The Big 10 fired the opener with news of a possible expansion study, and now with many of the other conferences having their summer meetings, college athletics is aghast with expansion speculation. From all the hemming and hawing, the most likely loser in all this is the Big 12 – especially with the news that the Pac 10 may extend invitations to the four Texas schools and two Oklahoma schools in an attempt to seriously redefine themselves.
So what’s our take on all this? Well count me as opposed to the idea of four ‘mega-conferences’ with 16plus teams that dominate Division 1. The Big East has too many teams; it’s unwieldy and saturated. To see the Big 10, Pac 10, and SEC go this route would diminish the regional ties and in some ways solidify certain teams’ choke-holds at the top of their leagues. On the other hand, with conferences that big, winning your league would really mean something again.
The only sport it would really make sense for is football, which is the reason the Big 10 started exploring options to begin with. Like it or not, football is the NCAA cash king. The Big 10 wants a championship game, and mega-conferences would probably make it easier to transition to a playoff system. More money for TV deals means more revenue to fund the other sports – the inherent irony. Because for the rest of college athletics, large regional conferences with long road-trips would only add headaches.
One thing you’ll hear the college presidents and various ADs talk about is, ‘academic fit’. While this might have some effect, it’s actually a laugher. The Big 10 might care to some degree about academic reputation when extending an offer, but it’s really about the TV markets. Why else would the Pac 10 be gambling so high on the state of Texas? They want to expand that all-powerful media imprint so they can renegotiate for better TV $$$ next year. You think the Standford faculty is thrilled with being linked with, say, Texas Tech?
What do we hope happens? The Big 10 adds just a single team and everything else stays pretty much the same. My personal choice would be Missouri – the Tigers are in the region, they’re natural rivals, and it wouldn’t totally upset the balance of the NCAA. The Big 12 could then backfill with TCU or Colorado State or even raid Arkansas back from the SEC and everything’s cool. Of course a lot of folks in the Midwest think Notre Dame is the perfect fit, and maybe they are, but I’m sick of their holier-than-thou attitude. As much as I love the idea of heading north to South Bend to watch the Illini beat them, they can continue to suck in the Big East and watch their vaunted TV contract dry up and spiral into a has-been for all I care.
What we hope doesn’t happen… The Big 10 adds three schools – call them Missouri, Nebraska, and Notre Dame – which leads to the Texas schools jumping from the Big 12 to the Pac 10, followed by the SEC, ACC and Big East slugging out to expand as well. While it would be humorous to watch longtime NCAA sacred cow Kansas flapping in the breeze alone before heading to Conference USA or the Mountain West, this is just too much chaos and too much tradition scuttled.
So what’s next? The Big 10 seems to hold the cards with all their TV revenue and they’ve repeatedly stood by their original feasibility study timetable. So that means nothing happens for now. They have to decide if adding one or three gets them the $$$ they so covet. But with other leagues making noise, maybe that timetable has to move up. Who knows… Missouri is clearly ready to join, so I say get it done, get your even number of teams and football conference championship, and move on.