The Word on Big Ten Expansion

Ernest WeeksContributor IAugust 20, 2008

Ever since Penn State became the eleventh Big Ten Institution, Big Ten expansion has become a hot topic. The Big Ten's eleven member conference setup, while it does have its benefits, also is loaded down with several drawbacks.


Eleven is an odd number, too few to hold a conference championship game, yet, just enough member institutions that all the teams don't play each other during the regular seasons.


To be fair, the Big Ten has reaped the benefits of multiple conference champions on more than one occasion.


However, the figurative benefits of staying at eleven teams are far outweighed by the benefits of expanding by one to twelve—if that "one" is the right team.


To be the "right team", the benefits of a twelfth member must financially add to the conference more than the cost of splitting the conference profits amongst 12 teams. To expand by one, it would cost each Big Ten school about 1.25 million (In 2007, Big Ten teams averaged about 16 million in conference payouts [177/11]).


To be financially feasible, the twelfth team and the Big Ten Championship game combined would need to add 13.75 million to conference coffers, a little under a full conference share.


Consider this also: In 2006, the SEC raked in almost 13 million from their championship game alone, the ACC about six million from their championship and the Big 12 about 11 million from their championship. In conclusion, it appears no matter what school they add, the Big 10 is set to make loads of money just by expanding to twelve. 


However, there's one more twist to our puzzle. The Big Ten has reaped the benefits of a system that rewards them: the number eleven. Eleven teams means that each Big Ten football team doesn't play two of its conference mates during the regular season. This means that a Big Ten school can go four years between visits to Ann Arbor or Columbus. It also means that two (or more) teams can run through the conference schedule either undefeated or with just one loss without facing each other, launching both teams to the top of the Big Ten and BCS standings.


This, combined with the Big Ten's near-automatic spot in the rose bowl, allows the Big Ten to get multiple BCS berths almost every year. A great example is the nine win, 13th ranked Illinois team that played in the rose bowl last year or the Michigan team that played in the 2007 Rose Bowl.


Each BCS berth can be worth an upwards of 10 million, and an expansion to twelve could seriously dash the chances of the Big Ten getting two teams in the BCS picture. Once the Big Ten expands to twelve, no two teams would dash through the Big Ten schedule undefeated again.


For simplicities sake, we'll say that the team needs to provide in profits, through tradition, alumni base and markets, equal to that of the average Big Ten member (16 million/year). What teams will be up to that tall task? More importantly, will this member also be academically and institutionally up to the conference par?


Today, we'll take a page from our science book, scientifically examining then eliminating each school until only one remains.


One of the most important requirements for Big Ten expansion is for a school to fit into the conference academically. So, how does the Big Ten define academic excellence? A good start would be to look at something the other 11 Big Ten (as well as most of the PAC-10 and several other BCS schools) have in common: They belong to an elite group called the American Association of Universities. From here, we can bring up a list of possible candidates from or close to the Big Ten footprint like so:

Notre Dame*

Iowa State



Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

Syracuse University


*Notre Dame is an exception to the rule here. They aren’t AAU, but they fare really well in other measures of academic measurement (ie: Search for Notre Dame in the Carnegie Foundation for Advancement of Teaching or look at the US News college rankings and you’ll see what I mean). Plus, the shear amount of fans that Notre Dame would bring to table and public exposure they bring means they break all the normal rules.


Next, we’re going to work off some Big Ten assumptions. Unless you slept under a rock for the past year and a half, you probably have heard about how the Big Ten network has been a rousing success (if not, read about it here).


The goal of the Big Ten should be to work on that success by adding as many potential buyers to the Big Ten Network as possible. In shorter terms, they should look for a team that brings a market without a Big Ten presence. Since the Big Ten already has a team in western Pennsylvania (Penn State) and Iowa (University of Iowa), Pittsburgh and Iowa State are unlikely choices. This leaves us with:

Notre Dame


Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

Syracuse University


Now, imagine if you were athletic director at a large college with a long football history. Lets say you got paid $10 million every year straight cash just for the rights to your universities football games.


Then, you got to schedule pretty much whoever you want, guaranteeing (if you so desired) 2-3 wins every year playing the dregs of D-I. Anytime you got nine wins, you pretty much automatically qualify for a BCS berth.


Oh, but it gets even better.


Let’s say your school got to play hoops in the best conference in the land while also playing with peer institutions. Would you leave this behind to join what would become the nation’s most competitive college football league? Notre Dame wouldn’t either.


So, we’re down to the three prime candidates for the twelfth and final Big Ten spot:

The University of Missouri

Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey



One of our candidates is just pretending to still be in the race. We’ll eliminate them by the following rule. Let’s say for a University to bring sufficient markets to the Big Ten, the sum of the markets brought must equal at least two million.


Since Syracuse and Rutgers both factor into the booming NYC market (20 million), they easily qualify.


However, does Missouri bring 2 Million people to the Big Ten Network?


At first glance, Missouri would bring enough people based on the population of Kansas City (3M) and Saint Louis (2M). Yet, is the University of Missouri really dominant in both of these markets from the center of the state?


Saint Louis and Kansas City are on the Eastern and Western edge of the state, almost closer to the University of Kansas and the University of Illinois than Missou.  


University of Missouri to Saint Louis: 126 miles

University of Illinois to Saint Louis: 176 miles

University of Kansas to Kansas City: 40 miles

University of Missouri to Kansas City: 126 miles


From this, we can conclude that A) Kansas is probably the dominant team in the Kansas City Market (2 million people) and that Illinois is a factor in the Saint Louis Market (making it a market which the Big Ten already has a presence in). Therefore, Syracuse and Rutgers are more fit than Missouri when it comes to trails of Big Ten membership.


So, we’re down to two universities: Upstate New York’s University of Syracuse and New Jersey’s Rutgers. So, which one does the Big Ten save the last dance in our ballad of conference realignment for? Stay tuned. Rutgers fits the Big Ten mold (large, urban, state flagship, closer to New York City) but lacks the athletic program that Syracuse has, in either roundball or pigskin.


If Rutgers can overcome its financial woes and build a sports superpower in the Big East, all while wooing the media conglomerate of New York, they will eventually be selected. The ball is in Rutgers court now. If they fall short somewhere along the journey to college sports glory, Syracuse will become the belle of the Big Ten ball.


That’s all there is to it.