Big Ten Expansion Falling Short in Conference Realignment

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Big Ten Expansion Falling Short in Conference Realignment

Since December when Big Ten officials began discussing the possibility of expansion, the popular perception is that the conference—with its lucrative television network—was thinking big and was the primary driving force behind a potentially dramatic college sports conference realignment.

Now, it appears the cold temperatures of the Midwest may have slowed the Big Ten’s step, allowing for other leagues (namely the Pac-10) to take the initiative.

According to an ESPN article at the time, it was after those meetings at the Big Ten offices in December that the realignment ball got rolling, with the league’s Council of Presidents/Chancellors (COP/C) announcing a 12 to 18 month plan to investigate expansion options.

This process would then eventually result in a formal recommendation to be given to Michigan State president Lou Ann K. Simon, the chair of the COP/C, suggesting a specific school or schools to which invitations to join the conference would be extended.

And since then, as talks have heated up around the world of sports and the blogosphere, most conversations have revolved around who the Big Ten was targeting.

Would Notre Dame finally give in and join its geographical mates in the league?

Was Texas a viable possibility?

What form would the conference take—would it be a 12-team league? Or maybe it would shoot all the way to 16?

But as the Big Ten deliberately wades its way through a year to year-and-a-half evaluation procedure, other conferences have decided they aren’t willing to wait and react to the Big Ten’s movements.

Rather, it has surfaced this week from numerous media outlets that the Pac-10 is planning to invite up to six schools from the dead-conference-walking Big 12, including the powerhouse Texas football trio of Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech, along with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado.

This bold move by Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott stands in stark contrast to the big bad Big Ten, which did not take any formal action following its meetings this week.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney underscored the Big Ten’s apparently passive stance when he emphasized this week that expansion hinges on the decisions of individual schools, and not conferences.

However, with the Pac-10 acting aggressively—as well as the Big 12 reportedly offering expected Big Ten suitors Nebraska and Missouri an ultimatum (leave or pledge your commitment) to be enforced by the end of the week—the Big Ten may soon be forced to expedite its timetable.

While it makes some sense that the Big Ten is cautious to act considering they currently sit atop football’s cash-making hierarchy (reportedly doling out up to $22 million to its individual institutions—roughly $10 million more than any other conference dispenses per school), they now have lost their stranglehold on controlling the shape that national realignment may take.

Instead of announcing a committee to study expansion like the Big Ten (I mean what is this, the federal government?), the Pac-10 now appears primed to strike first in college sports’ version of musical chairs.

By doing so, the Pac-10 just may end up with a booty—at least in terms of school cachet—that dwarfs that of the universities added by the Big Ten.

As it stands, the word is that the Big Ten is looking at annexing some combination of Nebraska, Missouri, Rutgers, Pitt, and Syracuse—and, of course, Notre Dame if the Irish are left without other recourse.

By addressing expansion with slightly less stringent academic standards (while Texas and Texas A&M are part of the prestigious American Association of Universities which the Big Ten has listed as a prerequisite for joining schools, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech are not), the Pac-10 could end up improving the quality of its football and basketball competition by leaps and bounds.

Just imagine: a Pac-10 South division with the five Texas and Oklahoma schools, Arizona and Arizona State and USC, and a North division featuring Colorado, UCLA, Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, and Washington State.

The South division would be utterly brutal.

It would also be on par with a new Big Ten East league with Rutgers, Pitt, Syracuse, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue.

Note that in this scenario, which assumes Notre Dame would remain independent, there would also be a Big Ten West featuring Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Northwestern and Indiana.

In other words, by moving quick, the Pac-10 could end up being the big winner in all of this conference jumbling.

The Big Ten meanwhile, would be left diluting its quality of competition simply for the sake of opening television markets.

Sure, Nebraska still is a nationally-respected football power—despite some recent lulls—but Missouri, Rutgers, Pitt, and Syracuse?

Not exactly a who’s who of annual BCS participants.

If the Big Ten had gone big early (maybe shooting for more established Big East programs like West Virginia and Louisville and then offering an invite to the three Texas schools), which would have required a suspension of academic snobbery, they could have expanded their market and improved their competitive balance.

I understand that is a fairly expansive geographic swath for a conference, but anyone who says these leagues aren’t national as it is, is kidding themselves.

At the end of the day, both the Pac-10 and Big Ten will still exist and will be just fine.

It is really the Big 12 and Big East that need be worried right now.

But nevertheless, it was the Big Ten that started this thing, and by moving glacially (perhaps as a gesture to climate) all it has done is effectively ceded the upper hand to the Pac-10.

Then again, they do always say Midwesterners like a little slower pace.

 

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