Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bigger Ten

Since news started trickling out about Big Ten expansion, lots of people at work have been asking what I think of it. In a nutshell, I think it's a great idea, naming challenges aside.

(In high school, we played in the Wisconsin Little Ten, which had eight teams in it, so I've seen it go both ways.)

Expansion is the logical thing to do, and not just so the conference has a game after Thanksgiving and takes in revenue from a football championship game. More important is adding another top academic institution, broadening the base of exposure to help recruiting, and adding television markets. Here are my preferred Big Ten additions, in order of preference and likelihood:

-Missouri: Good academics, can deliver St. Louis and Kansas City, good athletic traditions but not insurmountable, makes sense geographically. We've recruited really well in St. Louis at times over the years. But has strong ties to former Big Eight schools, rivalry with Kansas.

-Louisville: Great basketball tradition and coach, has reached high levels of football success recently, adjacent to Indiana and Ohio. We've never really recruited there, would be tough to go in and beat Cards, Kentucky, Ohio State and Indiana. Not sure about academics, but it doesn't seem to make anyone's top lists. No history with Big East, although that could be said for much of that monstrosity of a conference.

-Rutgers: Good academics, big state school in rich recruiting state that has been good to us. Not much athletic tradition, recent football success aside, and they aren't really relevant in the New York media market.

-Syracuse: Would love to add them, but it's a long shot.

-Pittsburgh: Same with Pitt.

-Iowa State: Seems like a good school, has had some athletic success at times, but it's hard to see two schools from a states as small as Iowa being in one BCS conference.

I'm not even going to put Notre Dame on this list. They should stay independent, and will, and it makes sense for them. No need to exert our brains thinking about this one.

A friend at work was throwing out names like Boise State and TCU, not sure where he heard that, but it doesn't make much sense. You start doing that and you become a ridiculous amalgamation of teams like the Big East, which makes no sense. Better to stick at 11 than to add a 12th team that doesn't fit right.

What's interesting is to think about how two Big Ten divisions would break down. East-West seems logical, and if the 12th school was Missouri, it would probably go something like:

West: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern, Missouri
East: Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State

The East looks stronger, at least for football, but maybe by not as large of a margin as it might seem. If it was someone like Louisville or Rutgers, it could look something like this:

West: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue
East: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Louisville/Rutgers

You'd almost have to do it this way to preserve the best conference rivalries, the 10 bucket-related games Minnesota plays every year notwithstanding.

(Then again, to reference my high school again, our town had West Bend East and West Bend West in a city that runs primarily north and south, and kids from the same street went to different schools. So reason doesn't always prevail.)

Adding Penn State almost 20 years ago has worked out well. PSU has been a nice addition to the conference without becoming dominant, and has stretched the league's horizons sufficiently eastward. We'll see what happens this time around, should be interesting.

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