Big Ten Seems to Still Be Waiting for Notre Dame

Jeff KalafaAnalyst IIIJuly 29, 2009

LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 29:  Quarterback Jimmy Clausen #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish moves back to pass the ball during the game against the USC Trojans at the Memorial Coliseum on November 29, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

As the Big Ten Football Media Days conclude, it's interesting to read between the lines, to sift through the rhetoric and misdirection to find some meaning in what can be described as "meaningless jibber-jabber" and a meaningless vote to decide who will win the 2009 conference championship—as if it wasn't going to be decided on the field.

One thing that appears to be coming out of these meetings is a growing desire by the coaches to improve the quality of Big Ten football.

In order to improve Big Ten football, there's been an idea that's picking up energy recently—teams playing deeper into December so they'll be sharper for bowl games.

Minnesota's coach Tim Brewster and Illinois's Ron Zook spoke in favor of this plan, but the originator, Joe Paterno, went even further awhile back and suggested that it's time for the Big Ten to expand to 12 teams.  In this new system, the Big Ten Conference Championship Game would serve as a prep game for the Big Ten's BCS bowl team.

Although Paterno probably has more clout than just about any coach in the country, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney has made it clear that the presidents, not the coaches, will make the call when and if they expand to 12 teams.

The Big Ten is in a good spot.  It's making plenty of money.  Out of all the college football teams, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Penn State rank two, four, five, and six in revenue.  Iowa and Michigan State are in the top 20. 

Even though the SEC just signed a huge 15-year, $2.25-billion TV contract with ESPN, the Big Ten is making big money for their members, and they are not in the position where they have to scramble for a 12th team at this time.

But what are they waiting for?  Financially, it could be wise to add an FBS team who would not only serve as a 12th team, the number required by the NCAA to have a conference championship game, but also add a financial boost to the conference.

Rutgers is a likely candidate, as it is located near the biggest marketing area in the western world, New York City.

Although the Scarlet Knights are still in the process of establishing themselves as "greater New York's team," they represent a potential ratings powerhouse.

Rutgers would also find a natural rival in the Big Ten, Penn State. 

Pittsburgh and Syracuse wouldn't fit the description of a typical Big Ten state school, but they would bring strong basketball programs and competitive football programs.

There have been rumors alluding to Missouri and West Virginia as possible candidates, but at this time, no one really knows what the Big Ten is thinking.

The Big Ten believes it's calling the shots, and if it needs a 12th team, they can always reach into the "grab bag" known as the Big East Conference.

And what about the Big East?  What's that saying, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."  Is the Big East going to roll over again like they did when the defections of 2003 took place?

The Big East has been claiming to be a closer-knit group, a group that is seriously interested in preserving the conference and has talked about expanding to a nine-team conference.

All of this sounds great, but when the Big Ten comes calling and sticks a ton of bills under the nose of the team from the Big East that makes the most sense, so much for loyalty.

So, what seems to be the mindset of the Big Ten regarding expansion right now?  They're not in a hurry, but they are aware that their brand of football has taken a competitive dip, and they also know that a conference championship game would translate into more money. Let's face it; in the end, isn't that what it's really about?

It seems that the Big Ten is playing the hand they've been dealt, and it's a good one.

They are also aware that the school in South Bend has seen it's football fortunes take a hit, and they know that, although it has always been thought of as sacrilegious, joining a conference has seemed more advantageous to the Irish over the last five to ten years.

It's more advantageous because it's getting harder for an independent team to schedule games, as most everyone has joined a conference and is required to play at least eight or nine conference games.

It's more advantageous because recruits like to know that they will be playing for a conference championship if the dream of a national championship dies with the onset of that dreaded second defeat.

It's advantageous because the once-huge TV contract that the Irish have is being challenged and surpassed by schools in the major conferences.

So it seems like the Big Ten is still waiting for Notre Dame. 

As the call for a 12th team gets stronger, the Big Ten will have more opposition from fans and alumni.  It will become increasingly more difficult not to act.

But today, as we get ready for the beginning of the 2009 college football season, the Big Ten is apparently in a good position.  As compared to last year and the year before, they seem to feel more confident that the Irish are in the waiting.

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