With the recent news that the Big Ten is conducting a study to explore the possibility of expanding to 12 (or more members), the rumors have begun to fly fast and furious as fans, schools, administrators, and other conferences try to position themselves for the possible landscape shift and domino effect a Big Ten addition could create.
But what addition will that be? Which university (or universities) make the best fit for Jim Delany's league? Does your favorite school have a shot (sorry, Western Michigan fans, the answer is no...and North Dakota State supporters...yes, both of you...I regret to inform you that you have no chance).
Anyway, you've heard many of the rumored teams...so have I...but when it comes right down to the big-ticket sports (football and men's basketball) and the all-important bottom line, which schools make the most sense for the Big Fourteen or Baker's Dozen or Top 12 or whatever this conference will be called in a couple of years?
Translation: Is your favorite school an ideal choice, an acceptable choice, or a desperation choice for a conference that appears dead-set on playing a Big Ten Championship game in football sooner rather than later?
Glad you asked.
In recent history, every Big Ten expansion dream or conversation has started with Notre Dame, and this go-round is no exception. The Irish bring a national football brand, a perfect fit location-wise (ND would join Indiana and Purdue as a third conference team from the Hoosier State), and long-established gridiron rivalries with many of the league's institutions (most notably Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue).
However, the only slight problem with adding Notre Dame to the league is a relatively simple one: every time the Big Ten asks, the powers-that-be in South Bend say no. How many more times will Delany and his eleven presidents keep asking (and risking public rejection)?
The guess here is at least once.
Notre Dame Verdict: IDEAL CHOICE
While Texas may have seemed to be an unlikely match for a Midwestern conference when the name was first tossed around, speculation has risen that the Longhorns may in fact make a prime target (especially if Notre Dame still isn't interested in tying the knot with the Big Eleven). Texas brings one of the nation's premier football AND basketball programs, a zillion eyeballs and television sets for the Big Ten Network, and gives the league a major boost in one of the country's top recruiting hotbeds (Ever heard of Friday Night Lights?).
There would definitely be some additional travel costs by adding a school so far outside the Big Ten's current eight-state Midwestern footprint, but the added demand for BTN in all of those Texas households would end up helping, not hurting, the schools' bank accounts.
There are very few institutions the Big Ten could add that would capture the interest of an entire state, let alone a mammoth area like the Lone Star State (everything is bigger in Texas, right?). For that reason alone, the Longhorns would seem to be a dream addition.
Texas Verdict: IDEAL CHOICE
If it seems like every single Big East team has been mentioned as a possible Big Ten expansion candidate...well, that's probably not too far off. However, the Panthers are one of the more logical options from out East, especially because of the natural rivalry with the in-state Nittany Lions.
A one-two punch of Penn State and Pitt would turn all of Pennsylvania into Big Ten country, add an NFL venue to the league's football schedule (the Steelers' Heinz Field), and arguably strengthen the league both on the gridiron and the hardwood. Most notably, Jamie Dixon's men's basketball team has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in five of the past eight seasons, a feat no current Big Ten team can boast.
Pittsburgh Verdict: ACCEPTABLE CHOICE
Syracuse, like Pitt, is one of the more attractive options from Big East country. The Orange would offer a legitimate reason for New York cable companies to consider adding the Big Ten Network to their channel lineups, would bring the conference's largest basketball venue (the Carrier Dome), and have enjoyed success in both big-ticket sports (SU is the alma mater of Donovan McNabb and Carmelo Anthony, to name a few of the many past stars who have played in Syracuse.)
Of course, the best Orange football days are well behind us...who knows if Syracuse will have turned around its gridiron fortunes by the time it could possibly become the 12th member of the Big Ten?
Syracuse Verdict: ACCEPTABLE CHOICE
Missouri seems to be a logical candidate for Big Ten expansion, especially because of the border rivalry the Tigers share with Illinois. While St. Louis may not be a new television market for the Big Ten Network because of the Illini's draw there, Mizzou could open up Kansas City and more of Big 12-land to the conference up north.
The Tigers would be competitive in both football and men's basketball, which makes them even more attractive. Gary Pinkel's football teams have posted five-straight winning seasons, while the hoops squad made the Elite Eight in the most recent NCAA basketball tournament.
Missouri Verdict: ACCEPTABLE CHOICE
Nebraska brings more football tradition and less basketball success than probably any other candidate the Big Ten might consider. At least the Cornhuskers would bring their share of fans to conference events: The Huskers have a devoted fan base that continues to pour into Memorial Stadium each fall. Dozens of thousands of folks wearing red sell the venue out for each home game, treasuring their fond memories of the Tom Osborne dynasty, the devastating Blackshirt defenses, and the unstoppable option offense.
And hardly any of those 85,000 people have ever attended a Nebraska basketball game. Why would they, seeing as the Cornhuskers haven't won a league hoops title outright since 1916?
Face it, the Big Ten doesn't need another tradition-rich football program that can't hack it on the hardwood. That's what Penn State is for.
Nebraska Verdict: DESPERATION CHOICE
Whether it be Rutgers, Iowa State, Cincinnati, West Virginia, or any other school that might get tossed around, the answer is easy.
VERDICT: DESPERATION CHOICE
Rutgers, like Syracuse, may deliver some New York State eyeballs, but has neither the football or basketball success to compete in the Big Ten.
Iowa State: same story athletically without even the new eyeballs.
Cincinnati is an interesting thought, but unlike some conference teams, the Buckeyes don't WANT an in-state rival, and the Bearcats are still too new to the major-college football world to be taken seriously (at least that's what the BCS rankings kept saying).
West Virginia? Please (Half of what their basketball student section chants couldn't be aired on BTN anyway).
So...which school would you add? Any options outside my top 10? I'm probably going to peg them a desperation choice anyway, but the comments are open...send me your thoughts and let your voice be heard! (Or get ahold of me on Twitter at @TimCary!)