The Big Ten fancies itself as being above the fray. Itís a league of 11 universities of high academic repute, a conference that would never compromise itself for cash that has said it isnít interested in expansion.
Fine, fine. But sometimes the winds of change start blowing. Esteemed people within the league like Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee and Penn State football coach Joe Paterno favor the addition of a 12th school and a league football playoff game.
Tuesday, the Big Ten issued a statement (listed at the bottom of this post, after a poll for you readers) †full of cautiously worded gobble-wobble that basically said the time is again right for the league to again evaluate its expansion options.
Something tells me this time the answer this time will be this: Expand.
And when it happens, why, lookie here! The Big Ten can split into two divisions and have a league-title game that could reap $5 million or more a year.
What a nice bonus to adding another esteemed university to the fold.
The Big Ten, meanwhile, stands in the shadows and watches.
The SEC afternoon clash of Alabama and Florida for a BCS title-game berth proved to be a mere warm-up for two compelling night games. Texas-Nebraska and Georgia Tech-Clemson were Big 12 and ACC white-knucklers that made the nation take note of both leagues and their star players, like Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
The last two weeks of the season ó after the final week of Big Ten regular-season play ó was a showcase for top Heisman Trophy candidates. If the Big Ten had featured such a player this year, his profile would have hidden in the two weeks leading up to the Heisman voting deadline.
So, the multimillion-dollar question is who that 12th school should be. It wonít be Notre Dame. Thatís been made clear long enough. The school values its football independence and whopping television revenue too much.
The Big Ten has said it wonít accept a school that isnít a member of the Association of American Universities, a collection of 62 institutions that includes every Big Ten school. Other members include Missouri, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Syracuse. Coincidentally, all have been bandied about as potential Big Ten expansion candidates. So is Nebraska, but I can't see it as a logical pick so I'm not going to expand on its chances. I could be wrong, but we won't know for quite a while, and my follies here will be long forgotten. I hope.
From a strictly athletics point of view, none of the apparent possibilities seems to be a perfect fit. But most could probably blend in without trauma. Hereís how Iíd score each on a 1-through-10 basis with 10 the highest:
Pittsburgh: 4. The Big Ten has Pennsylvania covered with Penn State, so Pitt wouldnít add more TV sets or additional geography to the equation. Pittsburgh is a football city, however, and a Big Ten expansion is about football.
Syracuse: 2. Syracuse football hasnít been a national program in quite a while. Upstate New York isnít the New York City-New Jersey market. Manhattan is 250 miles from Syracuse. It might as well be 2,500.
Rutgers: 4. Rutgers has a 52,000-seat football stadium, small by Big Ten standards. But Minnesotaís new campus stadium is about the same size. Though the school has had a football rejuvenation the last few years, it doesnít begin to compare in football tradition with most of the Big Tenís programs. But Rutgers Stadium is just 35 miles from Manhattan, the media mecca of the world.
Missouri: 5. Missouri football makes no more of a blip nationally than the other three programs rated here. To Iowa Stateís benefit, the Tigers again got bumped down the Big 12ís bowlsí pecking order this year because they are perceived as a team that doesnít bring many fans with them.
But it would be a new state for the Big Ten with two big markets in St. Louis and Kansas City, and Missouri would be geographically closer to more league teams than Rutgers or Syracuse.
How about Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton hopping right into the competition, by saying ďThe University of Missouri has not been contacted by the Big Ten. Should there be an official inquiry or invitation, we would evaluate it based upon what would be in the best interest of MU athletically and academically."
The Kansas City Star's story on that is at http://www.kansascity.com/news/breaking_news/story/1632957.html
Thereís only one way to really settle this. Let the behind-the-scenes bribery begin.
BIG TEN STATEMENT ON EXPANSION
Park Ridge, Ill. Ė The Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors (COP/C) discussed the future of the Big Ten Conference at its winter meetings on Dec. 6 in Park Ridge, Illinois. The following statement is issued by the Big Ten office on behalf of the COP/C.
Penn State joined the Big Ten Conference in June of 1990 and its addition has been an unqualified success. In 1993, 1998 and 2003 the COP/C, in coordination with the commissionerís office, reviewed the issue of conference structure and expansion. The COP/C believes that the timing is right for the conference to once again conduct a thorough evaluation of options for conference structure and expansion. As a result, the commissioner was asked to provide recommendations for consideration by the COP/C over the next 12 to 18 months.The COP/C understands that speculation about the conference is ongoing. The COP/C has asked the conference office to obtain, to the extent possible, information necessary to construct preliminary options and recommendations without engaging in formal discussions with leadership of other institutions. If and when such discussions become necessary the COP/C has† instructed Commissioner James E. Delany to inform the Chair of the COP/C, Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon, and then to notify the commissioner of the affected conference(s). Only after these notices have occurred will the Big Ten engage in formal expansion discussions with other institutions. This process will allow the Big Ten to evaluate options, while respecting peer conferences and their member institutions. No action by the COP/C is expected in the near term. No interim statements will be made by the Big Ten or the COP/C until after the COP/C receives the commissionerís recommendations and the COP/C determines next steps, if any, in this area.