image from sportsflagsandpennants.com
First and foremost, I apologize for the long absence of posts. My computer once again went on the fritz. Unlike last time, I’ve missed way too much, and I’m just going to move forward without a recap. Sorry if you’re disappointed.
But there was something that was interesting that I wanted to touch on. If you haven’t heard, the Big Ten issued a statement today saying they may be interested in a 12th team. Here’s the story. First of all, I’ll believe Big Ten expansion when I see it. They have a lot to gain, but they’re a tradition filled group, and I’m not sure there are any immediately available teams that fit the bill. But, for the sake of a story, and because it’s a neat debate, I thought it would be interesting to examine what team they would select if they were to expand. The obvious first choice would be Notre Dame. Everybody knows that. If expansion were to happen in the near future, I’d imagine the first call the Big Ten would make would be to ND, and I’d imaging the conversation would go something like this:
Big Ten: “Hey Notre Dame. We’re really serious about expansion this time. This is your last chance to get on board with the conference. After this, the door’s closed.”
Notre Dame: “I see. Well, I just built a vault with a diving board to house all of the money from our NBC contract. You know, the money we don’t have to split with anyone? It’s sweet. Now we can go swimming in gold coins like Scrooge McDuck. So, I guess, in short, we’re good. Thanks, though.”
And that would be the end of that. So, assuming Notre Dame turns them down, who would they take? Well, there are a bunch of school names and rumors floating around. Here are my thoughts on each.
Pros: They’re rumored to be angry with the Big XII because they feel like an outcast in the North Division. Do they have the guts to put their money where their mouth is and leave? They’d be a perfect fit. They’re a large, midwestern land grant school. They’ve got a huge following and they’re an established BCS conference team.
Cons: I can’t see them leaving the Big XII. The Big Ten is a good conference, but switching leagues is always a risk, and is the Big Ten that much of an upgrade? They’re not in a bad situation right now. Why would they throw that away? I’d say they’re the obvious second choice, but from here on out I’m assuming they’re not a viable option. That is until I hear something that says they’re officially interested.
Pros: New York market. That’s the reason they’re here. The Big Ten can expand into the largest market in the US. Simple as that. Plus, they add another state to put their cable channel in. Rutgers is also a good academic fit (see the bottom of the post), and they’ve got a decent fan base. All pluses.
Cons: Geography. They don’t really fit. That’s a hike to bring the Iowa field hockey team all the way to New Jersey every year.
Pros: They fit in with the Big Ten well. They’re in the geography, they fit academically, and they’ve got a big football tradition (they’re not at their best right now, but the folks in Ann Arbor would understand that, right?).
Cons: The fan base is tiny. They’re not a big land grant school like the Big Ten teams. They don’t have an entire state rooting for them. Also, they’ve got a fairly undersized athletics department. They only have 17 teams. If they go to the Big Ten, they might have to re-invest some of the increased budget into fielding some more sports (the good news is that they’ve got decent facilities for the non-revenues once the new baseball/soccer fields are complete). But the huge hurdle for them is fans.
Pros: Just like Rutgers, Syracuse would be added to try to grab the New York market. Just like Rutgers they’d fit well academically. They also have a good football tradition that would play well in the Big Ten.
Cons: They have a decent fan base, but I’m not sure it’s as big as Rutgers’ is. The way I see it, if the Big Ten wants to go after New York, Rutgers has the fans and Syracuse has the tradition. The fans (and $) win.
Pros: My, my. I’m not sure this name would have popped up about 2 years ago or so. They’re definitely an up and coming program. They also fit very nicely geographically (if that’s what the Big Ten is going for).
Cons: Lots of them. First of all, they have no consistency in the athletics program. They’re good now, but are they going to be good for the long haul (especially with the coach leaving)? Second of all, they’ve got another small athletics department (14 sports). But most damaging is their facilities. Nippert Stadium is one of the oldest college football stadiums in the country and only seats 35,000. That would be the smallest in the Big Ten by over 10,000 seats.
Pros: They’re similar to Cincy. They fit the geography of the Big Ten. They’ve got an up and coming program in the past few years, they’re building a fan base. Unlike Cincy, they’ve got a very strong athletics department on the whole with some very nice facilities.
Cons: They don’t have the tradition (read: name recognition) that a lot of the other schools have. They don’t really fit academically.
Pros: Besides Mizzou, they’ve got the biggest fan base of any of the Big East schools under consideration. They’ve got a big stadium that they fill up consistently. Their football program’s in the best shape.
Cons: If the Big Ten wants to expand its boundaries, I’m not sure West Virginia is the state it’s got its eye on. Also, the big killer is going to be academics (see below). I have a feeling that academics won’t be the deciding factor by any stretch, but it will be a preliminary screen.
So, overall, I think the obvious first and second choices are Notre Dame and Missouri respectively. But in the extremely likely case that both of those schools turn them down, I see this as a two pony race: Pitt and Rutgers. Both schools fit the academic criteria. Both have facilities that would measure up. They would both do as a 12th team (neither is a perfect fit, but a perfect fit isn’t going to happen). It all comes down to what the Big Ten wants from the 12th team. Pitt would expand the Big Ten brand of midwest schools with solid academics and a deep football tradition. Rutgers would expand the Big Ten footprint to include New York. In other words, Rutgers diminishes the Midwest image that the Big Ten’s getting, but they bring a higher financial return. Pitt would be a solid placeholder that gets them to 12 teams and a championship game. I think I’m not stretching things too much when I say they’re most likely going to opt for Rutgers and the increased market. Money talks, after all. But, as a Pitt fan who would not want to be left behind in a Big East jilted again, I offer this caution to the Big Ten. Remember the ACC. They really wanted the New England market, so they took BC. They wanted to go from a southeastern conference to an east coast conference. Well, Boston didn’t care about BC before, and they don’t care about them now. Think a lot of schools wouldn’t trade that extra “exposure” so that they don’t have to fly the mens cross country team from Atlanta to Boston every year? I’m just saying…..
Knowing that academics is probably going to be a weed out, I did some research. Here are the academic rankings of the current Big Ten members, and the prospective teams. The ARWU is the Academic Ranking of World Universities: a 100 university list of schools from around the globe produced yearly by Shanghai Jiao Tong University. You can read about it here. USNWR is the US News and World Reports yearly ranking of US universities. 133 were ranked in 2009, with the rest being grouped into ‘Tier 3’ and ‘Tier 4’. Those are the two most widely cited rankings I could find. Public Ivy is a list comprised by Richard Moll of Yale University and has been widely used since. The original list had 8 schools and 9 runners-up. The list was expanded to 30 schools in 2001. You can read about it here. Since the Big Ten is mostly public universities that pride themselves on being on this list, I thought it was relevant.
School 2009 USNWR Rank 2009 ARWU Rank Public Ivy Class
Michigan 27 22 Original 8
Michigan State 71 (tie) 86 2001 List
Iowa 71 (tie) NR (last ranked #97 in 2007) 2001 List
Minnesota 61 (tie) 28 2001 List
Wisconsin 39 (tie) 17 Original Runner-Up
Illinois 39 (tie) 25 Original Runner-Up
Northwestern 12 30 (Private)
Indiana 71 (tie) 93 2001 List
Purdue 61 (tie) 65 N/A
Ohio State 53 (tie) 62 2001 List
Penn State 47 (tie) 45 Original Runner-Up
Missouri 102 (tie) NR N/A
Rutgers 66 (tie) 55 2001 List
Syracuse 58 (tie) NR (Private)
Pitt 56 (tie) 50 Original Runner-Up
Cincinnati Tier 3 NR N/A
Louisville Tier 3 NR N/A
WVU Tier 3 NR N/A
And just so I don’t get accused of putting up numbers that only make Pitt look like the obvious choice, here are the football stadium capacities, football average attendance and number of varsity sports for each team:
School Stadium Capacity 2008 Attendance # Varsity Sports
Michigan 106,201 108,571 25
Michigan State 75,005 74,858 20
Iowa 70,585 70,169 20
Minnesota 50,000 48,958 23
Wisconsin 80,321 81,088 23
Illinois 62,870 61,707 19
Northwestern 47,130 28,590 19
Indiana 49,225 31,782 22
Purdue 62,500 56,702 18
Ohio State 102,329 104,976 36
Penn State 107,282 108,254 27
Missouri 68,349 64,520 18
Rutgers 54,000 42,378 22
Syracuse 49,262 33,474 20
Pitt 65,050 49,352 17
Cincinnati 35,000 31,965 14
Louisville 42,000 39,680 21
WVU 60,000 58,085 16