Missouri to the Big Ten?
You bet. Perhaps. Or not a chance in hell?
Regardless, it appears increasingly likely that one of college football's more rigid conferences is finally willing to move away from its stance on antiquity and embrace the formula that will presumably allow it to enter the game's modern era.
On behalf of its Council of Presidents/Chancellors (COP/C), the Big Ten office released a statement Tuesday saying that the topic of adding a 12th team was discussed at the conference's recent winter meetings on Dec. 6 in Illinois.
According to the release, Commissioner James Delany has been asked to obtain the information needed to compile a preliminary list of schools to be considered for the expansion slot "without engaging in formal discussions with leadership from other institutions."
Only after that list has been compiled can Delany and the Big Ten contact commissioners of the affected conferences and engage in discussions with school officials from the institutions being considered.
It seems almost inevitable that the Big Ten will expand. Coaches and school officials seem to agree that the time has come to evaluate the conference and what it can do to improve. Is the answer expansion? Most likely.
As so plainly stated by Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez last week, the Big Ten suffers greatly from its nearly nonexistent late-season exposure—a problem that is mainly attributed to the conference's lack of a conference championship game.
"We're irrelevant for the last three weeks of the football season because we're not playing," Alvarez said before Wisconsin's athletic board on Dec. 11.
You add a 12th team, and the Big Ten is divided into two six-team divisions. You create two divisions, and you got yourself a conference championship game.
If you do that, the Big Ten, which is already set in 2010 to institute a 13-week schedule that will extend the season to Thanksgiving, suddenly cures its ills of fading into late-season obscurity.
Don't forget about the money, which is the underlying motivator in this case. Save for the SEC, the Big Ten is the most lucrative conference in America, with its bevy of network contracts, hordes of merchandising dollars, and the cash cow Big Ten Network.
According to a report earlier this year in the Orlando Sentinel that assessed the revenue generated by each FBS athletic department during the 2007-08 season, four of the top 10 highest-grossing schools resided in the Big Ten, with Ohio State ($117,953,712) leading the conference and finishing ranked behind only No. 1 Texas ($120,288,370).
In terms of revenue generated solely by football—which, let's face it, makes up a considerable percentage of an institution's overall athletics revenue—the Big Ten finished second only to the mighty SEC with three programs in the top 10 for the 2007-08 season, highlighted by the $65.16 million raked in by Ohio State, which checked in at No. 4 overall.
Just think of how thoroughly Big Ten officials could line their pockets with the addition of another team to their conference. It's a classic story of the rich getting richer.
But which schools will be considered for the honor of sharing those profits? The answer is the usual suspects.
Schools like Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Rutgers make some sense geographically, as does Syracuse. But you could argue only a pair of those aforementioned schools has a solid enough football reputation worthy of being affiliated with the Big Ten.
Then there are long shots like TCU, whose wayward location is diluted by its recent success. Plus, don't the Horned Frogs need to find a spot in a big-time conference to gain the credentials needed to get over the BCS hump?
Notre Dame will get plenty of consideration, but the Irish aren't likely to change the tune they whistled while rejecting the Big Ten's bid in 1999. As long as NBC continues to spoon-feed the brass in South Bend, Notre Dame is flying independent.
Some have even thrown Texas' name into the hat, but you can bet it'll be a cold day in hell when the Longhorns give up their reign as the fat cats of the Big 12. In terms of cash, the Big 12 needs Texas like men need women.
And then there's Missouri, a program that has long sleepwalked its way through mediocrity but seems to become more attractive to the Big Ten with each passing season.
With the Tigers' recent success, facilities have gotten better, and recruits from football hotspots around the country are looking at MU in a different light. All this equates to a program on the rise. Then there's the school's favorable location, the state's duo of large-market metropolises, and the MU program's reputation of being a legit force in one of the country's toughest conferences.
From reports that I've seen, Missouri seems to be one of the top expansion candidates. It's hard to argue they're not. Then again, it may be just as easy to argue that the Tigers should stay put.
Let's examine the issue.
Missouri to the Big Ten: Why or why not?
Before we get too involved in this, let's first acknowledge this possibility as nothing more than a pipe dream at this point. Expansion in the Big Ten is still at the mercy of school administrators, who must come to a consensus.
There's also absolutely no guarantee that Missouri will be on the list of schools considered for the open spot. I suspect it will be at least the full 18 months before we ever know who is making the Big Ten's cut, assuming, of course, the motion to expand is ultimately approved.
Meanwhile, in Columbia, depending on who you ask, you'd likely get conflicting views in regards to Missouri's thoughts on the Big Ten's plans to expand.
Two days after MU athletic director Mike Alden told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch "there is no story," Chancellor Brady Deaton, in response to an article on the Kansas City Star 's Web site, issued a slightly more intriguing statement around 2 p.m. Tuesday, nearly one hour before the Big Ten officially released its statement.
“The University of Missouri has not been contacted by the Big Ten. Should there be an official inquiry or invitation, we would evaluate it based upon what would be in the best interest of MU athletically and academically."
Missouri is playing it safe. Obviously, the university won't do or say anything unless the Big Ten dictates a course of action.
But there are myriad reasons why joining the Big Ten would be a good move for the Tigers, some of which I touched on back in May. Right now, the most notable of those reasons would be that the Big Ten doesn't allow its bowl partners to devalue competition, much like the Big 12's policies allowed the Insight Bowl to do in its recent snub of the Tigers.
However, it would be just as easy to dispute those pros with a long list of cons.
Here are just a few of each.
Money, Money, Money
For one, the financial implications cannot be understated. Just as the Big Ten would benefit financially from expanding to a 12th team, so would Missouri if it indeed was chosen to fill the slot.
The Big 12's current revenue-sharing model, which has come under recent fire, is biased toward those programs who reside among the "haves," not the "have-nots." In other words, it helps to be the Texases and Oklahomas of the world.
As it stands now, half of the revenue the Big 12 receives from its members' television appearances is divided equally. The other half is then set aside to be distributed based on the frequency of those appearances, with those teams whose games are televised more often obviously receiving a larger share.
For example, after evaluating the Big 12's fiscal year of 2007-08, the Omaha World-Herald reported that the conference took in $103.1 million worth of revenue, which ranked fourth among the six BCS conferences.
Of that total, Texas ($10.2 million) and Oklahoma ($9.8 million) combined to take home $20 million despite the fact each finished the 2007 season with fewer wins than Missouri and Kansas, who both emerged during the course of the season and didn't appear on as many high-profile television broadcasts.
Now, compare that model to the one utilized by the Big Ten, which is one of a few conferences in college football that distribute revenue evenly among their teams, regardless of number of television appearances.
During the same fiscal year, the Big Ten generated $154.2 million worth of revenue, which equated to $14 million per school. This was nearly $6 million more than Missouri, who won more games during the 2007 season than any Big Ten school, received under the Big 12 revenue-sharing model.
From this standpoint, the argument of whether MU should join the Big Ten is one big catch-22. Under the free-market mentality of the Big 12, as an emerging power, the Tigers could essentially state their worth on the field. If Missouri is good, then the dollar signs will follow.
In the Big Ten, however, the Tigers could tank and still be considered equal to the conference's wealthy due to a more socialistic payout system.
As a member of the Big Ten, it's to be assumed that every one of Missouri's games would be televised.
Presently, MU is good for a small batch of ESPN games, but the Big 12's other television partners, FSN and Versus, can't shoulder the load of broadcasting games league-wide. That results in policy in which the Big 12 and its television partners hand-select games for television.
Here are the cold, hard facts, as outlined by the Columbia Daily Tribune 's Dave Matter back in September: Both the Big Ten and Big 12 have current agreements with ESPN/ABC. The Big Ten's contract runs 10 years and is worth $1 billion; the Big 12's runs through 2016 but is worth only half as much, at $480 million.
Meanwhile, the Big 12's other television contract, its $78 million agreement with FSN, is set to expire after the 2012 season. Through its television network, the Big Ten has a deal with Fox Cable Networks that runs 25 years and is worth $2.8 billion.
If it were to make the switch, Mizzou would then be under the Big Ten Network umbrella, which was created to ensure that every conference home football and basketball game would be televised.
Because the home team in college athletics reserves the television rights, the Big Ten Network wouldn't be able to air non-conference road games. But with the Big Ten's agreements with ABC and ESPN providing enhanced coverage, it's almost a sure bet Missouri's days of asking viewers to buck up pay-per-view dollars for a non-conference game would be over.
It's true that MU's exposure on the airwaves would result in additional dollars for both the program and the conference, but the Big Ten Network is currently limited in its scope. While available in as many as 75 million homes nationwide and through cable companies in 19 of America's top 20 markets, the Big Ten Network isn't easily accessible in one of the Tigers' biggest fanbases.
According to its Web site, the Big Ten network is available in St. Louis only through AT&T U-Verse or one of the nation's leading satellite providers. Same goes for the city of Columbia, where the AT&T option isn't available. To more easily accommodate those who live in Big Ten states, the conference's network is offered through either extended basic cable or digital services.
But how many people in the state of Missouri would be willing to pay additional fees in cable upgrades just to see Tiger games, especially considering an abundance of Big Ten games is already on ESPN and ABC? Would that not almost be like paying $30 to watch a Big 12 Missouri team play a Furman or Bowling Green?
Or is the prospect of bucking up a few extra dollars to watch MU on the Big Ten Network infinitely more attractive then sticking around the Big 12 and taking a chance that the conference is soon able to land a lucrative, all-encompassing TV deal?
What if the Big 12 does all of a sudden adopt a television network of its own? Commissioner Dan Beebe has made working to create such a network one of his highest priorities, so as to keep the Big 12 from falling further behind other conferences.
Who's to say a Big 12 Network wouldn't generate more money than the Big Ten Network? Would the creation of such a network then cause the Big 12 to rethink the nature of its revenue-sharing model?
Location, Location, Location
According to ESPN.com Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg, the Big Ten will not discriminate against a school for its geographical location when it comes to expansion.
Yes, a Syracuse, Rutgers, or Pittsburgh would arguably make more sense geographically, but the fact that the Big Ten will spend as many as 18 months scouring the nation for a candidate thrust Missouri to the forefront of the discussion.
If it were to become that magical 12th team, Missouri would be on the edge of Big Ten country, but it would be no further west than Iowa. Furthermore, the state is home to two large metropolitan areas in St. Louis and Kansas City, both of which would be more than willing to embrace the Tigers as a Big Ten program.
Would the cities of Syracuse—or, for that matter, New York City—Piscataway, N.J., or Pittsburgh embrace the change with similar enthusiasm? Hard to say. And what about Cincinnati, which already houses the Bengals and is becoming a formidable haven for Big East football? Would it support Big Ten football more fervently than either St. Louis or Kansas City, two fellow NFL cities and strongholds of Big 12 support?
Then again, it's possible Missouri may not be too fond of incurring the expenses it requires to travel to Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota—and vice versa.
Why travel to the far northern reaches of the nation every year and the East Coast every other year or so when you can play a majority of your conference games only a state or two away, in places like Kansas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska?
A Busted Pipeline?
During head coach Gary Pinkel's nine seasons at Missouri, he has worked tirelessly to construct and maintain a recruiting trail leading into and out of Texas, all the way back to Columbia.
Traditionally known as one of America's hotbeds for high school football talent, Texas is not short on players with BCS-caliber ability, and the Tigers, like all Big 12 schools, converge a majority of their recruiting efforts on the state.
Roughly 30 players on MU's current roster are from Texas, and Pinkel has made a habit of deftly scanning the state to pick out not only players that fit his program, but low-rated prospects that develop into All-Big 12 performers (Sean Weatherspoon and Danario Alexander).
If Missouri switches conferences, is Pinkel's hard work instantly wiped out?
To my knowledge, Big Ten coaches spend infinitely more time recruiting the Midwest, East Coast, and Southeast. Will Texas recruits and prospects from cities like St. Louis and Kansas City and outlying parts of Missouri follow the Tigers to the Big Ten, a conference that has sustained some bruises to its reputation in recent seasons?
Or will Pinkel be forced to ditch the Lone Star State in favor of connections in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan that he had previously tapped during his days at Toledo?
And what of MU's substantial alumni bases in cities like Houston, which is currently fired up over the Tigers' upcoming trip to the Texas Bowl? With the Tigers no longer playing games in Texas, would fanbases in states other than Missouri continue to pledge allegiance?
No One Left to Hate
Let's assume Missouri up and leaves for the Big Ten. Who picks up the slack for Kansas as the Tigers' main rival?
Illinois would be the obvious choice, but Missouri has won 16 of the 23 meetings, including each of the last five. A rivalry can't be dominated by one team.
What about Iowa, the next logical choice? Sure, the proximity would lend itself to a nice annual showdown, but the Tigers and Hawkeyes haven't met since 1910. It would take a while to get those hatred juices flowing again, presuming they ever existed.
Michigan State, MU's most recent Big Ten regular season opponent? Eh. Ohio State has beaten Missouri 10 times in 12 tries. The Tigers and Penn State have an Orange Bowl history but have met only four times.
The best choice may be perennial doormat Northwestern, whom MU beat in overtime in last season's Alamo Bowl. But how boring does that sound?
Then there's the matter of MU's budding rivalry with Nebraska. The Huskers' previously longstanding dominance over the Tigers prevented this from being a hatefest, but what little animosity existed seems to have gained momentum over the past few seasons and only intensified with the memorable bout in the torrential downpour back in October.
Let's state for the record that no good would come of a Missouri-Big Ten affiliation in regards to MU's rivalry with Kansas or Nebraska.
Although it seems a viable option that MU and KU could retain their annual Border War game each season, that would take schedule tinkering on the part of both programs. That prospect becomes less probable considering neither side would likely agree to schedule the game in place of a guaranteed win at home against an FCS or low-tier FBS non-conference opponent. Same goes for Nebraska.
Missouri's hatred toward Kansas is more than a century in the making. Each side bases its disgust for the other on American history that predates the Civil War. Missourians can't even stand the sight of a Jayhawk. Kansas fans don't like oversized cats with stripes.
It's unlikely a Golden Gopher or Bucky Badger would be able to fill the void.
You can find this article and more at my page at Examiner.com .