Virginia Tech the edge athletically.
I give the state of Virginia a 4-of-5 overall. As a fan, I'm biased and would rather see Virginia Tech, but the Big Ten favored academics with Rutgers and Maryland.
Georgia Tech could catch a ride out of the crumbling ACC and find security in the Big Ten.
Academics: AAU member...yep.
Financial Benefit: One of America's biggest cities in a new state that happens to have a huge TV network the Big Ten could possibly use. The Big Ten would likely benefit in a huge way financially. Also, it would allow the Big Ten to sneak into SEC country.
Athletics: Georgia Tech is up and down when it comes to football and basketball. With Paul Johnson running his option offense, the football program seems to have ceiling due to the fact recruits don't think the wishbone can get them to the NFL. But in the long run, having a team in Georgia could be useful.
Mutual Benefit: Like Virginia schools, the Big Ten would get money and Georgia Tech would be in a more athletically prestigious conference.
North Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech fit better geographically than Georgia Tech, but if the Big Ten can get over the distance, Georgia Tech could sneak in.
Boston College would bring a huge TV market, but dying athletics.
Financial Benefit: Boston is one of the 25 most populated cities in the country and is a sports-loving town. Boston College, along with Rutgers, would give the Big Ten a stronghold in New England. The only problem is New Englanders favor professional sports over college sports.
Athletics: Boston College has a history of success in football and basketball, but they simply haven't been very good of late. There is talent—especially basketball talent—in the area, so things could change in the long run, but it's not a sure thing.
Mutual Benefit: Once again, the Big Ten gets more money, the new school gets in a better conference.
Boston College feels like a fallback plan at best. They aren't an AAU member and don't have great programs. Basically, the only benefit in the short run is the Big Ten Network getting a larger audience.
The Orange are set to leave the unstable Big East for another unstable situation in the ACC.
Academics: Like Boston College, Syracuse isn't an AAU member.
Financial Benefit: Again, like Boston College, Syracuse is in a big TV market and would actually bring a more rabid fanbase. But New York is a professional sports state, not a college sports state, like the rest of the Big Ten.
Athletics: Syracuse is better than Boston College in football and has one of the best basketball programs in the country.
Mutual Benefit: The Big Ten would get more out of adding Syracuse than Boston College because its athletics are better and it would likely bring some more money. Syracuse would gain stability and a more competitive conference.
Academics is extremely important to the Big Ten and I don't believe Syracuse's athletics is enough to make the Big Ten overlook its lack of AAU membership.
Bill Self has Big Ten coaching experience from his years at Illinois.
Academics: Kansas is an AAU member.
Financial Benefit: While the basketball program has a huge following, and it would add a new state to the conference, Kansas' programs wouldn't really bring a noticeable amount of cash flow.
Athletics: Basketball is king in Kansas, and adding them would improve the conference's basketball prestige to a brand new level. Also, the football program is bowl eligible, and, with Charlie Weis, things are looking up.
Mutual Benefit: The Big Ten would get a great basketball program, a decent football program and a new state to sell its Big Ten Network.
Kansas fits in terms of academics and expanding the footprint, but wouldn't bring much financially. Despite being a huge addition in basketball, when it comes to conference realignment, football is the most important sport, and Kansas simply doesn't bring any excitement there.
Vanderbilt is an unappreciated academic institution in the sports-rabid SEC.
Academics: Vanderbilt fits the bill academically and is an AAU member.
Financial Benefit: Vanderbilt would add a large city in a new state, but in Tennessee they are never going to get the attention the Volunteers get and simply do not have a large following.
Athletics: The Commodores are not often competitive in the SEC. Perhaps they feel they could compete better in the Big Ten. But they don't really bring any real excitement to other programs, and they really don't have ties to any other teams.
Mutual Benefit: Not sure their is a big benefit for either school. Vanderbilt is already in a good conference, and the Big Ten wouldn't gain much financially from their addition.
Unless the SEC reaches out and gains three huge programs and pushes Vanderbilt out, then I see no reason it would leave. The Big Ten would have to miss out on all of its targets to slip down to adding Vanderbilt.
The Big Ten already has Iowa State's biggest rival.
Academics: Iowa State is an AAU member.
Financial Benefit: The Big Ten already has the state of Iowa with the Hawkeyes. Plus, Iowa State doesn't have a big following.
Athletics: The Cyclones don't really bring much to the table on the field or court either.
Mutual Benefit: Iowa State wouldn't bring in much of anything, but would love to get the bigger check the Big Ten gives its members.
The only chance Iowa State has is if no other program joins and the Big Ten has to scramble to get to 16 teams.
Another change so soon is unlikely for Missouri, but the change to the SEC wasn't as smooth as the Tigers hoped.
Academics: Missouri is an AAU member.
Financial Benefit: The Big Ten was rumored to have looked at Missouri back when they added Nebraska. Missouri is attractive because it is a new state, big population and solid fanbase. But with Missouri now in the SEC, it is unlikely they are looking around.
Athletics: As far as athletics go, Missouri feels a whole lot more like a Big Ten school than an SEC school. However, they are in the SEC and will likely stay there and try to compete.
Mutual Benefit: Missouri would have a better fit in athletics, and the Big Ten would gain a new market and more money.
Missouri just joined the SEC, and they won't run away this quickly. But a decade down the road, they might want to rethink their decision, which will be too late.
Seeing Coach K and Duke anywhere but the ACC would be quite a shock.
Academics: Duke is a great school and AAU member.
Financial Benefit: Duke is a little like Kansas, big-time in basketball and could bring fans. But North Carolina is the state school, and Duke wouldn't be as financially beneficial for the Big Ten.
Athletics: Football is king in the Big Ten, while Duke is on an upswing, the Blue Devils don't have a history of success, so they wouldn't fit all that well in the conference. However, its amazing basketball program would add a lot to the conference's basketball prestige.
Mutual Benefit: Duke gets in a solid conference, and the Big Ten gets another big-time basketball program.
The only way I see Duke as a member of a 16-team Big Ten is if the conference strikes out on other additions and can only get North Carolina if they take Duke too.
What better way to expand a footprint than bring in another country?
Academics: AAU member.
Financial Benefit: Toronto would be the fourth largest city in the United State with over 2.6 million people. While the Varsity Blues don't have a huge fanbase now, I'd have to guess sudden relevance in sports could add a following.
Athletics: Not in the same league. The Toronto Varsity Blues would struggle to win a high school state championship in the state of Ohio. This would take time, a lot of time, for Toronto to build a real program—its stadium holds 5,000 people. But membership in the Big Ten would certainly accelerate that process.
Mutual Benefit: Huge lift for the Big Ten financially and in their footprint, it's a whole new country. Toronto would instantly be relevant in sports and would likely blow up in terms of recruiting and fan support.
It isn't going to happen, but I couldn't give them a zero and keep them on my list of possibilities. I just thought it would be a fun topic.