Hello, Big Ten fans!
This past week, the Big Ten Conference and the Pac-12 Conference announced a strategic collaboration. I am here to say why I hate the idea and you should too.
According to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany:
“We believe that both conferences can preserve that sense of collegiality and still grow nationally by leveraging our commonalities in a way that benefits student-athletes, fans and alumni. This collaboration can and will touch many institutional undertakings, and will complement our academic and athletic missions.”
The plans, according to the article, call for an increase in games between the two conferences in all sports, not just football.
The biggest issue when it comes to this partnership and these games is the large travel distance between the two conferences. How are long plane rides and the greater potential of missed classes beneficial to student-athletes of the Big Ten (as well as the Pac-12)?
What are the gains of these potential extra games and increased travel?
Potential games between the top teams in both conferences could attract many TV viewers and can possible add value to future TV contracts. Of course, this only applies to the two major revenue-producing schools.
2. Increased competition
Football is the obvious exception, but many sports have NCAA-sponsored championships. College basketball has an RPI system in men's basketball where strength of schedule or level of competition is a factor in determining who makes the tournament and what seeds teams get.
There also is an RPI for women's basketball and women's volleyball. I'm sure other sports do as well. In these sports, level of competition is very important, more so than men's basketball.
In men's basketball, money is a big factor. A home game against a cupcake won't improve your RPI but a sold-out home crowd also is important to schools, too.
This year, the women's volleyball final had my Illini vs. UCLA. My other alma mater Penn State won the previous four NCAA championships. The top schools in the Big Ten and Pac-12 playing may be worth the long flights.
You expect a large majority of Big Ten alumni to live in the immediate Big Ten area (Midwest and/or in the case of Penn State the East Coast). Still, there are plenty of Big Ten alumni in the West Coast who would love to see their alma mater and/or other Big Ten rivals once in a while.
4. Increased media presence in the West Coast
Games vs. Pac-12 schools will increase media presence in the Pac-12 area, especially California, by far the most populous state in the country.
All of these gains do sound great, and they are.
The problem is, if my understanding is correct, this is a fairly large partnership between the two conferences and involves all schools and multiple sports.
In terms of money, football games between the two conferences may be valuable. But women's field hockey and men's soccer games between the conferences won't do much.
If the top teams in the Big Ten and Pac-12 want to play in football and men's basketball and even in nonrevenue sports, an increased level of competition is a good thing. But if the bottom feeders of the Big Ten and Pac-12 play in these sports, do they gain anything other than a five-hour plane ride?
California is a huge asset, no doubt. But are Washington, Oregon, Utah, Arizona and Colorado? You can justify a long plane ride if you go to Los Angeles or even the Bay Area. But who wants to fly five hours and land in Corvallis, Ore., or Pullman, Wash.?
If more fans in California watch the Big Ten, that's great. If more fans in Corvallis or Pullman watch the Big Ten, who cares? Besides, the Big Ten champion plays in the Rose Bowl almost every year now already.
The Pac-12 has many assets but a lot of liabilities. It has four great schools in California but some not-so-great schools and two total dumps.
I think the Big Ten should just be friends or maybe "friends with benefits" with the Pac-12. Sure, go ahead and "date." If Ohio State and USC want to play in football or even Penn State and Stanford in women's volleyball, by all means go ahead.
Should the Big Ten and Pac-12 "be boyfriend and girlfriend?" No way. Should they "move in together" or even worse "get married?" That would be an absolute disaster!
If there is any conference the Big Ten should "date," it should be the ACC.
There is already a Big Ten/ACC men's basketball challenge between the schools, and as a men's basketball fanatic I look forward to it every fall.
What if the Big Ten/ACC challenge is replaced with a Big Ten/Pac-12 challenge in men's basketball? The Pac-12 is a completely inferior conference to the ACC in basketball (especially with Syracuse and Pittsburgh on their way in).
The only Pac-12 team that is a perennial basketball power is Arizona. Is a chance to play Arizona worth trading away yearly games vs. Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse? Plus, the bottom of the Pac-12 is far worse than the bottom of the ACC.
Remember, the Big Ten/ACC Challenge is nationally televised by the ESPN family. Would ESPN want to cover all 12 Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge games, especially when the most attractive one would be Arizona?
The Pac-12 has a large geographic footprint but so does the ACC. With the additions of Syracuse and Pitt, they have an increased presence in the Northeast as well as the Southeast (including Florida).
The press release touts academics. Stanford, Berkeley and UCLA are terrific academic institutions and the only ACC school on par with them is probably Duke.
Still, the next level of ACC schools (Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia Tech) are very good schools too. The lowest-ranked ACC schools are just outside the top 100 in US News & World Report's college rankings. The bottom of the Pac-12 is worse than the bottom of the ACC.
The ACC may not be as valuable as the Pac-12 but it comes without the huge travel distances and costs. To me, that makes them far more "attractive."
But the question is, should the Big Ten have a partnership with any conference?
Before you get excited about Big Ten/Pac-12 games, there will be a price to pay. According to Delany, the Big Ten/Pac-12 games will replace the proposal for the Big Ten to go to a nine-game conference schedule. He said "If it's not off the board, it's coming off the board."
I was very much looking forward to the nine-game conference schedule. Rather than not playing three conference opponents a year it was going to be two. This past year, Penn State did not play Michigan. Illinois did play Michigan in 2011, but they aren't divisional games and eventually there will be years the Illini do not play Michigan.
There are other great rivalries among other Big Ten schools that will not play every year. The nine-game schedule would have made cross-divisional games more frequent.
As a Penn State or Illinois fan, I would rather play Michigan more often than play USC or Oregon, clearly the top of the Pac-12 in football recently (once Andrew Luck leaves Stanford, I expect them to fall back down to earth).
Sure, the extra Big Ten game could be Minnesota or (in the case of Penn State) Northwestern (Illinois is Northwestern's permanent rival). Still, Minnesota is a Big Ten rival and I would rather my schools play Minnesota or Northwestern than half of the teams in the Pac-12, especially the bottom feeders.
Would replacing a ninth Big Ten game with a game vs. the ACC or even the SEC (if they would ever agree to it) be better? I don't think so. I am far more in favor of nine conference games than a series vs. any conference.
So if the Big Ten wants to enter any "commitments" with any other conferences, they should only do so if:
- The nine-game conference football schedule will be implemented.
- The ACC/Big Ten Challenge in men's basketball remains intact.
- The increase in travel time and costs is reasonable, especially among non revenue sports.
If any of these three are compromised, the partnership will cost the Big Ten more than any potential gains can make up.
First, the Big Ten expands to the west as opposed to the east, now this. Delany cares a lot more about the west than he does about the east.
I think Delany needs a map. Most of the Big Ten is EAST of the Mississippi River.
The two states entirely west of the Mississippi are the two least-populous states in Big Ten country. Four Big Ten states are among the top eight most populous states in the U.S.
Most of the Big Ten's largest TV markets (Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis) are east of the river. What's west of the river? Des Moines? Omaha?
Instead of catering to the larger and more important half of the Big Ten, Delany was clearly favoring the western half of the Big Ten when the conference invited Nebraska—and now this.
Maybe Ohio State, Penn State, both Michigan schools, both Indiana schools, Illinois and Wisconsin should just break free from the Big Ten and form a new conference like the former WAC schools did to form the Mountain West Conference. There's a lot of money from the Big Ten now, but that money is going toward flying to Corvallis on a regular basis.
Besides, you know what they say about long-distance relationships. They never work.