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Archive for the ‘Big Ten’ Category

Easy to miss among all of the expansion hubbub during the Big Ten meetings was a not so subtle jab at the ACC, and probably other conferences as well.  When questioned about why the early processes of expansion are taking so long Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany had this to say:

“A lot of these things that we’ve studied have been, in my view, improperly studied [by other leagues].  Didn’t understand the logistics, didn’t understand the culture, didn’t understand the academic fit, didn’t really understand whether they were doing a merger or whether they were doing an expansion. Expansion is very difficult, and we’re learning how to do it better, I think.”

With so much at stake the Big Ten is trying to do their due diligence and to ensure that when they make their final decisions the execution goes smoothly.  Clearly they’ve learned from the way the ACC botched their expansion earlier this decade by letting the information get out too soon, not being prepared to deal with the ramifications, inviting and then uninviting a program and then having a school jammed down their throat that they had absolutely no desire for.  Although in all fairness to Virginia Tech, they’ve carried the ACC banner much better than any of the 11 other members have in football.

In addition to navigating the choppy seas of politics, the Big Ten also has to be sure that they can drive revenue to the Big Ten Network.  They are going to do everything they possibly can to keep it all under wraps until they are ready to make an announcement.  That is why Delany keeps throwing all of the smoke screens up.  And when that announcement is made, I expect it to be an announcement of a done deal.

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The biggest thing that came out of the Big Ten meetings today was the reference by conference commissioner Jim Delany to the shifting U.S. population. 

“As far as the shifting population, that is reason, by itself, enough, to look at the concept of expansion,” Delany said. “In the last 20, 30 years, there’s been a clear shift in movement into the Sun Belt. The rates of growth in the Sun Belt are four times the rates they are in the East or the Midwest.”  What does this statement that seems to have come from left field mean?  Here are four possibilities:

  1. The Big Ten is going to make a huge push for Texas.  Many folks, including me, have discussed the fact that their are two potentially huge prizes to be won in expansion, Notre Dame and Texas.  While Texas was mentioned briefly as a Big Ten target, most of the speculation is that the conference will push Notre Dame to move.  Maybe their main target is Texas.
  2. ACC schools like Maryland and Virginia may be expansion candidates.  On May 13 Tom Dienhart of Rivals tweeted that those two programs were included in the latest buzz he was hearing.  First of all, based on the ridiculous happenings in the state of Virginia during the ACC expansion earlier this decade I don’t see UVA going anywhere.  Secondly, the ACC is on the cusp of signing an impressive deal with ESPN that will significantly increase the revenue each member will receive.  A week ago this may have been a much greater possibility.  The Big Ten may grab Maryland but I’d expect it to take a lot of hard work to do so.
  3. Delany is simply firing a shot across the bow of the SEC and their commissioner Mike Slive.  It seems clear that the major battle for supremacy that awaits college football will feature the Big Ten versus the SEC.  Delany is trying to make the SEC a little less comfortable.
  4. It’s a complete smokescreen.  All of the talk about the South is simply to open up the possibilities and take some of the pressure off the Big East schools they are likely to invite along with Notre Dame.

In my mind the most likely option is the fourth one.  However, if there is any reciprocal interest from Texas (and I have to believe somebody somewhere in the Big Ten knows if there is) then the first option is a no brainer. 

Please, share your thoughts.  What other options do you see?

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Nothing will show that the Big Ten’s initial bold move to add three Big East programs was more successful than the follow on addition of Notre Dame.  With Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Syracuse jumping to the Big Ten the Irish will have no choice but to follow suit.  My prediction is that the football season after the three former Big East schools join the Big Ten, the conference will expand again.  This time it will be two teams, Notre Dame and Missouri.

Notre Dame will have fought expansion as much as possible, but as the Big East searches for answers to keep afloat, the Irish must make a move to solidify their standing and revenue.  Independence will no longer be an option. 

Of course, Notre Dame will be a great addition to the Big Ten.  While they are not a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU), I don’t think that fact will hold the university presidents back from offering an invitation.  The school had an excellent ranking by the U.S. News & World Report (#20) and will bring a great many dollars to its new conference.

Missouri is already politicking for Big Ten membership and I believe they would be a solid addition.  They are an AAU member, have quality sports programs and would help expand the Big Ten Network in the midwest, specifically into Kansas City.  Working against Missouri is their #102 ranking by the U.S. News & World Report.  I believe a pledge by the university to improve that ranking would be enough to convince the presidents that Missouri will live up to every part of the Big Ten’s brand.

The Big Ten’s fast and forceful expansion to 16 schools will bring a whole bunch of questions.  How will teams be grouped?  Two divisions seems inevitable but ESPN’s Pat Forde has even suggested four pods.  Will the groups be effective in football and basketball?  Where will the annual Big Ten football championship be played?  Will the conference name finally be changed?

As far as dividing the teams, here’s my stab at two divisions:

East Division
Indiana
Northwestern
Ohio St.
Penn St.
Pittsburgh
Purdue
Rutgers
Syracuse

West Division
Illinois
Iowa
Michigan
Michigan St.
Minnesota
Missouri
Notre Dame
Wisconsin

Yes, I realize I put Ohio St. and Michigan in two separate divisions.  In football, I think their rivalry can be resumed through scheduling.  Each team will play the seven other teams in their division plus one game against a team from the other division.  That team may always be the same team, like in the case of Michigan and Ohio St., or the team may vary.  Of course, you may have a situation where Michigan and Ohio St. play early in the season and then matchup in the conference championship game at the end of the season.

What I was really shooting for in creating the divisions was competitive balance.  But that’s like throwing darts at a moving target.   What are your thoughts on my proposed divisions?  Any specific schools that must be in the same division?

So, the third phase of expansion is complete and the Big Ten is now the Big 16.  Will the other power conferences stand still or will they look to pick up some of the pieces that remain?  I certainly don’t think it ends here…I’ll be posting the next phase in a few days.

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I believe an NCAA mega conference expansion is inevitable.  I’ve also written that when everything shakes out I’d prefer that Syracuse become a member of the ACC.  I’ve been thinking through what I think will actually happen and now have predictions for the full mega conference expansion.  Because I think it is going to happen in phases, I am going to post it in phases.  I believe phase one will be the initial Big Ten expansion. 

As others have written, the Big Ten expansion is mostly about television markets.  Because of the Big Ten Network, universities that are featured in major televison markets stand to bring in a substantial amount of revenue for the existing programs in the conference.  The Big Ten can add a program that on its face doesn’t seem to bring a lot from a competitive standpoint, but because of the market that university operates in, can still bring in enough revenue to supplement the current annual Big Ten pay out per school of $20-22 million through new advertising and subscriptions.

The ultimate prize in the conference expansion is Notre Dame.  The huge NBC television contract and national popularity would greatly enhance revenue for any conference Notre Dame would join.  That impact would be even more substantial if the Big Ten can secure the Irish because of the Big Ten Network.  While I think Notre Dame will still resist this initial Big Ten expansion, I don’t think they’ll be able to stay away for long.  Their athletic director, Jack Swarbrick, has expressed the school’s desire to remain an independent.  However, he said in March, “You each could invent a scenario that would force our hand. It’s not hard to do.”  Swarbrick also said, “The only things that could make it happen are the sorts of radical change in the industry that would cause upheaval and impact a lot more (schools) than Notre Dame.”

To me that means that if major programs start leaving the Big East, Notre Dame will likely be forced to follow suit.  So what does the Big Ten do to force Notre Dame’s hand?

I think the Big Ten will not jump directly to 16, although they would if Notre Dame was ready to join the conference.  I think the Big Ten will likely expand to 14 programs and invite three Big East schools – Syracuse, Rutgers and Pittsburgh.  The Big Ten will add these three schools because:

  1. Each matches the academic profile of the conference.  Academic fit is extremely important to the Big Ten.
  2. They open up bigger television markets (New York, New Jersey and Pittsburgh).
  3. Their exit from the Big East will essentially cripple the conference and force each current member, especially Notre Dame, to make major decisions.

So what happens next?  Which conference will make the next move?  Look for my next post in a couple of days.

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It is now inevitable that there will be a major football-based expansion of the current power broker conferences in the NCAA, likely leading to four mega conferences.  I’ve been saying this was a natural progression since the recent ACC expansion and referenced a “massive” expansion in my post about Rutgers leaving the Big East for the Big Ten.

The Big Ten seems to be ready to make the first move, but I agree with Michael Felder at In The Bleachers who says that the ACC, SEC and Pac 10 would be wise to make their moves first.  The Big East and Big 12 should be trying to sure up their conferences by considering creative expansion as well.  The Big East has tried to take a step in that direction by hiring Paul Tagliabue.  I don’t think that is going to help.

So it appears that the conference alignment for my beloved Syracuse Orange is going to change dramatically.  If the Big Ten expands by more than one program the Orange will be heavily considered for an invitation.  Brian Bennett of ESPN’s Big East Football blog posted his Big East expansion worry-o-meter today.  He lists Syracuse as the third most likely school to get an invitation from the Big Ten behind Rutgers and Pittsburgh. 

There would certainly be positives in joining the Big Ten.  The league currently pays out $22 million to each of its members per year.  The Big Ten Network offers a lot of potential for additional revenue, especially if expansion hits major television markets.  The Big Ten should also provide an opportunity to re-ignite the football rivalry with Penn State and start new rivalries with other Midwest high profile programs.

If the Orange are not invited to join the Big Ten it is likely that they will be one of only a handful of football playing schools left in the Big East.  They should be a nice target for an ACC expansion.  Syracuse was initially invited to join the ACC in the first phase of the early 2000s expansion but was then uninvited.  Nice work John Swofford.  This time the invite would be for real. 

A major positive of joining the ACC would be the conference’s focus on basketball.  While this means there won’t be as much revenue in the mix, it does play to the strength of the sports programs at the school.  How electric would the Carrier Dome be for a late February match up against Duke or UNC?  Immediately Syracuse would take its deserved place among the blue bloods of the sport.  Another plus of ACC membership would be lacrosse.  The ACC would inarguably be the best lacrosse conference in the country.

So where would I like to see Syracuse end up?  It’s taken me a while to figure this out and that is why this post has been delayed.  I’d like to see them join the ACC.  It’s hard to pass up the money the Big Ten would bring but the ACC would be the more natural fit to me.  I like the conference’s emphasis on basketball and I think the football program would have a better chance for success.  I also think that it would be likely that UConn would be invited to join the ACC as well.  That would bring a good rival into the conference with the Orange.

On a personal note, joining the ACC would enable me to see the Orange much more often as living in Raleigh I could go to games at N.C. State, North Carolina and Duke.

So share with me Orange fans, what conference would you like to see Syracuse join?

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Good in-depth analysis here from Jason Nessa on Big Ten expansion.  He believes their best move would be to go to 14 teams with Texas, Missouri and Rutgers being the additions.  I don’t see Texas switching conferences, but he does make a good argument.

I’ve already written that I expect Rutgers to go to the Big Ten.  Recently there were false rumors about Pittsburgh making the leap from the Big East to the Big Ten.  The expectation is that if the Big Ten does decide to expand they will be extending the invitations toward the end of 2010 or even early 2011.  Regardless it does appear to be likely that at least one Big East school will be in the crosshairs.

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ESPN’s Big East Blogger Brian Bennett says Rutgers would waste no time accepting the invitation to join the Big Ten.  So when they leave what should the Big East do?

While they certainly don’t want to fade into football obscurity, I believe they would be much better served by turning this into an opportunity to further solidify the league as the best basketball conference in the country.  They could do this with one invite that will also open the league to a new pipeline of athletes from a city that has a lot of them – Memphis. 

While Memphis is not the slam dunk it would be if Calipari was still there, based on the reputation Josh Pastner has earned as a tireless worker and excellent recruiter I believe the program will still be quite successful.  And they will certainly fit in nicely with the other 15 teams playing hoops in the Big East.

The Tigers’ success in football has certainly not reached that of their basketball program.  But to survive, the Big East is going to have to realize that they have to build on their strength, basketball, and just try to hold on to their representation in the BCS in football.  Diluting their basketball product to only maintain their current football standing will only leave the league more susceptible to poaching when the inevitable “massive” expansion occurs.  Their only hope to hold on to their legacy members when that expansion occurs is to build the best basketball conference they can.

Having said all that…of course the first call would have to be placed to Notre Dame to see if they have any interest in becoming a full member.  I can’t imagine they would.

As for the “massive” expansion – I’ll tackle that in a future post.

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