Recently, as a result of comments by Wisconsin A.D. Barry Alvarez, rumors and discussion about the Big Ten adding a 12th team have abounded. Most of these rumors involve a certain school from South Bend; the rest generally involve the conference looking East (at Rutgers, Syracuse, or Pitt) or west (at Mizzou, Nebraska, or Iowa State).
However, the best candidate for expansion may not have received any press at all yet, due largely to their isolation from the rest of the conference: the Texas Longhorns.
While this may be a surprising suggestion to many, Texas is, even with the geographic barrier, the strongest possible candidate for the conference, even more so than the Fighting Irish. Texas has every factor the conference is looking for: strong teams in all sports (both men's and women's), strong academics, and perhaps the most important factor, huge drawing power which will benefit both Texas and the conference financially.
Texas is generally regarded to be one of the best sports programs in the nation. The school currently is ranked in the top five in football, men's basketball, women's volleyball, and men's and women's swimming and they are expected to rank highly in men's tennis, men's and women's track, and baseball as well. The Longhorns football team is undefeated and playing for a national title, certainly a desirable position for any program.
They've also managed to build up some repertoire with Ohio State over the past five years and have a series scheduled against Minnesota in the future. The Longhorns also benefit from the Big Ten's better bowl tie-ins, including births in the Rose Bowl, the Capital One Bowl, and the Alamo Bowl close to home if the Horns happen to have an off-year.
Academically, Texas fits better than any school mentioned yet for expansion, including Notre Dame. Texas' US News ranking is 47, which is equal with Penn State and higher than six current members, but UT ranks in the top 25 in just about every individual subject area measured.
They are also, unlike Notre Dame, a member of AAU, a current requirement for Big Ten membership (and one far more likely to stand than any geographic rules), and are an RU/VH university in the Carnegie classifications, just like every current member of the Big Ten, signifying very high research activity. As a large, public, flagship research university with a national reputation, Texas is exactly the sort of school the Big Ten wants to associate with.
Texas' biggest argument, however, is economical. The Longhorns, very simply, are the biggest brand name in sports right now, having surpassed the Big Ten's own Ohio State, according to a recent article by John Maher in theAustin American-Statesman.
The Longhorns are one of the few athletic departments in the country who not only do not lose money, but in fact give money to the school's academic departments.
Tickets to a game against the Longhorns in Ann Arbor or Columbus, and even in Bloomington or Iowa City, would be snapped up in a heartbeat and the same thing would hold true for teams visiting Austin. The travel costs would increase, but the increased revenues would more than outweigh the raise.
Texas has a strong national fanbase and would be able to sell 4,000 tickets for any conference away game and, though it might be more difficult, would likely be able to sell 19,000 tickets for a championship game in Detroit or Indianapolis. The biggest argument, however, is for television revenue.
The Longhorns have been looking at the posibility of creating a national cable network to gain more exposure and revenue outside their home base of Texas, but with the Big Ten Network, the Longhorns have a perfect match: a place to showcase their non-revenue sports and the occasional football mismatch, events currently relegated to local television stations in Texas.
Texas also brings three of the largest media markets in the country—Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio. The Longhorns dominate these markets in college football and the Big Ten could really benefit from the addition of three strong media markets.
There are of course, two main arguments against looking at the Horns: one is, of course, geography. The Horns' farthest opponent in the Big 12 is closer than the closest Big Ten team and current Big Ten rules require teams to come from states that are home to or else border current members. However, the extra money the Longhorns bring, plus the exciting rivalries likely to develop, will more than outweigh this argument.
The other is, of course, the fact that the Longhorns are already in a conference and quite comfortable in it. While this is true, Texas has no lasting love for the Big 12. The conference was a shotgun marriage and while Texas has certainly made the best of it, they've not developed any significant rivalries they didn't already possess, except perhaps Kansas in basketball. Texas could still play Oklahoma and Texas A&M annually in non-conference and have room for two buyout games.
One other key factor in adding Texas, rather than most other suggested school, is that it gives the conference a clear geographic divisional breakdown, with Texas joining Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Northwestern in the West Division and Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, and Purdue in the East.
While the Eastern Division sounds more loaded based on the names of the programs, the West actually provides five bowl teams, including the best team in the future conference, the third-best, and the fifth best. Only three of the schools in the East would have been bowling this year. Also, the Big Ten can finally have a championship game at a domed NFL Stadium like Lucas Oil Stadium or Ford Field. The winner would almost be assured a spot in the championship game based on the strength of the conference; Rose Bowl seasons would be considered failures.
Texas took a good, long look at the Big Ten in 1992, when the end of the SWC was imminent, but the geographic rule and the moratorium on further expansion instituted after Penn State's admission, combined with in-state political pressure, kept the Horns from getting a serious look at expansion.
Now, the moratorium is gone, the politicians long since voted out of office, and the geographic rule insignificant. Texas looks like the Big Ten's best shot at a 12th team capable of making the conference the most powerful in the nation.