At some point, you knew someone involved in the Big Ten's expansion plans was going to squeal and when they did, it would make big news. But nobody had any idea it was going to be this big:
The last time the Big Ten expanded, it did so with all of the hurry of a two minute offense. It spent a grand total of six weeks mulling over the idea of adding Penn State before it pulled the trigger on the deal.
At the time, it was an earthshaking deal and forever changed the way in which college football conferences are run. Penn State was one of the great independent powers of college football and brought with it the financial and demographic wherewithal to drive the league to where it is now, on top of the financial college universe. It made the Big Ten Network possible, kept the Rose Bowl independent of the rest of the BCS TV deal (and thus worth more money), and made stadium expansions all the rage.
Now the league has decided that it needs to take the next step and this time said so publicly. While bloggers from here to Beijing speculated on Missouri, Pitt, Rutgers, and Syracuse, the conference apparently had other, more bold ideas.
We now know that the Big Ten and Texas have been in contact about membership and have gone far enough to exchange some financial information. Here is where the story makes sense on a million levels and why so many so called pundits missed the boat on this one.
Follow the money.
That is what the presidents of the Big Ten are after, the money. They have never looked at football rivalries, basketball programs, or anything like that. They are interested in who can make their pie bigger and Texas fits that mold perfectly.
Texas is the big fish of the Big 12. It has the highest revenues, the largest alumni base, the biggest TV ratings, the biggest athletic budget, and just as important, brings in more than double its nearest Big 12 rival in research grants. Its athletic program is varied and more than competitive in a variety of sports.
The truth is that Texas might have outgrown the Big 12 and that's why it is interested to talking to the Big Ten. Texas' revenues are maxed out with the conference in its present configuration and just like all of the other "haves" of big time college athletics, it too wants more pie. The baker who could most easily make that happen is in Chicago.
Texas would instantly find itself in a conference full of equal partners and the synergies between monster schools like Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State open a world of possibilities on and off the field. Instantly, TV revenues would soar adding Texas and two more top five TV markets to the Big Ten Network's footprint.
A conference championship game would only fatten the take; gate receipts would soar.
All of the above schools are also giants in research. Adding Texas would make collaboration among some of the elite of engineering, energy, and journalism far easier and beneficial to all concerned.
The conference would also benefit from the additional exposure in a state with a growing population base (and better recruiting prospects), an expanding base of corporate headquarters, and that pair of top 10 TV markets for its TV network. Revenues would explode.
Everyone else mentioned as possible additions to the conference had holes in them.
For a variety of reasons, Pitt, Syracuse, Missouri, Rutgers, and even Notre Dame all had shortcomings that bordered on show stoppers making rumors about all of them somewhat puzzling. Taking on any one of them would have meant the conference was agreeing to take on less than an equal that would not have grown the pie at all or only to a minor extent. In that respect, Texas makes all of the sense in the world.
None of this is a foregone conclusion. There are some hurdles to overcome before this becomes a reality, such as travel expenses for minor sports, present contractual obligations, conference realignments, and discussions over how to divide the now larger pie.
The folks in Austin would also have some issues to deal with. Sea change of this nature is never easy and if Texas makes the jump, they're going to have to say goodbye to some long standing rivalries, break some contracts, and end some affiliations that have served the university well, some of them for more than a century. That's a lot to ask and having been in the middle of such upheaval at Penn State in the early 90s, I know there is some pain and anger involved.
But this addition of equals makes more and more sense by the moment. The world of college athletics is divided into the haves and the have nots. Moving Texas into the Big Ten would assure all parties involved that they are the haves well into the future.