Looking selfishly at the issue of Big Ten expansion strictly from an Iowa standpoint, there is one clear choice for Iowa if the league is going to add a 12th member. This particular option is head and shoulders above all of the numerous others that have been mentioned. That school is the University of Missouri, hands down.
I know there might be a few Iowa State Cyclones out there that may think differently. However, I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb here by stating that Iowa State just doesn’t bring enough to the party to make it worth the Big Ten’s while.
The fact is Iowa is the Hawkeye state in more than just name only. A key requirement for the new league school is going to be opening up new markets and the Big Ten already is entrenched in most of the state of Iowa.
Iowa is the least populous Big Ten state and it doesn’t make sense to have two teams from the least populous state in the league. The other schools mentioned as possible expansion targets have far more to offer.
Speculation has centered mostly on schools in the eastern portion of the conference – Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Syracuse. The obvious reason for this is the increased population base and hence, television viewership in the east.
But, more importantly, although Kirk Ferentz does still have close ties to Pennsylvania, I think that the addition of one of these eastern schools benefits the recruiting of the other eastern Big Ten schools more than Iowa—simply because they are closer geographically.
I’m talking Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan. These power programs already get their share of blue chip recruits and they don’t need any further competitive advantages.
So, what does Iowa have to gain with the addition of Missouri?
To start with, Missouri would provide another natural border rival, ala Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Columbia is just 235 miles from Iowa City. Compare that to 330 miles to Minneapolis, 180 miles to Madison, and 260 miles to Champaign.
It is unbelievable to me that natural border rivals Iowa and Missouri have not met on the football field since 1910…nearly 100 years ago! In fact, the two schools were once both members of the Missouri Valley Conference until Iowa left in 1911 for the Big Ten. This is a rivalry that makes too much sense to put off any longer.
It was reported several years ago that Missouri backed out of a commitment to open the 2005 football season at Kinnick Stadium. It seems that that resurgence of the Iowa program under Kirk Ferentz made Missouri a bit nervous. Iowa wasn’t the same team it was in the early 2000s when the game was scheduled.
It is a shame that these two border rivals have been unable to strike any type of deal since. Missouri already plays Illinois every year and the rivalry with Iowa would likely be just as intense.
The addition of Missouri creates an easy subdivision between east and west. I see a Big Ten “west” division made up of Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Northwestern, and Illinois. I would like Iowa’s chances of ending up in a Big Ten championship game year in year out competing against this group.
That leaves Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, and Purdue in the east. Not a bad deal for Iowa to have traditional powers Ohio St., Penn St. and Michigan in the opposite division.
If an eastern school is added, the subdivisions get much more difficult. Obviously, the new team, Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State go to an east division. But six would be needed in the east. Indiana and Purdue are the next two schools to consider geographically, but how can you split up these long-time in-state rivals?
Moving farther west, you have Illinois and Northwestern. But, I don’t think you can split up these in-state rivals either.
The second and perhaps more important reason for adding Missouri relates to recruiting.
Whereas now, because UM is a Big 12 school, most of the in-state talent aspires to play at a Big 12 school. There certainly are exceptions to this general rule, as current Iowa stars Adrian Clayborn and Marvin McNutt are both from the St. Louis area.
However, in general, Missouri kids are more likely to go to a Big 12 school, rather than a Big Ten school. There are a significant number of kids from Missouri dotting the rosters at schools like Kansas, Kansas State, and Nebraska.
Yet, the game changes with Mizzou in the Big Ten. Under this scenario, those kids will want to go to the Big Ten and Iowa would be the likely first choice of many based purely on geography. The success of guys like Clayborn and McNutt certainly can’t hurt either.
There certainly are benefits to the conference as a whole to adding Mizzou. It would allow the Big Ten to capture decent sized television markets in both Kansas City and St. Louis. The rest of the Big Ten is likely to see some recruiting boost as well. This would be especially true of fellow border state Illinois.
It seems as though there could be mutual interest between the Big Ten and Missouri. It is particularly encouraging to me that Missouri found the need to issue a statement this week indicating that “should there be an official inquiry or invitation, we would evaluate it based upon what would be in the best interest of MU athletically and academically.”
Clearly, any one school will have limited impact on the expansion evaluation. In the end, the Big Ten will or will not expand based on what is best for the conference as a whole. However, each school certainly will have a voice and Iowa’s voice should be squarely behind adding the University of Missouri.