The college football world is abuzz with the news that the Big 10 will officially consider expansion to a twelve team conference. This news coming from the conservative Big 10 conference is surprising. Put it on a par almost with the news if tomorrow Iran's Islamic dictatorship would announce it was embracing democracy and secularism. It is that surprising. In any case, it likely represents the growing sentiment amongst Big 10 administrators, espoused by the sage Joe Paterno for years that the Big 10 is being left behind the fold in football by lacking a championship game and more national appeal.
Theoretically, adding a 12th team could inject the Big 10 with some needed juice.
Speculation is now rampant about who the Big 10 will extend an invitation to. While many are saying the 12th member should be Maryland, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Cincinnati, Syracuse, or others in the east; others are arguing that the Big 10 should look westward and try to steal Nebraska or Missouri away from the Big 12 conference.
Is this a legitimate possibility? Would it make sense for the Big 10 to make an offer to one of these Big 12 North schools? I think so.
First consider Missouri. Less than one hour after the Big 10 announced its interest in expansion on Tuesday, Missouri had released an official statement saying they would consider any offers from the Big 10. Wow.
This news about says it all. Missouri is in a committed relationship with the Big 12, but it is doing more than winking to send the message that it would be enthusiastic about a change in scenery.
In recent years, it seems that the chip on Missouri's shoulder about its place in the Big 12 has only grown larger and larger.
Missouri officials and media have expressed deep dissatisfaction with the Big 12 Conference bowl selection process, which they feel has undercut the accomplishments of the Tigers' football team in each of the last three seasons. When your 8-4 team gets passed over by a 6-6 Iowa State squad to go the Insight Bowl—well, that is just embarrassing.
In a broader picture too, Missouri has got to have some serious doubts about whether or not it will ever be able to usurp Nebraska and the top teams in the Big 12 South in terms of prestige and success. Certainly, a richer but weaker Big 10 conference might have some real appeal here for Missouri.
Missouri has been considered a candidate for years for moving to the Big Ten, being that the university makes would fit the conference well from a geographic, academic, and athletic perspective.
Could 2010 be the year that it finally happens though?
Missouri has made it more than clear that they would be interested in joining the Big 10, but would the Big 10 actually ever invite them to join? It is possible. Missouri has comparable athletic facilities to much of the Big 10 and could add the sizable media markets of Kansas City and St. Louis to the conference. Just as important arguably, Missouri would be in a good position to develop strong regional rivalries with neighboring schools like Iowa and Illinois, that the Big 10 seems to relish so much.
East coast biases in the media are becoming apparent in the expansion debate quickly. It is possible that they exist within the Big 10 too. Many are arguing that Rutgers is the no-brainer top choice for expansion because of its access to the New York City television market.
While this idea sounds nice on paper, how many people actually follow Rutgers football and basketball in that region? It seems to me that Rutgers in the Big 10 could be like the NFL in Los Angeles. Yes, there are lots of people in Los Angeles, but they still didn't come to the games or watch their team on television. That said, Missouri's biggest hurdle to joining the Big 10 has got to be competition from other schools, especially Pittsburgh, that people in the conference will fight for.
In the race to join the Big 10, more and more the idea is tossed around that the conference should pursue the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Is this a possibility?
If the Big 10 is looking to make a splash and regain some of its relevancy it certainly is.
While Nebraska would not boost the conference in terms of state population, the Cornhuskers have a national following in terms of their support that is top in the nation.
Cornhusker alumni have organizations around the country and boast arguably the best fans when it comes to travelling for games and bowls. Think also of the boost it would be to the Big 10 Network if Nebraska fans had an interest in buying into that cable package. Nebraska fans are already one of the best in terms of buying early season pay-per-view games.
Nebraska would just as easily like Missouri provide immediate and intriguing regional rivalries with schools like Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
All of this goes without mentioning too the obvious fact that Nebraska is one of the most prestigious programs in college football history and appears to be back on the path to consistent yearly Top 25 finishes in football.
The only hesitancy I might see on the Big 10's part with extending an offer to Nebraska might stem from some uneasiness on the part of schools like Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State who maybe leery of admitting a member who could upset the stranglehold these schools have on the top of the conference.
Even if hypothetically the Big 10 invited Nebraska to join though, would it do so? This is where the picture grows much fuzzier. Unlike Missouri, I don't see Nebraska being as willing to jump the Big 12 ship. Yes, you can say that like Missouri, Nebraska may also resent, even maybe deeply resent, the perceived bullying and domination of the conference by schools in the Big 12 South (really, is it fair if the Big 12 Championship game gets moved permanently to Dallas?).
Still, it is hard for me to imagine Tom Osborne, the current athletic director, going against all the history of the Big Eight and Big 12 conference to start having annual matchups with schools like Purdue and Northwestern. If Steve Pedersen was still the athletic director I would say that Nebraska might really be interested in the Big 10, but not now.
After all, Nebraska's football jerseys are unique because they bear a patch that says "A Winning Tradition." That tradition was built up over the years by playing schools Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. Leaving all that behind just for more money would not sit well with many of the tradition appreciative fans of Husker Nation, but hey, never say never.