The yearly rumors of Big Ten expansion are once again upon us, and it’s becoming a tad redundant.
Scour a few Big East message boards and you’ll see that the fear of another raid is matched only by the excitement of the fans who think that perhaps their team will be the one selected to become the Big Ten’s 12th team.
Being the Syracuse Orange fanatic that I am, I’m hoping that these rumors of expansion never advance past their current stage. Naturally I don’t want to see the Big East weakened; they already went through this once when the ACC seduced Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College away and although they've performed admirably in football ever since, it still hasn’t recovered from a perception standpoint. It’s still widely considered the weakest of the BCS conferences, even though the evidence for that assertion is questionable at best.
What concerns me more than seeing Syracuse left behind though is the thought that they might be the one to leave the conference that they helped create.
And that’s not just because I consider it ridiculous that the Big Ten hasn’t changed its name, despite having more than ten teams now.
Looking at the potential move, switching sides would essentially mean swapping their place in a conference that is the most dominant in college basketball and mediocre in football for a league that’s pretty average in both sports.
For an Orange fan then, what’s there to like about this deal? Is the potential to one day form a true rivalry with someone like Penn State in football really worth tossing aside the long-standing basketball rivalries that they already have with Georgetown, Connecticut and others?
And consider me unexcited about the prospect of losing those rivalries with our fellow Eastern powers, to start playing against second-rate Midwestern basketball teams. The only game within the Big Ten that would get me consistently pumped up every year would be against Michigan State.
In football, theoretically it would be a solid move, at least in terms of perception. But the thought of getting beat down by Penn State every year doesn’t sound appealing enough to want to throw away what Syracuse has built up in basketball—at least not until Doug Marrone is able to get the football ship righted.
Syracuse may not have a true rivalry in football right now, but they can always schedule other Eastern powers out-of-conference in order to renew some of these traditional rivalries. They’ve played the Nittany Lions the past two seasons (both losses) and they’ve already signed a long-term deal to play Boston College every year until 2021, starting next season.
If the Orange were to abandon the Big East and head to the Big Ten they could conceivably still schedule the likes of Georgetown and UConn, but it’s probably more likely that those old rivalries would just die out. Call it nothing more than a gut-feeling, but I don’t see all three teams putting in the effort to make sure they all continue to play every year. The feud that put the Big East on the map in the 80s with Georgetown, and one of the best current rivalries in the league with UConn would just be forgotten.
If the Big Ten rumors do progress into another raid of the Big East, the ideal situation would probably be for them to take Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights contribute nothing to the basketball side of the conference, and while they’ve recently managed to rise above the perennial doormat status that they used to have, they still don’t offer much more than a lower-tier bowl game each year—achieved thanks in part to consistently playing one of the easiest out-of-conference schedules in the country.
It would also pave the way for Memphis to join the Big East. The Tigers have been lobbying for a spot in a BCS conference, and they would be an ideal fit for the basketball dominated league. The main thing that has seemed to complicate the possibility of Memphis joining the conference so far, has been that another basketball team would throw the league out of balance. Removing Rutgers from the equation would put that concern to rest.
When it comes down to it though, if the Big Ten comes calling on Syracuse, chances are the Orange will take off. The financial incentives for the University would be too great to completely ignore, even though the dollar signs involved are only of minimal concern to most fans. At the end of the day, Syracuse University has to do what is necessary to give itself a brighter future.
I just hope that future doesn’t involve Big Ten beatings, but rather Big East championships.
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