A couple of days ago, I discussed comments that Penn State coach Joe Paterno made about the Big Ten expanding to 12 teams, and I came to the conclusion that changes, in some way, do need to be made in order for the conference to return to being a real power on the national stage.
Is expansion that change that needs to happen? An expansion to 12 teams may well make the Big Ten need to change its name, but it would allow the conference to have a championship game, and if the right team is added, it would make the conference stronger in more than just football.
Making expansion happen is a lot easier said than done, because the potential candidates have to be interested in the first place, and then there’s also the matter of getting out of conference commitments, but there are quite a few teams that could be realistic possibilities. Paterno mentioned Big East members Syracuse, Rutgers, and Pittsburgh, but the first name that might jump to mind for most is Notre Dame.
A decade ago, it was a near reality, but in the end, Notre Dame voted against the move. Notre Dame has its TV deal, its BCS benefits, scheduling freedom, and its membership with the Big East in other sports, so it’s sitting pretty right now.
But, as SI's Stewart Mandel mentioned in an open letter to former Notre Dame AD Kevin White and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany in September 2007, Notre Dame to the Big Ten makes perfect sense all around.
How into the idea would Notre Dame be now? There’s no telling, but if the Big Ten really starts searching for a 12th member again, South Bend is the first place they’ll look.
In the event that Notre Dame once again passes on the chance to join the Big Ten, are there any other viable options besides ND?
What of Syracuse, Rutgers, and Pitt? Out of those three, Pitt would be the best fit, and in my mind, they’re the next best fit after Notre Dame. They’d bring in a competitive football program, and they’ve also got one of the best basketball programs in the nation. Besides that, they make sense geographically, and Pittsburgh is a highly-rated university academically.
Syracuse. with its fan base, a highly successful basketball program, and quality academics, could very well win out over Pittsburgh, and there’s support from the Orange contingent for such a move. It’d be very intriguing to see the Orange compete for Big Ten hoops titles on a regular basis, but I can’t say I’d be too interested in watching Syracuse in the Big Ten in football, unless there’s significant improvement on the gridiron in the next few years.
There could be a dark horse candidate in West Virginia. West Virginia isn’t the worst fit geographically, and if they can continue their recent success on the gridiron, they offer up a name that’s known on a national level. West Virginia’s basketball program is also a consistent winner, and they have a nationally-known coach in Bob Huggins. It’s not exactly a sexy choice, but it’s one worth considering.
What about someone from the Big 12? There’ve been rumors about both Iowa State and Missouri in recent years, and there‘s also Nebraska. Name-wise, Nebraska would be the second-biggest football draw behind Notre Dame, but they are a little out of the way on the map, and academically, they might not be on the same level that several other Big Ten members are. But when you’re talking about ratings, exposure, and interest, Nebraska in the Big Ten = an A+ move.
One of the MAC schools? I can’t say I see that one happening, unless one of the MAC schools started being a regular fixture in the nation’s conscience. Even then, it’d be a hard sell.
When it comes down to the issue of the Big Ten expanding, I honestly can’t say that I see Delany (if he’s still the commish when expansion comes about) advocating a 12th team that wouldn’t benefit the conference competitively.
When the ACC expanded from nine to 12, they got three quality programs, and before that, they hit the jackpot with Florida State in the 90s. The additions that the Big East made in replacing BC, Miami, and VT, at least from a football standpoint, have worked out well. Louisville (2006) and Cincinnati (2008) have both won conference titles, and South Florida has made strides since joining. The SEC did well with their additions of Arkansas and South Carolina, and it can’t go without mentioning that Penn State's addition to the Big Ten worked out well, to say the least.
If expansion is to happen, the best all-around fits, in my opinion, would be:
1. Notre Dame: If expansion does become a serious topic of discussion, you’d think that they would be the first to get an invitation. Name alone, they’d be a big draw week in, week out, and they’re a fantastic fit academically and geographically.
2. Pittsburgh: They’d lose their Big East rivalry with West Virginia, but they’d renew their old rivalry with Penn State, which would make for a highly-anticipated game every season (say, Penn State replaces Michigan State as their end-of-season opponent with Pitt). As mentioned, they’d benefit the conference in both football and basketball, and they fit academically and geographically.
3. Missouri: They’d have a ready-made conference rivalry with Illinois in football and basketball, and they’re not a bad fit geographically. Not as much of a big-named draw as Nebraska would be, but competitively, both school and conference would benefit greatly.
4. Syracuse: As mentioned, they get pluses for the academics, the fan base, and the basketball program. Football-wise, they’d be a great fit a decade ago, but not now. However, there might be a lot of love for them come expansion time, especially if the football program can start winning again in the next few years.
1. West Virginia: From a competitive standpoint, they’d as great of a fit as can be on the gridiron and on the basketball court. As for travel, they’re pretty reasonable as well. But how big of a draw would they be?
2. Nebraska: A stretch in terms of travel, but there’s a definite argument for their inclusion.
1. Rutgers: Competitive football program, great fit academically, but they’re a backup backup option at best.
2. Iowa State: Wouldn’t add a great deal competitively at this point, and they can land a much bigger name. Their football program is in the rebuilding stages, and their basketball program isn’t exactly thriving right now either.
Does the Big Ten need to expand to 12 teams to be more of a player on a national level in football? If the Big Ten does expand, who should be added?