Please walk down an imaginative path with me for a couple minutes. What I am about to say is based largely (if not solely) on speculation, opinion, and hypothetical situations. Because this is my analysis/opinion, I'm going to make some assumptions that you may or may not agree with, so feel free to tell me your thoughts in the "Comments" section.
What you're about to read might scare you a little, or it might do the opposite and excite you, it depends on your perspective and where your loyalties lie. You may just scoff at this and tell me either to keep dreaming, or quit dreaming.
Understand, this is by no means what I hope will happen, but IT IS what I think COULD happen, and what I truly believe is the ultimate goal of the Big Ten, and more importantly, Fox Sports Network.
If the executives at Disney don't feel it already, they should start feeling nervous about The Big Ten Network, because it's going to make a push to become a national network that will eventually compete on some level with ESPN—their biggest money maker.
The Big Ten Must, and Will, Expand East
I think the Big Ten would love to leave Notre Dame behind wallowing in a pile of their own arrogance. They'd love for the Irish to come knocking humbly when NBC decides they don't want to pay competitive wages for games that they likely lose money on, and to be able to tell them, "No. We don't need you, nor do we want you."
For all that the Big Ten has done for the Irish over the years, providing all the storied rivalries, ACTUALLY teaching the Irish to play football (if you don't believe me, look it up; Michigan stopped in South Bend on their way home from playing the University of Chicago and taught the Irish the game of football), and helping develop one of the most storied programs in all of college football, they've been scorned one too many times by the Irish.
With the Big Ten Network, each Big Ten school will make more in TV revenue than the Irish ever will, and they don't need 'em...except that they do if they are going to accomplish what they're setting out to do.
Rutgers has been one of the most talked about expansion options for the Big Ten, due to its proximity to the No. 1 TV market in the US. For what it has in market potential, it lacks in actual product.
Rutgers has been one of the most futile schools in not just college football, but in almost every sport for the bulk of its existence. Athletics just hasn't made it, and that's almost certainly one reason why New York has always been a "professional sports city;" they've never had anything to get them excited about.
But if Rutgers couldn't get New York to care about college football when it became decent in the Big East, why would moving to the Big Ten—where it would likely become one of the doormats—make NYC care? The short answer: it's not going to. That's where Notre Dame comes in.
Notre Dame is widely considered by many to be the most popular school in New York City, due to its high Roman Catholic population and Italian heritage. The Irish, though, aren't going to deliver New York on their own; their proximity is just too far away.
By themselves, the BTN won't get on one extra television set in NYC. If they can't attend the games and watch them play live, it's just not the same and the BTN is going to be stuck in the Midwest. That's where Rutgers comes in.
If the Big Ten really wants New York, it needs both the Fighting Irish and the Scarlet Knights. Add to that the huge Big Ten alumni bases that are in New York City Metro, and the BTN will have done enough to force the cable companies to carry it, and thus, they will be able to take advantage of the most coveted TV market in the country.
Adding New York City Metro likely will also add New York State, and because Rutgers is the flagship school of New Jersey, it will also bring along with them their near 9 million mulleted habitants.
All of a sudden, the BCS conference that caters to the largest population base (excluding the Big East because they don't deliver their markets) just increased its viewing population to over 100 million people, but they won't stop there. They still need to add one or three more schools to get to an even number.
The Big Ten Will Try To Go Southwest
This may even be a harder sell than Notre Dame, due to the crazy state legislature in Texas, but that's going to be the target. The Big Ten will make a hard push, whether it's behind closed doors or in the open for everyone to see.
They'll go after both Texas, and to appease the politicians, Texas A&M. They'll offer them academic incentive with the Committee for Institutional Cooperation (CIC), which would allow them to work closely with the great research schools in the Big Ten, and they'd offer them the TV money that they lack with the weak Big 12 TV contract.
Perhaps even biggest of all, they will try to sell them on the premise that with them, the Big Ten will become a national conference, covering the Southwest, Midwest, and the Northeast. The BTN will be a juggernaut of a cable station, and it won't stop until all four corners are covered.
The Final Spot Will Go to Either Nebraska, Kansas, or Syracuse
With or without the schools from Texas, the Big Ten will be looking for another big name school with national recognition. The most likely solution (based on a long list of criteria that's already been written about ad nauseam) would not be Missouri, who does little for the Big Ten's aspirations to become a national conference, but instead would probably be Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers have a ton of history, they meet the basic minimum standards academically, and most importantly, they bring with them their national football name that few other options can bring.
This situation is different than Notre Dame, Rutgers, and the Texas schools, which all will basically have to get invites for maximum exposure. There are some options in this final spot. Other than Nebraska, the Big Ten would also consider two schools: Kansas and Syracuse.
While not bringing much of a football history with them, Kansas does add something only a handful of schools can do, and that's bringing national recognition with their basketball name. Kansas is a little safer of a pick than Nebraska because they would bring the Kansas City TV market with them, whereas Nebraska adds very little regionally.
Syracuse, on the other hand, would would be used to help shore up New York. While they don't have the national name of Kansas, they still have an excellent basketball program, and unlike Rutgers, Syracuse is located in New York State. They, along with Notre Dame and Rutgers, would lock up New York and its 19 million residents.
If the Texas schools do join, Syracuse would probably get the final invite because New York is so important; if the the Texases don't want to come along, the Big Ten will need another national name, and Nebraska would be the leading candidate to get the invite.
As you can see, the Big Ten now spans over an immense geographic region, that would likely coincide with over a third of the population, but here's where things get interesting and take a strange turn that will ultimately keep Disney execs up at night. Stay tuned for Part II.