Pittsburgh Joining the Big Ten? More Thoughts on Expansion

Matt BarkerContributor IFebruary 1, 2010

So I wake up at 5 a.m. on Sunday morning, which is generally about four hours earlier that I normally ever would and as I sit there rubbing my tired eyes, I first check the dozens of emails that have landed into my inbox before checking out what my 2,600-plus fans on Facebook have to say.

Then it’s off to Twitter, where I had found some very interesting things about Pittsburgh joining the Big Ten. That led me to several message boards.

I was basically content on posting a Facebook status message about Pittsburgh joining the Big Ten with the hopes of possibly going back to sleep. But then I thought that it was a far bigger story to leave it at just that, a Facebook status message. After a cup of coffee, I dove in head first with a blog article. Admittedly, though, it wasn’t my best piece of journalism.

If the rumor that Pittsburgh is going to join the Big Ten is true, I don’t think that conference expansion is going to stop there. I tend to believe now that the Big Ten is going to add more members with the possibility of it becoming a 14 or 16-team league.

There’s no secret that the Big Ten’s fledgling sports network eyes bigger markets and the addition of Pittsburgh does not do that because Penn State is a member of the conference and the network is already on basic cable in the Pittsburgh area.

I also think that if the Big Ten is going to raid the Big East, it seems to make more sense to add two of these schools like Syracuse, Rutgers, and Connecticut because there’s no bigger television market than New York.

Granted, there have been several schools from the Big XII that have been listed as possible expansion candidates, but personally, I just don’t see it. Outside of Texas, schools like Missouri, Iowa State, Nebraska, Kansas really don’t being much to the table.

That’s not a knock on those institutions, but in terms of it giving the Big Ten a bigger footprint, only the university in Austin can deliver that with millions more cable subscribers in that state.

Also, if the Pittsburgh rumor is true, that leads me to believe that school officials from the university, in a preemptive strike, sought out an invitation to join the conference fearing that the Big Ten’s Council of Presidents/Chancellors might select another Big East member, as the downfall of that league appears to be imminent. It also appears that Pittsburgh wants off the sinking ship now rather than to weather the storm.

Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote this in a column back in December:

As busy as you are in the holiday rush and trying to somehow put a happy face on your bowl game in Charlotte, N.C.—on the day after Christmas, of all dates—please make time to give Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney a ring to find out just how serious his conference is about adding a 12th member.

You owe it to your great university to do due diligence on this very intriguing matter. Certainly, you owe it to those of us who would love to see you sell out Heinz Field for every football game. At the very least, you owe it to those of us who want so badly to see you play Penn State every season.”

For those schools who play Division I-A (FBS) football, the sport is the biggest money-maker and it generally supports athletic programs. Mr. Cook went on to say this:

A Pitt move to the Big Ten would be a major boost for the Panthers’ football program. That alone is reason for Nordenberg and Pederson to look hard at a conference switch. Football is what pays most of the bills in any successful major-college athletic program.”

It should also be noted that Big Ten expansion is not just about football. The University of Pittsburgh is one of the 60 members of the prestigious American Association of Universities, just as all of the other 11 Big Ten schools are, so academics play as vital role as well. Mr. Cook mentions that in his column:

Beyond football, the Pitt academic people would love life in the Big Ten. That should not be underestimated. Pitt has become a respected research institution under Nordenberg’s brilliant leadership. It would be a perfect fit with the big state schools in the Big Ten, not to mention with Northwestern, one of the country’s finest private universities.”

Another thing to point out is that that the Big Ten desperately wants a conference championship game in football. Even if the Pittsburgh rumor is true and they announce that decision on Thursday, there’s a 27-month window to notify the Big East of their move. That means the Big Ten could have a title game for the 2012 season, though it still may be another year or so before other schools are added to the mix.

Of course, even if it’s just Pittsburgh joining the Big Ten, there’s going to be a ripple effect. The Big East is going to have to find a replacement and that could come down to schools like Memphis or East Carolina, to name just a few, but those really don’t benefit the Big East, which could eventually lose its status as a member of the BCS.

As for the Big Ten with the addition of Pittsburgh, the conference could then split into two divisions for football. Of course, the easiest way is by geography, though if the Big Ten split it up with by going east/west, it would cause an imbalance similar to what the Big XII has. So my best guess is that the Big Ten divvies it up with Northern and Southern divisions like this:

Northern DivisionSouthern Division
MichiganPenn State
Michigan StatePittsburgh
NorthwesternOhio State

With this alignment, it’s assumed that the Big Ten will continue with playing a total of eight games against conference opponents (five in the division, three against the other) with four non-conference matchups.

But do you see a problem? I do. While there will still be several season-ending rivalry games left intact or created (Penn State-Pittsburgh, Northwestern-Wisconsin, Indiana-Purdue, Minnesota-Iowa) the biggest one of them all will have to move to an earlier date on the calender.

With the divisions set up this way, Ohio State and Michigan would eventually have to be played earlier than in has in the past decades because it’s possible that the two could meet on back-to-back weekends if both advanced to the title game. Of course, if Michigan keeps playing they way that they have been for the last two years, it’s a moot point.

As for the location of the title game, several sites have been mentioned places like Ford Field in Detroit or Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis because both have roofs, but I am more in favor of having the game at an open-air venue like Solider Field. The NFL doesn’t shy away from playing in the elements in December, so why should the Big Ten?


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