On Tuesday, Big 12 officials announced their strategy of ‘actively evaluating’ expansion candidates for the coming years, presumably boosting conference membership from 10 to 12 or even 14 athletic programs.
This news item doesn’t necessarily affect the Big Ten and its own grand plans for the future, in the short term or the long term. But it gets us thinking.
For the media, any expansion news creates a natural window to discuss the Big Ten’s most attractive options for new membership, should the conference make the ambitious leap to 16 schools. There’s no inclination that any kind of move is imminent, but it’s always fun to discuss.
The Land Of 10 offers a pros/cons look at five major candidates for Big Ten expansion:
1 — NOTRE DAME
1. This makes perfect geographical sense for all parties, given Notre Dame’s placement inside the state of Indiana and relative proximity to Chicago — the Big Ten’s No. 2 media market, trailing only New York City.
2. Notre Dame (No. 2 in all-time football victories) has a rich history with Big Ten teams, establishing/preserving many long-standing rivalries with Michigan (dating back to 1887), Purdue (dating back to 1896) and Michigan State (dating back to 1897), among others.
3. Every conference would jump at the chance of securing Notre Dame for football and basketball. It would also represent the ultimate legacy-clincher for Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.
4. From a religious standpoint, there’s no greater coup than landing America’s most iconic Catholic institution, relative to college athletics. (Hello, Touchdown Jesus.)
5. No school has a national fan base that touches every corner of the country like Notre Dame does. And it’s not even close.
1. Over the last 30 years, Notre Dame has rejected multiple overtures and invitations to join the Big Ten. At some point, the conference will officially move on from this high-profile pursuit, if it hasn’t already.
2. NBC wouldn’t be thrilled if Notre Dame had to break its 25-year association with the network through the airing of all Fighting Irish home games. That’s a lot of money for Notre Dame to leave on the proverbial table — a financial windfall that currently doesn’t have to be shared with other conference members.
3. Even if Notre Dame fully committed to the Big Ten in all sports (including football), the Fighting Irish likely wouldn’t want to abandon their traditional commitments with the Pac-12 (Southern California, Stanford) and the service academies (Army, Navy, Air Force). That could put a proverbial monkey wrench in the Big Ten’s standard template for scheduling, which means having all non-conference games played before the calendar turns to October.
2 — HOUSTON
1. Unlike the ACC or Big 12 schools, the Big Ten wouldn’t have to jump through massive hoops to pry Houston away from the clutches of the American Athletic Conference.
2. Houston currently ranks as America’s 11th-ranked media market. As part of the Big Ten, H-Town would serve as the conference’s fourth-largest market (trailing only New York, Chicago and Washington).
3. It’s hard to envision Houston being the Big 12’s first expansion choice — given its relative proximity to Texas, Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech. For the Big 12 to become more attractive to competing TV networks – read more money – its expanded reach must go outside the Lone Star State. As such, the Big Ten wouldn’t have to engage in a bidding war for Houston’s expansion services.
4. With Nebraska, which joined the league in 2011, and Houston hypothetically in the fold, the Big Ten would have the Big 12 territory covered on two fronts — from the north and south, giving it the so-called “sandwich” effect).
5. As a Big Ten member, Houston would be a major national player with recruiting, scheduling and TV prominence, relative to the Cougars’ never-ending territorial battles with Texas (Big 12) and Texas A&M (SEC).
6. The Big Ten would relish the notion of having a strong financial and recruiting stake in the state of Texas, consistently a hotbed for blue-chip prep talent.
7. Houston’s Tom Herman – Ohio State’s offensive coordinator for its national-title season of 2014 – is arguably the nation’s hottest coach, leading the Cougars to a Peach Bowl victory over vaunted Florida State in Year 1. His presence would bolster the Big Ten’s already-decorated roster of blue-chip coaches (Urban Meyer, Mark Dantonio, Jim Harbaugh, Kirk Ferentz, James Franklin, Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith, Mike Riley).
1. Regular travels to Houston wouldn’t be a major hindrance for the Big Ten West schools, but the same could not be said for certain teams in the East division. However, in a 16-team football league offering nine conference games (seven divisional, two crossovers), the Cougars would only see the likes of Penn State, Rutgers and Maryland twice over an eight-year period (home/away).
2. Houston has been considered something of a renegade program through the years, running afoul of the NCAA in several sports, including football and men’s basketball. That reputation might a lot to get past with the Big Ten higher-ups, who hold their schools to high standards.
3 — GEORGIA TECH
1. Within this dream scenario, the Big Ten would conquer the No. 8 media market in Atlanta by adding Georgia Tech, and that would become the league’s third-largest market behind New York and Chicago.
2. Atlanta serves as one of the biggest hubs of Big Ten alums outside the Midwest and New York City. From personal experience, the Atlanta-based “Big Ten Pub Crawl” annually draws hundreds of Big Ten zealots every August.
3. The Big Ten would undoubtedly jump at the chance to penetrate an SEC market, and it doesn’t get any bigger than Atlanta, home to the SEC football championship. Plus, Auburn, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee are all within an easy three-hour drive.
4. Georgia Tech typically plays second fiddle to Georgia in Atlanta, with respect to media attention. But a move to the Big Ten would be an absolute game-changer for the Yellow Jackets.
5. From an academic standpoint, Georgia Tech would enhance the Big Ten’s prestige in the realms of research, engineering, mathematics, science and technology.
Now for the bad news: With the recent announcement of the new “ACC Network,” an ESPN-supported initiative that will include a digital launch in 2016 and TV-network launch in 2019, the ACC’s grant-of-rights deal has also been extended another 20 years.
What’s a grant-of-rights deal? In a nutshell, it would be nearly impossible for an existing ACC member to exit the conference until 2036, since the ACC would still own (per ESPN) that “school’s media rights, including revenue for all home games, would remain with the ACC regardless of the school’s affiliation.”
This punitive measure would also apply to North Carolina (Charlotte/Raleigh TV markets), Florida State (Orlando/Jacksonville/Tampa TV markets) and Miami — three athletic linchpins of the ACC.
In a perfect world, though, Georgia Tech would be the Big Ten’s first choice among ACC schools. So, the Yellow Jackets have that going for them … which is nice.
4 — BYU
1. Notre Dame and BYU wield the most power among FBS independents. That kind of cachet would likely appeal to Big Ten executives, especially those looking to raise the profile of the West division – Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Purdue, Northwestern, Wisconsin – by adding a school like BYU.
2. BYU, which clinched the 1984 national title after beating Michigan in the Holiday Bowl, has a rich football tradition, especially with quarterbacks. On the surface, the Cougars would be instant contenders for the Big Ten West title.
3. The Big Ten Network would be more viable with homes west of the Rocky Mountains if BYU joined the conference.
4. BYU may be an ultra-conservative institution, from a social perspective, but the school has a flood of deep-pocketed boosters. This could only help the Big Ten’s annual objective of possessing the greatest national reach, the most financial/political capital and most influence of any college conference.
1. Salt Lake City currently stands as the nation’s No. 33 media market. However, that middling ranking could be offset by BYU’s massive following among the Mormon/Latter-Day Saints population around the country.
2. From a non-football standpoint, the Big Ten would have to accommodate BYU’s long-standing request of not playing on Sunday (a day of rest in religious circles). For all other sports, that would be a problem, especially when you factor in travel considerations.
5 — OKLAHOMA OR TEXAS
1. Oklahoma (five Heisman Trophy winners, seven national titles, 45 conference crowns) and Texas (two Heisman winners, four national titles, 32 conference championships) represent college football royalty. Either program would be a major coup for the Big Ten.
2. The Big Ten will reportedly shatter all previous records with its next media-rights TV deal (Fox Sports, ESPN, Big Ten Network) — in the neighborhood of $2.64 billion over six years. However, that eye-popping figure would surely go up another notch or two in the next go-round of negotiations if Texas and/or Oklahoma joined the powerful league.
1. Texas has favored-nation financial clout within the Big 12 (bigger annual payout/freedom to operate a school-specific TV network). As hypothetical members of the Big Ten, the Longhorns would likely relinquish these forms of independent power.
2. It’s hard (if not implausible) to imagine Oklahoma bolting for a new league without Oklahoma State. The relationship between the schools, although contentious on the playing field, has been somewhat symbiotic on the business end.
3. We’re confident the Big 12 would never pursue expansion without Oklahoma and Texas initially signing off on the venture. In other words, what would be the Sooners or Longhorns’ motives for leaving now?
WILD CARD — UCF
1. Unlike certain ACC schools (Georgia Tech, Florida State, North Carolina, etc.), the Big Ten wouldn’t have to jump through prohibitive hoops to swipe UCF from the American Athletic Conference.
2. If UCF joined the Big Ten, the Orlando-Daytona Beach media market (ranked 19th nationally) would run sixth overall in league circles — after New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., Detroit and Minneapolis/St. Paul.
3. The Big Ten undoubtedly covets a financial and recruiting stake in the talent-rich state of Florida, in the heart of SEC Country (hey, that’s a great name for a website).
4. Citing the 2013-14 school year, the University of Central Florida ranked No. 3 nationally with enrollment (60,767). Within that same study, four Big Ten schools finished in top 10 — Ohio State (No. 1), Minnesota (No. 6), Michigan State (No. 8) and Indiana (No. 10).
5. UCF football has a cool-looking home in Bright House Networks Stadium, one of the few FBS venues to debut this century. This on-campus stadium has a capacity of 45,000-plus; but it also has the structural framework to support another renovation.
6. The Knights earned a Fiesta Bowl victory at the end of the 2013 season, led by quarterback Blake Bortles. Counting this decade, only four Big Ten schools have notched BCS or “New Year’s Six” bowl wins (Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin).
7. Florida’s proverbial ‘snowbird’ population, comprising many Big Ten alums, would revel in the Big Ten having a permanent home inside state lines.
1. UCF endured a winless campaign last year, incredibly dropping 10 games by 14 points or more. Just think of how poorly the Knights would have fared against Big Ten competition.
2. The Knights have only been in the Division I or FBS business for football since 1996. As such, it’s hard to envision the Big Ten opening its powerful arms to a program that lacks history, tradition and a national identity.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.