To go, or not to go? That's the question for expansion candidates
Expansion has dominated headlines, but who might go where remains mystery
Jumping ship makes perfect sense for some schools, much less sense for others
We all know obvious candidates, but what about wild card teams like Maryland?
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany broke free from his "silent phase" this week to throw cold water on a report from a Kansas City radio station that league had extended invitations to Missouri, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Rutgers and planned to expand to 14 or 16 schools depending on whether Notre Dame accepted its invitation. Delany e-mailed conference officials to deny the report. Missouri, Notre Dame and Rutgers also issued denials.
This probably will happen several more times before the Big Ten finalizes its expansion plans and sets off a high-stakes game of musical chairs in the other conferences. Lacking any actual news, people will seize on any nugget they can get.
I can't offer a clear picture of the new conference alignments, but I can offer a school-by-school breakdown of the players in this expansion sweepstakes. Hopefully, it will explain some of the issues university presidents will consider as they deliberate on expansion. If nothing else, it will give you something to read as you suffer through the silent phase.
The Big East Candidates
RUTGERS: Why start with the Scarlet Knights? It's only fair to begin with one of the schools that played in the first intercollegiate football game. But really, why would the Big Ten want to add an athletic department with a football team that has accomplished so little since hosting the sport's first game in 1869? That question comes up a lot from people who don't understand what the expansion is really about. Certainly, Rutgers is a candidate because it's a flagship state university with a great academic reputation. But the most important reason is that Rutgers might help deliver the New York market.
The argument against this is that there aren't enough Rutgers fans to produce a noticeable spike in viewership. That's a legitimate concern. One school of thought is that the Big Ten Network doesn't need to earn boffo ratings. It needs only to move into a better spot in the channel lineup. The BTN is carried by Cablevision, which boasts 3.1 million subscribers in the massive New York market. At the moment, the channel is available on an a la carte service tier. With a local team in the conference, Cablevision and other carriers might be persuaded to shift the Big Ten Network to their expanded basic tiers (alongside Lifetime, SyFy and others of that ilk). That could pave the way for an arrangement similar to the one between the BTN and carriers in the league's current eight-state footprint that pays the Big Ten Network 70 cents per subscriber per month, according to Mediaweek and this excellent Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune story. Do the math. Using only Cablevision's subscriber total, that's an additional $2.17 million a month in revenue -- and it doesn't include the additional amount the BTN could charge advertisers because of its larger subscriber base.
Prediction: As long as the cable companies are willing to play ball, the Big Ten-Rutgers marriage would benefit both parties.
SYRACUSE: If Rutgers isn't enough to deliver the nation's largest television market, maybe the Orange could assist -- in spite of hoops coach Jim Boeheim's objections. Remember this, though: The Big Ten isn't going to take any schools that can't add a "pro-rata share," as Delany put it. In other words, the league won't expand to the point that each school receives less money than it already does. Syracuse is a private school with a smaller alumni base, so that is a concern. It is a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, though, a fact that would please Big Ten presidents.
Prediction: Any Big East school that receives an invitation will go, but the question is whether Syracuse brings enough to the table to earn an invite.
CONNECTICUT: The Huskies also could help deliver the New York market, but the fact that UConn isn't in the AAU might be a stumbling block.
Prediction: If Rutgers alone doesn't open up the New York market, UConn and Syracuse could help. The potential financial benefit would justify taking two schools, but would it justify three? If it's two, Big Ten officials would have to determine which pair brings the most value.
PITTSBURGH: The Panthers have a fine football tradition and sit on a fertile recruiting base and Pitt is an AAU member, but the Big Ten already has a foothold in all of Pennsylvania's television markets because of Penn State. It's tough to imagine Pitt bringing enough new revenue to justify an invitation.
Prediction: Unless the Big Ten needs to grab another Big East team to lure Notre Dame, Pitt doesn't seem like a sensible option.
The (Sort of) Big East Candidate
NOTRE DAME: The Fighting Irish, Big East members in every sport except football and hockey, are in a unique position because Notre Dame's administration and a significant number of alumni would prefer the school turn down money to retain its football independence. Though some assume Notre Dame's deal with NBC is more lucrative than any it would receive from a conference, that simply isn't the case. The New York Times reported in December that Notre Dame's current NBC contract (which runs through 2015) pays the school about $15 million a year. The best estimate for the Big Ten's revenue distribution during the next few years is about $20-$22 million per school per year, but that figure also includes bowl and NCAA Tournament revenue. Given the current revenues, Notre Dame -- which received $1.3 million from the BCS in 2009 -- still would stand to make slightly more as a Big Ten member.
That "slightly" is a bit misleading, because adding Notre Dame would allow the BTN to expand its revenue base nationwide. Cable systems in markets with a heavy Catholic populations would consider placing the BTN on expanded basic, adding to the pot. Another question is Notre Dame's future with NBC. Cable giant Comcast is acquiring the network at a time when Notre Dame's brand, while still powerful, doesn't carry the weight it did in 1991 when the first NBC pact began.
Prediction: Despite the financial benefit it could offer Notre Dame, the Big Ten still would need to blow up the Big East to force Notre Dame's hand. That probably would require the acquisition of at least three Big East teams. If that doesn't happen, expect Notre Dame to remain independent in football.
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