Big Ten Expansion Will Hit College Football Like a Tidal Wave

Pete MisthaufenAnalyst IDecember 14, 2009

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 21:  Quarterback Terrelle Pryor #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes runs the ball during the game against the Michigan Wolverines on November 21, 2009 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ohio State won the game 21-10. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

ESPN reported recently that Wisconsin athletic director and former head coach Barry Alvarez told the Wisconsin athletic board that the Big Ten will soon make a big push for a 12th member.

The idea of the first Big Ten expansion since 1993's addition of Penn State is looming very large, indeed, and the impact will be felt in more than the Big Ten and the Big East or Big 12 when they lose a team.

Indeed, a Big Ten expansion (with maybe a change in name to the Great 12 or something) will set off a chain of events that will largely reshape the college football world.

First off, since Notre Dame will most likely not agree to membership in the Big Ten (and I will leave it others to discuss that relationship), it leaves the Big East and Big 12 as likely targets.

The Big 12 has Iowa State, Missouri, and Nebraska, while the Big East has Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse, and West Virginia. This is a good discussion of the Big Ten expansion possibilities.

The name of the game is television, and increasing television market share will be a key factor at hand.

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The First Wave:  The Big East Scenario

If the Big Ten goes east, then the Big East will again be looking to raid Conference USA (or maybe even the MAC). 

In its last expansion, the Big East grabbed one good football and basketball school (Louisville, which has since declined greatly), one good basketball school (Cincy, which now plays good football), and one geographic school for Florida recruiting (USF, which has never finished in the final polls).

So, the Big East's targets will most likely be schools like Memphis (which recently hired former the former Big East commissioner as a consultant to get Memphis into an AQ conference), East Carolina, Marshall, Central Florida (jilted by the Big East last time), Temple (a Big East member only a few years ago), and Buffalo (the only SUNY school with a FBS football team).

Given its situation with its eight non-FBS playing schools, the departure of Rutgers or Pitt may actually force a resolution of the Big East's supersized nature, freeing the Big East to expand to 10 or 12 teams.

CUSA most likely would then invite Louisiana Tech as well as a Sun Belt team or two to join the rebuild the conference.

With a Big Ten expansion to the East, the first wave would most likely end there, with no other immediate consequences for the conferences further west like the Big 12, MWC, and Pac-10.

The First Wave: Big 12 Scenario

If the Big Ten decides to go south instead, Missouri would be the most likely new addition.

As such, the Big 12 would need a new school to fill a void in the Big 12 North.

The MWC is the most likely conference target for the Big 12, and three schools are really the most logical possibilities. 

BYU is a large university with a large stadium and a three-decade history of playing on the national stage in college football. BYU has a lot of alums and followers throughout Big 12 country and could actually bring pretty good-sized crowds to away games (BYU brings about 10,000 or so fans for games at TCU, for example, and brought 15,000 or so to the game against Oklahoma at Cowboys Stadium).

Colorado State is a decent sized state school, but would bring little to the Big 12 it does not already have.

TCU would seem a prefect fit, but it will not happen. 

First, Baylor, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech would all strongly object. They have already fallen way behind TCU and would only be hurt more by having to lose to Frogs every year.

Second, a divisional realignment would need to take place. While this could be solved by having Tech or Oklahoma State move to the Big 12 North (where either team would have a much easier time winning), it still would not be a simple matter.

Third, the Big 12 already owns the Dallas-Fort Worth media market. While some have argued that this is changing, the Big 12 still believes it does not need a team in the region in order to dominate one of the largest media markets in the country.

Fourth, adding a fifth Texas school would really hurt the Big 12 North schools with their Texas recruiting.

Now, Utah could also be a target, but the Utes are looking most likely looking west for their move. Plus, the Utes lack the large number of travelling fans.

So, if BYU went to the Big 12, the MWC would immediately invite Boise State into the conference.

The WAC would further decline in relevancy but could do nothing about it.

So, again, the first wave would be over with no impact on schools in the south or east.

The Second Wave

With the Big Ten expanding to 12 teams, the pressure will increase on the Big East and Pac-10 to also go to 12 teams.

First would be the direct pressure. Already Big East schools have the easiest path to a BCS game, needing only to play seven conference games to get there.

Of the eight Big East schools, only Pitt, Syracuse, and West Virginia have anything that resembles even a decent football tradition, with the other five schools looking largely like jumped up CUSA schools (oh, but most of them are...).

There are already rumors of pressure being applied to the Big East to expand to 12 football teams and such will increase.

Likewise, rumors of a Pac-12 in 2011 have been going around already. With the Big Ten going to 12, the Pac-10 would most likely follow suit as well, finally get around to its long discussed expansion.

The most likely targets are Colorado and Utah, for reasons that have been discussed elsewhere.

Poaching a MWC and Big 12 team would again cause immediate changes to the football world, as both conferences would again scramble to maintain status.

Realigned Football World

So with three BCS automatic qualifying (AQ) conferences expanding in 2011, the results will reshape the college football world.

The MWC and CUSA would be the most directly impacted, as both conferences would be gutted of some of their top schools.

The ripple effects could completely devastate the conferences, along with the Sun Belt, MAC, and WAC.

A 12-team Big East would most likely invite schools like Central Florida, East Carolina, Marshall, and Memphis from Conference USA and Temple or Buffalo from the MAC as mentioned above.

As such, Conference USA would lose most of its Eastern Division.

But that would not be the only impact on CUSA, as the MWC would attempt to rebuild the conference in order to continue at its near BCS status.

And if they wanted to maintain that status, it is likely that they would need to also go to 12 teams, which might be particularly hard after losing three programs.

A large-scale MWC expansion would hurt both the WAC and CUSA's West Division.  Both conferences would likely drop down to further irrelevancy after these raids.

Possible conference realignments:

Big East

Memphis, Central Florida, Marshall, and Temple

North division: UConn, Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, and Marshall

South division: Central Florida, Cincy, Louisville, Memphis, South Florida, and West Virginia

Big Ten


River division: Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio State, Penn State, and Purdue

Lakes division: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Wisconsin

Big 12

BYU and Colorado State (both going to the Big 12 North)

Big 12 North: BYU, Colorado State, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, and Nebraska

Big 12 South: Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech


Add Boise, Fresno, Houston, Nevada, SMU, and Tulsa

West: Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada, New Mexico, San Diego State, and UNLV

East: Air Force, Houston, SMU, TCU, Tulsa, and Wyoming


Colorado and Utah

South division: Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Stanford, UCLA, and USC

North division: Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, Utah, Washington, and Washington State

Fallout on Non-AQ Conferences

With these expansions, conferences such as the WAC and CUSA will be especially hit hard.

A 12-team Big East will essentially be WV, Pitt, and a bunch of former CUSA teams. 

The rebuilt MWC 12 will grab from both CUSA and the WAC.

The remaining teams of the WAC (Hawaii, San Jose State, New Mexico State, Idaho, Utah State, Louisiana Tech) would be hard pressed to stay together, as Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State would likely go with the remaining CUSA schools (Tulane, Southern Miss, East Carolina, UTEP, UAB, and Rice). 

CUSA would then add a few schools from the Sun Belt (Arkansas State, Louisiana Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Middle Tennessee State, North Texas, and Troy are all possible invites) to rebuild the 10- or 12-team CUSA.

As such, the four remaining WAC schools would either need to go independent or consider dropping down to FCS level.

The Sun Belt could restock with some of the schools looking to move to FBS status in Texas, such as UT-San Antonio and Texas State.

Will the MWC Survive?

For the MWC and TCU, it will be challenge to maintain its bid for BCS automatic qualifying status.

But it would be, in essence, the only realistic source for a non-AQ BCS at-large bid, even if it did not become the seventh BCS AQ conference.

Some might even argue that the MWC could be the conference to lose out in the case of these conference realignments.

Given that the MWC appears to be ready to invite Boise State this offseason to begin play in 2011, the WAC will already have lost its best team well before some of these other realignments occur.

Even if BYU, Colorado State, and Utah leave the MWC, a conference with both TCU and Boise State will be a real contender. Add in Houston and Fresno, and the conference may come out okay in the end.

TCU, unfortunately, will be a victim of circumstances beyond its control again.  After being left behind by the demise of the SWC and the Big East raid of CUSA, TCU finally has a home. It would be unfortunate if the Frogs were left behind again.

Sure, TCU might find a spot in the Big 12 instead of Colorado State or BYU. 

However, the Rams looks like the necessary team for the Colorado market, one of the top markets for the Big 12 currently, and one that will assume increased importance if Missouri goes to the Big Ten.

BYU has a much bigger following and a much bigger name than TCU, besides bringing in a new market for the Big 12.


Any Big Ten expansion will have serious, long-term consequences for the world of college football. We will see a lot of realignment and maybe the end of certain conferences.

A move to 12 teams by the Big Ten, Big East, and Pac-10 would mean seven more schools would receive BCS status.

If a 12-team Mountain West Conference received the coveted seventh spot among BCS conferences as well, then 19 schools currently on the outside would receive the BCS gold star of quality.

At 85 BCS conference teams, it is likely that the spot for non-AQ schools will disappear. 

With 85 teams, there should also be a serious move at dividing the FBS in two as well, just the 1978 division that created I-AA (now known as FCS).

The tidal wave of Big Ten expansion will completely reshape the college football world.

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