Big 10 commissioner Jim Delaney has consistently said that conference expansion was a “back-burner issue”. Now it appears that the conference will get more aggressive about finding a 12th member in order to qualify for a conference championship game. A conference official said this week that there is quite a “growing groundswell” of support for the idea now, an idea that has grown since the Big 10 meetings back in May.
Why the sudden push? Naturally, money comes into play, as a Big 10(12) CG could be worthas much a $5 million or more to the conference in additional revenues. Plus, some conference members are starting to feel a little left out, what with all three major conference CGs having been played December 5th. “We’re irrelevant for the last three weeks of the football season because we’re not playing,” said Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez. Back during the meetings in May, Joe Paterno said of a championship game, “Everybody else is playing playoffs on television. You never see a Big Ten team mentioned. So I think that’s a handicap.” But not everyone is for an immediate switch. Northwestern’s coach, Pat Fitzgerald, appears to be a traditionalist and is dead set against it.
So where does Delaney stand? Although he was not interviewed for the above-referenced article, he was on the record in May withthis: “I’m agnostic. I could live with two divisions and a championship game, but I think that has a tendency to devalue the season-ending game and have a negative impact (in terms of at-large BCS selection) on your losing team in season-ending games.I don’t want us to tear ourselves apart over the structure of football for the sake of expansion.” Delaney also wants to add an “institution”, not a team. That could mean a school which has a substantial athletic tradition and not a johnny-come-lately.
So who do they grab? That’s not entirely easy to decipher. The logical choice is Notre Dame, but after being rebuffed by the Irish in 1999, the polictics of the matter seem too strong to warrant a revisitation of that scenario. JoPa summed it up quite nicely earlier this year: “There’s some pressure, I would suppose, to maybe go back to NotreDame and ask again, which I would not be happy with,” Paterno said in May. “I think they’ve had their chance.”
So who else? Other than adding a service academy (which might be the best shot for the Big East) it’s going to involve a poaching from another BCS conference, with the Big East being the most likley target. But not any conference is above being looted. Indiana blog The Crimson Quarry gives a breakdown of teams in the geographic area that may fit the bill.
Although it’s hard to imagine Kentucky walking away from SEC gold and Maryland leaving the frying pan for the fire, Iowa State and Nebraska provide interesting choices. Lest you forgot, the Big 12 is sewn together from remnants of the old Southwestern and Big 8 conferences, with the Huskers and the Cyclones being from the latter. With the exception of Nebraska–Oklahoma, there’s not a lot of history there that wouldn’t be worth losing. Either team could merge easily into a Big 10(12) schedule, but there’s no doubt that Nebraska would be quite the coup d’ etat.
As far as the usual suspects from the Big East, Pitt seems to be the favorite and we could finally see them and Penn State pick up their recently hibernated series again. But with yet another possible poaching in the works, the Big East would be wise to strongly consider expansion and attempt to lock in their existing members in an attempt to stave off a pick-pocketing attempt from their western neighbor.