By now most of us have heard about Big Ten officials looking intently at expanding the conference from 11 teams to 12.
Big-time Big Ten figures like Penn State coach Joe Paterno and Wisconsin’s athletic director Barry Alvarez have been at the forefront of proposing discussions regarding adding another team.
The last team to be added to the Big Ten was Paterno’s Penn State Nittany Lions in 1990, and talks have surfaced over the past decade about adding one more team but nothing has been this serious until now.
With another team, the conference could divide into two separate divisions, with winners of each division playing a conference championship game. Instead of the Big Ten season ending in the third week of November, there would be a conference championship game which would give the conference more attention and essentially more revenue by being seen on national television and selling thousands of tickets.
Among teams which have been thrown into the picture as the twelfth team include Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Missouri. All are valid choices, but which would add to the notoriety of the Big Ten and make the most sense?
I would go with the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
We all know that although the Irish have not won a big game in years, the school and the football program still make waves year in and year out. Notre Dame is a program beloved by many and loathed by others, but the attention garnered for mediocre seasons within the past decade is spectacular.
And when you look hard, it makes perfect sense to pit Notre Dame against the likes of Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. Notre Dame has played each of those teams in some capacity, with the Wolverines and Spartans on their schedule every season. Instead of those games being relegated to non-conference contests, it would actually mean a lot more if Notre Dame was in the same conference.
And in terms of revenue, the Big Ten could cash in on the Fighting Irish’s pot of gold. Whether people tune in to see the Irish win big or get pummeled to the turf, they still tune in. Notre Dame even has a television contract with NBC Sports to play their games every Saturday.
Look back at this past season. Michigan had a thrilling victory over Notre Dame in the waning seconds, while the Irish beat the Spartans in a nail biter in South Bend. These kinds of games could make the Big Ten look even more competitive to the national media.
To me, this is a no-brainer. When you combine the history of Notre Dame with the teams already in the Big Ten conference, the league will wind up getting more respect and be viewed as elite once again. I don’t know if that would true by adding a program like Rutgers or Pittsburgh.
Although the decision regarding the twelfth team will not be announced until over a year from now, officials are already recruiting schools they think will be best to bring the Big Ten into the limelight once again, especially in December.