Three ways expansion can become reality and make everyone happy
Penn State coach Joe Paterno has called for the Big Ten to expand to 12 teams
Expansion would allow Big Ten, Pac-10 to benefit from conference-title games
One realignment scenario could generate more profit and quiet most BCS critics
Penn State coach Joe Paterno wants the Big Ten to add a 12th team. While such a move would make the conference's name even more mathematically incorrect, it would allow the league to stage a championship game that would bring in more money and keep the Big Ten's best teams in poll voters' minds come early December. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, however, has said the league doesn't intend to expand anytime soon.
But since it's June and the season is still three months away, we have chosen to ignore reality and examine some conference realignment possibilities, including one scenario that would silence the loudest cries for a playoff. This is pure, rampant speculation, but there's a kernel of possibility in each suggestion.
Since Penn State's move to the Big Ten in 1991 served as the first tectonic shift in that it produced the foundation for the current conference alignment, we'll use Paterno's suggestion -- that the Big Ten expand and stage a championship game -- as the jumping off point. Our first scenario won't make Paterno very happy, though, because it would add the 800-pound gorilla of college football marketing to the Big Ten.
The Big Ten Controls the Universe Scenario
If Notre Dame's negotiations for its own football television contract ever fall short of expectations, the failure of that deal could produce the most financially attractive marriage in college sports. The Big Ten already rakes in the dough thanks to massive fan bases and a dedicated television network; Notre Dame would bring a nationwide fan base that would make it nearly impossible for any cable system to stand up to the conference. Ad rates for the Big Ten network would soar, as would the potential value of the Big Ten's contract with ESPN/ABC or with any other network wishing to broadcast Big Ten football. Meanwhile, Notre Dame, an iconic program that plays a brand of football well suited to Midwestern sensibilities, would be a perfect geographic and philosophical fit for the league.
If there ever were a conference leaving money on the table by not staging a title game, it's the Big Ten. Sure, the ACC's conference title game has been a disaster, but a Big Ten championship game would more closely resemble the SEC's. The most recent SEC title game brought in $14.3 million, which the conference members split. Chicago is the Big Ten's Atlanta, but since Soldier Field might be frozen come championship Saturday, it'd probably be best to hold the title game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis every year. For most Big Ten fans, Indy is a drive or a cheap flight away, and the city has a walkable, safe downtown area packed with hotels, bars and restaurants.
So how would Notre Dame fit into the league? Remember, to stage a title game, the 12-team Big Ten would have to split into divisions. Notre Dame would want to play Michigan every year, but it would want to avoid an annual schedule that included Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. Here's a way to keep the rivalries intact without making the marquee teams pound one another every season.
Place Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue, Ohio State and Wisconsin in one division and Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Notre Dame in another. Using the SEC model, which features one fixed interdivisional rivalry per team, would ensure the continuation of the Michigan-Ohio State series. The lone drawback would be that if Michigan and Ohio State each won their divisions, they might have to face off in consecutive games.
Fans of other conferences would absolutely hate this lineup. Complaints about the media overhyping the Big Ten would increase exponentially. TV executives wouldn't care, though. They would pay, and Big Ten members would laugh all the way to the bank.
The More Likely Scenario
Paterno has said he doesn't want Notre Dame, and if NBC keeps forking over big bucks to broadcast the Fighting Irish, Notre Dame won't want the Big Ten, either. So that leaves us with Paterno's suggestion to add a Big East member, specifically Pittsburgh, Rutgers or Syracuse. The best possible fit for competitive and financial reasons would be Rutgers, a state school with a large alumni base that would add the nation's largest TV market to the Big Ten footprint.
Adding Rutgers would allow the Big Ten to stage a championship game, and league members would appreciate the chance to play in talent-rich New Jersey. The Big East, however, wouldn't be so happy. Only a few years removed from losing Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC, the league would again have to seek a new member. Two schools would be logical fits.
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