The Big Ten's Three-Step Recovery Program For Demographic Shifts

Edna ThomasContributor IIJune 2, 2010

"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference"

Last December the Big Ten Council of Presidents & Chancellors   (COP/C) formally announced   that the timing was right for the conference to once again conduct a thorough evaluation of options for conference structure and expansion.  They provided a detailed 3-step process to be implemented on a time-line over the next 12 to 18-months. The 3 steps were:

STEP 1   The COP/C asked the conference office to obtain, to the extent possible, information necessary to construct preliminary options and recommendations without engaging in formal discussions with leadership of other institutions.

STEP 2   If and when such discussions become necessary the COP/C instructed Commissioner James E. Delany to inform the Chair of the COP/C, Michigan State University President,   Lou Anna K. Simon, and then to notify the commissioner of the affected conference(s).

STEP 3   Only after these notices had occurred would the Big Ten engage in formal expansion discussions with other institutions.

This process would allow the Big Ten to evaluate options, while respecting peer conferences and their member institutions. No action by the COP/C was expected in the near term. No interim statements would be made by the Big Ten or the COP/C until after the COP/C receives the commissioner's recommendations and the COP/C determines next steps, if any, in this area .

According to an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in late February, Barry Alvarez, the U of Wisconsin AD, while speaking to the Wisconsin athletic board, exposed the Big Ten's expansion progress .  He divulged that a consultant firm had been hired to research potential candidates and that fifteen schools were included in the initial study.  He added that the process was an ongoing one and that one or more schools could be targeted.  When asked about the criteria addressed by the consulting firm's study to merit candidacy he said, "They basically broke down what they would bring to the table.  They talked about academics. They talked about size.   They talked about size of their arenas. They talked about attendance. They talked about the populace in that specific area."  Although not known at time, the criterion termed populace in that specific area was a euphemism for interest in designated market area (DMA) households.


"We admit we are powerless  over expenditures and mandates and that our existence has become unmanageable"

Two weeks later, Mr. Alvarez' premature remarks were confirmed by a Chicago Tribune report that the firm of William Blair & Co. had presented the results of the commissioned study .  Indeed a green light had been given to Big Ten expansion plans and, after weighing the merit of 15 unmentioned schools, suggested that 5 candidates - Missouri, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Rutgers - held the most promise.  They reported that an unnamed source, echoing the earlier words of Alvarez, said that either one or multiple schools would be considered but added the warning that this list of candidates could grow as other schools might   gain consideration.  This was something Alvarez had hinted at two weeks earlier when referring to the study as being "initial."   This dynamic that a review of a multiple of other institutions yet to be "listed" was most likely in play in the eventuality that Notre Dame decide to decline their invitation.  Nevertheless, it left a heavy taste in everyone's mouth that 12 was not the goal number for membership.

The Big Ten had clearly "obtained information necessary to construct preliminary options and recommendations without engaging in formal discussions with leadership of other institutions."    While it was not obvious at this time whether 1 or 3 or 5 schools would be added, if the integrity of the Big Ten's word was to be taken seriously, it was evident that STEP 1 had apparently come to an end as an interim statement had been issued by the conference.  It would seem that STEP 2 was now ready to be worked.

However, because most outside of the Big Ten believed that the COP/C inquiry into expansion was a reiterative effort to bring Notre Dame into their fold and produce a championship game, they, not the Big Ten, seemed to be “stuck” on STEP 1.  The:   (1) ubiquitous fan and media fixation withNotre Dame; (2) the admission by the Big Ten that a criterion concerned with populace size (aka DMA estimates) was in play and; (3) the unnamed source's warning of a continuously changing focus on schools of interest;  allowed the rumor mill to turn.  It falsely appeared to all that the Big Ten, (not unlike that Seinfeld character,   George Costanza,   accusing a 12-stepper played by James Spader,  that he) " was beboppin' and scattin' all over, everyone outside of the Big Ten."


“We have come to believe that a more powerful network than the one we currently have will restore us to solvency”

If STEP 1 were still being worked why... late April, did SEC commissioner Mike Silve make remarks to the NY Times that the SEC would match the Big Ten expansion step-for-step, suggesting that it was known that the Big Ten was reaching beyond twelve members?  A week later, when he did not back away from these remarks and reaffirmed his position, the suggestion should have became a conclusion.

...on that same day did the Big East announce that it had retained Paul Tagliabue to provide advice on "future television arrangements" and "other priority matters?"   Why did Tagliabue waste little time in addressing the Big Ten's expansion process with strong words?   Why did he finish with snide remarks directed at one of the schools whose future he had supposedly been retained to protect?  "Is Minnesota and Rutgers going to get a big rating on Long Island?  Give me a break .  Every game isn't Michigan and Michigan State.  Am I going to rush home from a tennis game on Saturday to watch Minnesota and Rutgers if I live on Long Island?"   Why did Tagliabue insult The State University of New Jersey and wonder "if the Big Ten expanding to the New York area by adding Syracuse and Rutgers would make a difference?"  Clearly the Big East had been notified that a shooting solution had been reached for, at a minimum,   Rutgers and Syracuse. early May after a rumor that Rutgers, Notre Dame, Missouri and Nebraska had all been officially extended an invitation by the Big Ten for membership had in turn been shot down, did Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe addressed the speculation surrounding his conference's cohesiveness?  Why did he say, "We need to talk about where we're going and who's on the plane when it takes off?"  Why did he add, "We've got a lot of good things in store for us if we stick together.  It would be a shame, given that all boats have risen with this tide created by the Big 12, that they think they can have a better future somewhere else. ... I truly believe that?"  It was clear he had been notified that some Big 12 schools were targets of the Big Ten sirens.

From Silvie's chest pounding to Tagliabue's crying (and, in fact, his very hiring ) - to the helpless plea of Beebe, it appeared the Big Ten had "notify the commissioner of the affected conference(s)" and would move on to the third and final step.


"Making the decision to turn our will and our programs over to the care of the DMA rating and TV revenue streams as we understand them."

At the Big Ten's May meetings, commissioner Jim Delany  explained that the conference's concern for future viability had lead to the 3-Step plan for expansion and that it was driven by demographic shifts in the population to the south.   He said, "The Midwest is not growing in the same way as in the 20th century.  We need to look forward to 2020, 2030."  The Big Ten had "accepted that the population drain to the Sun Belt cannot be changed."     As per my earlier summation, it was unmistakable that the Big Ten wanted to address expansion primarily from the standpoint of the conference's TV network operations via DMA household estimates.  Delany   is "courageously changing the one thing he can," the number of Big Ten TV sets.   While he would not address specific content nor specific candidates, he did again underline the importance of membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU) as an important consideration for candidates.  "AAU membership is very important.  It's part of who we are. It makes an institution."

Yesterday, at the Big 12 meetings, Missouri AD, Mike Alden all but admitted they were gone when he said, that "he sensed no bitter feelings from other athletic directors and conference officials."  What is taking so long with STEP 3?  A 12 to 18 month time-line could carry us to next June!  The analysis is straight forward.  With the constraints of large DMA household estimates, AAU membership and a location in a state that is contiguous to or houses a current member of the Big Ten, there are only 8 viable candidates.  Since there is a missing cacophony of woe coming from the ACC, remove Maryland and reduce the number to 7.  Discount the single bullet theory (adding only 1 school) and there are the only two wisdom -based outcomes: (1) if it's to be 14,then it's Rutgers, Missouri and Syracuse and; (2) if Notre Dame says, "Yes," then it's to be 16 by adding Pitt and Notre Dame.  There is only one caveat scenario that could persist for another year.  If Notre Dame says "No," and the Big Ten says "Yes," to 16.  Why?

The Governor and the Legislature of Iowa are not going to let the Big Ten blow up the conference in which Iowa State holds membership.  Therefore allowing the 16th spot to be filled by Nebraska over Iowa State, which might be preferred by many current Big Ten members, would be fought tooth-and-nail by the State of Iowa through ironically, the sworn rival of Iowa State, the University of Iowa.