Why the Big Ten Still Has Its Eye on Expansion

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Why the Big Ten Still Has Its Eye on Expansion
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"You'll be seeing a lot more of us, East Coast."

Raise your hands if you think the Big Ten's going to be sticking around at 14 teams for the foreseeable future. You had better not have your hand up. No way, no how.

Aside from the fact that 14 is just a weird, ugly number for membership (and in that sense alone; you're beautiful, 14—no seriously, we love you please don't cry), Ohio State president Gordon Gee told his trustees that the Big Ten was still in the process of expansion. Here's more from the Columbus Dispatch:

It doesn’t appear that the Big Ten is necessarily content to stay at 14 members. According to the minutes of the Dec. 5 Athletic Council meeting obtained by the Dispatch, Gee said “there has been ongoing discussion” about expansion and “believes there is movement towards three or four super conferences that are made up of 16-20 teams.”

When a student member of the Athletic Council asked Gee what direction the Big Ten might take, Gee said “there are opportunities to move further south in the (E)ast and possibly a couple of Midwest universities.”

For one, there's the first sense of why the Big Ten is going after more schools: because everyone else is too. Or, at the least, whatever "everyone else" is going to look like in the future, because "three or four super conferences" isn't a whole lot. 

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This is also the clearest sign yet that the Big Ten absolutely still has malevolent intentions when it comes to the survival of the ACC. The "opportunities to move further south in the (East)" sure as heck aren't coming from the SEC—though making a run at Kentucky would be funny for everybody involved—and if there are three super conferences left, one of them won't be the ACC.

Of course, the Big Ten is still an academic consortium first and foremost. Its 14 members and the University of Chicago comprise the "Committee on Institutional Cooperation," and that's a strong enough consortium that it merited this announcement from the Big Ten in December:

All CIC universities share a very strong research emphasis. Together CIC universities engage in $8.4 billion in funded research each year—the addition of these two universities will push that to $9.3 billion, and will add another 8 million library volumes and over 5,600 more full-time faculty to the collective resources of the consortium.  In addition, these new colleagues bring leading-edge collaborative research projects in areas as diverse as biotechnology, transportation, cyber-security, and food safety research.

CIC Chair and Michigan State University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Kim A. Wilcox said, "We welcome Rutgers University and the University of Maryland, two top-tier public research institutions that share the academic values, aspirations and challenges of the CIC member universities."

So if the Big Ten adds two more institutions, it'll likely top $10 billion in funded research—yes, that is a one with 10 zeroes behind it. So when Gee mentions the fact that any new school will have "like-minded academic integrity," you can rest assured that he means that, and the Big Ten takes that every bit as seriously as anything that happens in a stadium or on the hardwood.

In other words, those nice, shiny, well-funded schools in the ACC, with the bustling research departments? Those are the targets that the rest of the Big Ten presidents want—and thus what Jim Delany wants.

That they exist in an area where the Big Ten's looking to expand its footprint, and in a conference that doesn't have the history or media clout to keep them around in perpetuity is, of course, a nice bonus.

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