The Big Ten, Expansion, And What Might Happen
Posted May 10, 2010

The Big Ten has thrown the world into a tizzy without actually doing anything yet. So what's the league really going to do and who's going to join? How will college football possibly look ten years from now? Why does everyone want to be in the Big Ten anyway? All the top expansion questions are answered.


May 10 - Conference Expansion

Fire over your questions, comments, and baskets of mini-muffins to

- ASK CFNs 1/22 - Bowl Matchups | 1/29 - Being Boise State 
2/11 Part One - Greatest QB Ever | 2/11 - Comparing soccer and college football 
3/12 - Where are the Texas titles?

What NFL Draft? Were there spring games (outside of Alabama)? Were there any other news stories? Every radio interview and every sports conversation I've had over the last few weeks surrounds the one hot topic on every college football fan's mind … expansion and realignment.

The Big Ten sure has thrown the world into a tizzy.

I've been wanting to do an ASK CFN for weeks, but almost every question has been about what's about to happen to the alignment of the college football world. Here are some of the main questions that touch on what everyone is asking about, along with some thoughts about what's probably going to happen.

Q: I consider myself a relatively sane and rational person. So why is it that I'm having a hard time believing that Big Ten expansion talk is that big a deal? Many are predicting Armageddon, but I'm just not seeing it. Is this all really going to happen? - NR

A: Yeah, it's really going to happen, but I can see where you're coming from. The crazy part about all the speculation is that the Big Ten hasn't actually done anything concrete, yet the mere speculation of what it might do has set in motion a whirlwind of chaos.

All the Big Ten did was say it was thinking about expanding, and that was enough, for some, to declare the end of collegiate athletics as we know it. All the Big Ten needed to do was talk about Texas in a let's-just-do-some-spitballin'-after-lunch sort of way, without doing any real leg work on the idea, and some have the Big 12 dead and buried (fine, I'm part of that crowd … more on that in a moment). All it did was say it would like to move up the timetable on expansion, with no specifics whatsoever, and the 2010 college football season has its year-long storyline that won't go away.

Big Ten head honcho, Jim Delany, would never, ever, ever let the word expansion come out of the mouths of anyone associated with the league without there being some teeth behind it. This is going to happen, but the big question is going to be how the dominoes fall and how the Big Ten wants to reinvent itself. Of course, the other question will be if the league actually keeps its name.

Q: Give me the odds of the Big Ten expanding to 12 teams, 14, and 16. - BH

A: I'd make it a 7-to-1 shot that the Big Ten goes to 16, 10-to-1 of going to 14, and 100-to-1 of taking on just one team. The league might stagger the expansion a bit, sort of like the ACC did, and it could bring in one team now and two to four more later after more research and negotiation. Unless it's Texas or Notre Dame (and it won't be), bringing in just one team isn't going to cut it at this point; Delany will make a splash and won't settle for a ripple. With so many schools lining up to join the fun, adding five more will be easy and the Big Ten can pick and choose to create the right fit to make the most money.

Q: When all the dust settles, who's going to be in the Big Ten and how will it be aligned? - JG

A: If all the inside info really is true, I'll be shocked if the Big Ten doesn't go to 16, and there's just no way it'll go to 12. 14 is a possibility if there's a backlash or if there's a change of heart from some schools that appear to be locks, but it appears that the Big Ten will likely have two divisions of eight.

In the pecking order of schools on the Big Ten radar, it goes Rutgers (expands the Big Ten further into the New York City market and pushes the league out to the Atlantic Ocean), Missouri (mediocre academics are a problem, but the St. Louis and Kansas City markets and a natural tie-in with Illinois will help), Nebraska (the TV market isn't a plus, but the football program adds luster), Syracuse (basketball, basketball, basketball), Connecticut (basketball, basketball, basketball … remember, Delany has a hoops background), and with Pitt (big city, natural geographic tie-in with Penn State and Ohio State) in the mix.

Your Big Ten, if it goes to 16, will probably end up being (with the new schools in bold) …

EAST: Connecticut, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Syracuse
WEST: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin

If it goes to 14, the Big Ten will probably end up being …

EAST: Connecticut, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers
WEST: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin

Q: Since when does the Big Ten have so much power? It's not even the best football conference, and in most years it's not even second best? What am I missing? - PT

A: It's not just about the win-loss records on the field. It's about money, academics, prestige, and more money.

To understand why Big Ten expansion is such a big deal, you need to try to grasp just what a monster the conference is when it comes to history and reputation. While the SEC might be the best football conference, without question, and the Big East and ACC might be the current stars in basketball, the Big Ten is the club almost everyone wants to be in (unless you're a filthy rich school like Texas or Notre Dame).

The Big Ten has everything in its favor with the combination of geographic reach, the right TV times, the mega-stadiums, the gigantic alumni bases, and the educational reputation. While a lot of that might be more bluster than fact, the dollars generated by the league and the academic rankings are the real deal. It's also a big help to have the right TV markets with Chicago (No. 3), Philadelphia (No. 4), Detroit (No. 11), Minneapolis (No. 15), Cleveland (No. 17), St. Louis (No. 21), Pittsburgh (No. 23), and Indianapolis (No. 25) all counted in the Big Ten TV equation. Throw New York (No. 1) and Boston (No. 7) into the mix, when the ACC and Big East games aren't taking up the prime Saturday daypart, add to the equation the early ESPN games from coast-to-coast and the expansion of the Big Ten Network, and throw in the the nation's No. 32 (Columbus), 34 (Cincinnati) and 35 (Milwaukee) TV markets, and the league's exposure is unparalleled.

Q: Is the Big 12 really that bad? Why do all the Big 12 teams seem to want to jump ship to other leagues? Why wouldn't the Big 12 do some sort of a preemptive strike and try to take away Big Ten teams? - TY

A: If you're outside of a Big 12 city, good luck finding a mid-level conference game on a normal October Saturday. The exposure isn't nearly as big as the Big Ten gets, the academics aren't even close, and schools like Missouri are tired of not getting any sort of a spotlight, or the dollars, compared to Texas and Oklahoma, and doesn't get the bowl money compared to the mid-level Big Ten teams. It's not like Mizzou would be the shining star in the Big Ten, but at least it would be getting paid better and it would upgrade the educational side. It's not like Iowa and Michigan State are going Ivy League soon, but they have far better academic reputations than almost everyone in the Big 12.

The Big 12 could quickly take over TCU without a problem, and it might try to swallow up Utah and BYU before the Pac 10 does, but that's not like getting the bigger-name schools from the BCS leagues. Forget about getting anyone from the Big Ten.

Q: Alright, give it to me straight. How much longer does my beloved Big 12 have to live? - TO

A: About ten minutes in its current form, but it won't go away like the Big East might. Consider Missouri and Nebraska gone to the Big Ten, Colorado might go to the Pac 10, and there's a chance that Texas someday goes independent, becomes another Notre Dame, and forms its own Texas Sports Network with the monster baseball and basketball programs getting the coverage of the football team. There will still be a Big 12, but it's not going to have the look and feel of the past decade.

Q: It's 2020. What are all the conferences going to look like? - MR

A: Sooner than later, I foresee a day when the little guys are squeezed out completely and moved to another division. Eastern Michigan just can't compete with Michigan when it comes to attendance, funding, and in every other way a you want to compare football programs. The big boys are going to realize the money to be made by creating an uber-division of elite teams and conferences, and the Big Ten is getting the ball rolling now. After all the dust settles from expansion and realignment, here's my best guess (with the new schools in each league in bold) for how the college football world will look ten years from now …

ACC – Boston College, Cincinnati, Duke, East Carolina, Florida State, Maryland, Memphis, Miami, North Carolina, NC State, Pitt, UCF, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, West Virginia

Big Ten – Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Syracuse, Purdue, Wisconsin

Big 12 – Baylor, BYU, Colorado State, Houston, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, SMU, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, TCU, Utah

Pac 10 – Arizona, Arizona State, Boise State, California, Colorado, Fresno State, Nevada, Oregon, Oregon State, San Diego State, Stanford, UCLA, UNLV, USC, Washington, Washington State

SEC – Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Louisville, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina, South Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt

The Big East will dissipate with all its top teams being swallowed up, meaning there will be five mega-conferences with 16 teams each. That would make an upper-level division of 80 teams with Notre Dame staying independent and remaining in the BCS mix.

Army and Navy, all MAC and Sun Belt teams, six current WAC teams (Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State, and Utah State), two Mountain West teams (Air Force and Wyoming), and seven Conference USA teams (Marshall, Rice, Southern Miss, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB, and UTEP), will create a mid-level division between the current FBS and FCS. They'll have the ability to play the upper-division teams and with bowl tie-ins, but they won't have the legal ability to be eligible for the BCS.

Q: I don't get it. Why wouldn't Notre Dame jump at the chance to be in the Big Ten? Aren't they going to eventually end up joining? - FF

A: Beyond the non-revenue sport aspect, why would Notre Dame want to join any conference? It has the biggest brand name in college athletics, and possibly all of sports, it has its own network setup with NBC, has a sweetheart of a BCS deal (needing to finish in the top eight to get an automatic berth and getting $1.3 million every year no matter what, compared to the $100,000 Army and Navy receive), and it gets to keep all of its bowl money. Why would the school want to share a dime with anyone else?

Notre Dame is loaded. The school's endowment took a major hit in the current economy yet it's still speculated to be over $6 billion. Of the schools in the FCS, only Stanford, Texas, Michigan, Northwestern, and Texas A&M are richer. Notre Dame doesn't need money, it doesn't need to lessen its national profile or football brand name by joining the Big Ten, and it doesn't need to take a chance on being an also-ran when 10-2 all but guarantees a BCS bid and 9-3 makes it close. The school might want to be a part of the Big Ten for the other sports and the academic tie-ins, but that's not enough.

There's also the problem of the Big Ten not necessarily wanting Notre Dame. To get the Irish, the Big Ten would have to bend over backwards and come up with a special deal to take into account the financial football sacrifice the school would likely make by joining. If the Big Ten gives Notre Dame a bigger piece of the pie, then Ohio State would likely throw a hissy fit about wanting its own deal with the league, considering it's been doing most of the heavy lifting football-wise over the last several years. To make a long answer short, it'll take something special for Notre Dame to join the Big Ten.

Q: After the Big Ten expands, does that mean we're closer to a playoff? - DM

A: Nope. Unfortunately, conference expansion might do even less to bring a playoff since the money will be so impressive and so great that the commissioners aren't going to want to do anything to mess with the cash cow. If there's a playoff in the next decade, it's not likely going to have anything to do with expansion.