Big Ten should innovate with expansion

Buckeye CommentarySenior Analyst IMarch 6, 2010

STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 7: Defensive tackle Jared Odrick #91 of the Penn State Nittany Lions warms-up before a game against the Ohio State Buckeyes on November 7, 2009 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. Ohio State won 24-7. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
Hunter Martin/Getty Images

By now, you have read the litany of reasons why Texas would be foolish not to join the Big Ten .  Sure, it seems a little premature and the Big Ten has, in fact, stated that they are looking for recommendations regarding expansion over the next 12-18 months .  Commissioner Delaney recently discussed the league’s expansion agenda and Barry Alvarez said that the Longhorns are not on the list of initial candidates.  Despite the repudiations from Delaney and Alvarez regarding an imminent expansion, the topic has been a big topic of discussion at dinner tables in the Midwest ever since the Texas rumor was floated out there.

I am not terribly interested in discussing whether or not Texas should join, or how much money the new league would generate from television contracts.  We all know that Big Ten expansion is a money grab: add a 12th team (or perhaps more ), stage a conference championship game, and count the new piles of cash that flow in.  Alvarez is not shy about admitting that fact .

I do not object to Big Ten expansion but I think it can be about more than money.  If the Big Ten wants to be as or more relevant than every other conference they should innovate in the way that they integrate any additional team(s).

First, we need to recognize some truths about the Conference.  To this point in Big Ten history the entire league is about these two teams and the season-ending matchup.  For the vast majority of the League’s history, not much else has mattered in the conference.  Seriously.  Sorry Iowa, Wisconsin, and even Penn State.

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This truth presents some immediate quandaries.  You cannot split Ohio State and Michigan up into different divisions because you risk having them play two weeks in a row (the final regular season week and then imagined Big Ten Championship Game).  You cannot place them in the same division, either.  That would only ensure that The Game is at best for the opportunity to play for the conference title.  The idea that Ohio State and Michigan will never play again with the conference title on the line makes me ill.

If the Big Ten wants to expand and dominate the college football landscape and, thus, the television markets, there is a solution that would create a more compelling 12 team league.  The Big Ten could preserve The Game, get continued exposure through the first week of December, all while owning three different weekends during the season.  How?  Maintain one division, play a 10-game round-robin schedule with the elite teams playing the weekends each season.

Here is how it would work.

For the sake of blogging (and awesomeness), let’s assume Texas is the League’s twelfth team.  The Conference should ensure that Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Texas all play during every season.  No scheduling quirks.  No years off.  The Buckeyes, Wolverines, and Nittany Lions already play every season, so this would only mean adding Texas as a regularly scheduled opponent for each.  And, to ensure the Big Ten gets maximum exposure out of these matchups, they need to play the same weekends every year - let’s say the last weekend of September, October, and November.  This is what it would look like in 2010:

September 25Ohio State v. Penn State
Michigan v. Texas
October 30Michigan v. Penn State
Texas v. Ohio State
November 27Ohio State v. Michigan
Penn State v. Texas

This is a win, win, win.  On the field, the Conference would create a de facto tournament. The first of its kind.  I realize that ties are theoretically possible, a 10-game regular decreases this risk because only one conference opponent is skipped.

From a television perspective, the Conference’s bargaining position with the WWL and ABC surely increases, while the Big Ten Network will most likely get to show a game involving one of the big 4 each weekend, which will continue to draw more viewers to the network.  It is hard to imagine any conference could compete with those weekends on a yearly basis.  As a result, on average, the Big Ten will own the major national viewing audience for at least three football weekends.

From a tradition standpoint, the League preserves the greatest rivalry in sports and give birth to some new ones without having to manufacture some ridiculous championship game affiliated with a soda company.

For me, and I think many Big Ten football fans, this solution would be great.  What do you think?  What potential pitfalls have I overlooked?

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