NCAA Football Realignment: 10 Pros and Cons of Big Ten Expansion
Since expansion rumors began in December, nearly everyone involved in college football—players, fans, coaches, and the media—particularly in the Big Ten, has shared his opinion on the subject.
Whether that opinion was positive or negative, the general feeling was that change was inevitable.
And while the amount of change may have been lighter than expected, there is no doubt that the sport as we know it will never be the same.
But was this change for the better?
Let's examine the positive and negative effects that expansion has had on the Big Ten.
Positive: Conference Championship Game
Since conference championship games began in the ACC, SEC, and Big 12, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has let it be known that he is opposed to the idea.
And considering that the conference rarely releases its opinions, Delany has to feel very strongly about this subject.
But when he added a 12th team, Delany conceded to the fact that he may finally need to get used to the idea.
"I presume that we will," he said. And uninspired as he may have sounded, expect the game to happen.
Delany's biggest fear was that the game could end up being a failure or distraction, like the ACC's.
The ACC had problems getting fans excited about the game and couldn't sell tickets easily. But it's hard to imagine a stadium not being packed for Penn State-Nebraska or Iowa-Ohio State.
All in all, the Big Ten Championship should be a good thing for the conference. It will bring in millions of dollars for the Big Ten and will be a huge game with great national interest.
Positive: New Rivalries with Nebraska
With the exception of Notre Dame, no other team could bring as many instant rivalries to the Big Ten as Nebraska.
The talk of rivalries with the Cornhuskers has already started, as Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema stated that he will petition the Big Ten to have Nebraska as the Badgers' year-end rival.
While a rivalry between both "Big Reds" could certainly develop, Nebraska has other—and perhaps bigger—potential rivalries waiting to happen.
Geographically, Iowa-Nebraska has the makings of an instant rivalry. Both teams are typically competitive, and this game could become one of the premier annual contests in the Midwest.
The other obvious rivalry is with Penn State.
Both teams have an enormous history and have played epic games against each other in the past. And if the divisions are split by "competitive balance" and not geography, both teams could meet every year.
Other rivalries with the Cornhuskers could develop as well (Nebraska-Michigan and Nebraska-Ohio State), but the Big Red will have at least three major rivalries beginning in 2011.
As much as conference commissioners don't want to admit it, expansion is mainly about money.
That and football.
And while Nebraska isn't the huge market that the Big Ten was hoping for, the Cornhuskers appeal to a national audience, which will further expand the Big Ten Network across the country.
Nebraska will also consistently bring in bowl revenue and national TV deals. Plus, the added money of the conference championship game will increase the amount of money each Big Ten school receives.
Because of the Big Ten's equal revenue sharing rules, every school receives the same payout. Thus, the increased amount of money that Nebraska brings in will be split among each school, helping improve both academics and athletics at every Big Ten institution.
Right now, the Big Ten distributes around $22 million to each of its member universities. If it plays its cards right, the conference could eventually distribute $40 million annually to each school—assuming it decides to expand more in the future.
Don't expect this kind of increase right away, but even after the first stage of expansion, each Big Ten university should feel the academic luxuries of Nebraska's acceptance in the near future.
Positive: Better National Perception
While Nebraska might not bring a large TV market to the Big Ten, it adds something that Rutgers and the entire New York City market cannot offer: competition.
Only three teams that the Big Ten supposedly considered for expansion—Nebraska, Notre Dame, and Texas—could consistently increase the competition in the Big Ten, and Delany was able to grab one.
It's not that the Cornhuskers bring tons of history to the conference—which Michigan has seen means next to nothing if you can't win now—but that they are expected to be a competitive team right away.
This year, Nebraska is expected to be ranked in the top 15 nationally in the preseason and almost won the Big 12 Championship in 2009.
The Cornhuskers can bring more BCS bowls, and more importantly, more BCS wins to the Big Ten, which will help enhance the conference's reputation, and could eventually put it on even standing with the SEC in the eyes of the fans and media.
Positive: Status Quo Stayed Relatively the Same
While the idea of "superconferences" sounds new and exciting, it could be a disaster in reality.
Four conferences would control everything about the sport, and a team that isn't apart of the 64 that are invited would have no realistic shot at winning a national championship.
And you thought the BCS was bad.
Before Nebraska's announcement, nearly every report insisted that the college football landscape was in for a major shift very soon. But after the Big Ten stopped expansion at 12 (for now) and Texas decided to stay in the Big 12, college football could breathe a sigh of relief.
The conferences as we know them all stayed intact, and little changed, besides the fact that the names Big Ten and Big 12 are now extremely misleading.
Every school that moved during the first phase of expansion ended up a winner, and the conference that was raided—the Big 12—is happy that it was able to stay alive.
And while the new conference alignment may not be ideal for everyone, it improved the sport as a whole. And by not changing too much, college football was able to relatively stick to the status quo.
Negative: Didn't Get Notre Dame
Though the Big Ten didn't come out and say it, this round of expansion was entirely about getting Notre Dame.
The Irish are extremely stubborn about holding onto their independence, and as predicted by many experts, it will likely take a Big East collapse for them to join another conference.
Of course, getting Nebraska isn't a total failure. Just like Notre Dame, the Cornhuskers have a strong history and make perfect geographic sense. In fact, they have won more games in the recent history than the Irish.
But Notre Dame has even greater national appeal and would bring in more money than Nebraska ever will. Plus, its academic standards fit better with the Big Ten than Nebraska's.
Eventually, Notre Dame will be forced to join a conference, and will likely have a number of commissioners knocking on its door.
The Big Ten can afford to wait until the Irish are ready, but if Notre Dame ends up in a difference conference, the Big Ten expansion effort will have failed.
Negative: Lost Rivalries
As discussed earlier, Nebraska's invitation to the Big Ten adds a number of new rivalries to the conference. But a major downside to the Cornhuskers' move is the effect that it will have on other, longstanding rivalries.
As Jim Delay has said, rivalries are what make the Big Ten unique and are a large part of the conference's identity.
It's the only conference in the country in which teams play for Paul Bunyan's Axe, a bronze pig, a brass bull, a wooden turtle, and a brown jug.
But with a new division model imminent, some of these trophies will be in jeopardy.
Unless divisions are decided by geography—which still may not save every rivalry—some of these trophies won't be played for annually. And after Delany's comments that geography will play a small role in deciding divisions, expect some of these great trophies to be laid to rest.
Some rivalries won't be touched (i.e. Michigan-Ohio State and Wisconsin-Minnesota). Others, such as the Illinois-Ohio State game for Illi Illibuck (the turtle), wouldn't be missed as much.
But some of the most competitive rivalries in the Big Ten could be ended. The game in most danger—Iowa-Wisconsin.
Most experts have drawn up the Big Ten divisions, placing the Hawkeyes and Badgers in separate divisions, giving each team a protected "crossover" game against either Nebraska or Minnesota.
If this is the case, then one of the most competitive (Iowa leads the series 42-41-2) and oldest rivalries in college football will be gone.
Negative: Big Ten Network Not Expanded
One of the goals of Big Ten expansion was to expand the Big Ten Network. Rumors of Rutgers joining the Big Ten took off because of the Scarlet Knights' proximity to New York City—a massive TV market.
Yes, the Cornhuskers will bring in national appeal, but outside of their home state, few cable companies will invest in the Big Ten Network.
While it's certainly not a negative that the league chased competition over money, getting either Texas or Notre Dame would have allowed the conference to have both.
But the Big Ten was forced to settle for Nebraska, a state with less than a quarter of the population of New York City. And while that's not all bad, the goal of expanding the Big Ten Network was not reached in expansion's first phase.
Negative: Nebraska's Basketball Program Adds Nothing to the Big Ten
Since the beginning, conference expansion has been about two things—football and money. And for the most part, basketball has been pushed to the side.
The most obvious example was when Kansas wasn't invited to the Pac-10, meaning one of the nation's most storied basketball programs could have been left without a conference.
In the Big Ten's case, it got one of the nation's, well, less-storied basketball programs.
Unlike its football team, Nebraska's basketball program has been largely irrelevant throughout its history. The program was solid during the 1990s, reaching the NCAA tournament five times, but has failed to accomplish that feat since 1998. The only other time that the Big Red qualified for the tournament was in 1981.
The Cornhuskers' basketball woes won't be counted against them too much in the new Big Ten. Besides, they aren't too much worse than Iowa, Penn State, or Northwestern, as the latter has never made an NCAA tournament appearance.
So, while the Huskers will likely thrive in their new conference, don't expect much improvement in basketball. But in a football-driven world, Nebraska doesn't have too much to worry about.
Negative: Hurts Tradition
This is more of a negative for Nebraska rather than the Big Ten, mainly because the Big Ten's last expansion move (Penn State in 1990) actually helped tradition more than it hurt it.
However, Nebraska is losing tradition with the former Big 8, even though that tradition was virtually destroyed when the conference merged with the creation of the Big 12.
For Nebraskans, there will be no more weekend trips to Norman, Lawrence, or Columbia. Instead, those trips will be replaced by new routes to Iowa City, Madison, and Happy Valley.
Most fans welcomed the change, claiming that Texas played too big of a role in the Big 12. But for a small number of Husker fans, this is a sad move that ends decades of tradition with the original Big 8 teams.