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Expansion? The Big Ten Dozen’t need it

Today’s Wisch List column from the Kankakee Daily Journal

Expansion? The Big Ten Dozen’t need it

The WISCH LIST

March 6, 2010

Just outside Chicago, not far off the Kennedy Expressway and within buzzing distance of O’Hare Airport, sits a nondescript two-story brick building neighbored by a cluster of modest homes and the machine yard of a suburban snow removal company.

It’s pretty safe to say that, upon first glance, the headquarters of the Big Ten Conference in Park Ridge isn’t quite what you’d expect.

In fact, the place kind of looks like it could use an expansion.

To which I’d tell the Big Ten, go for it.

Just leave the conference itself well enough alone.

In recent weeks, newspapers, talk radio and the Internet have been atwitter with reports – and wild rumors – regarding the proposed expansion of the Big Ten from 11 schools to 12.

Well, the Big Ten Dozen’t need it.

Not unless that new school is named Notre Dame or Texas, at least.

On Tuesday, media outlets reported that an initial Big Ten expansion study prepared by a Chicago-based investment firm had suggested to conference officials that expansion could be financially worthwhile.

The study analyzed whether five schools – Missouri, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Rutgers – would generate enough additional revenue to justify their inclusion in the Big Ten. Reportedly, the study concluded that by adding the right school, the league could indeed become wealthier.

And I don’t doubt that with the “right” school it could.

But, the only two schools that I feel fit that criteria – academic and athletic powerhouses Notre Dame and Texas – are longshots, at best, to shuck independence and the Big 12, respectively, and join the Big Ten.

If either did, the reason would be the same one behind most business decisions: Money.

According to ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” Big Ten schools in 2008 received a whopping $242 million in TV revenue from ESPN/ABC and the Big Ten Network, which breaks down to $22 million per university.

That big number looks even larger when compared to the $78 million generated in TV revenue by the Big 12, of which most members are said to receive about $6 million. Texas and Oklahoma reportedly receive larger shares because of more TV appearances.

Notre Dame football’s famed NBC TV contract, meanwhile, reportedly is worth $9 million a year – well short of Big Ten payouts.

Because of haughtiness (Notre Dame) and traditional rivalries (Texas), neither the Irish nor the Longhorns are expected to join the Big Ten.

But if they won’t, then why bother expanding at all?

With the other rumored candidates, risks outweigh potential benefits. Penn State’s membership makes it questionable whether Pitt would increase the Big Ten footprint in terms of recruiting and exposure. Missouri almost certainly would not.

This week, the Chicago Tribune reported that many officials believe Rutgers – the oddly named state school of New Jersey – would be the best fit for the Big Ten.

But I’d argue otherwise. For one, it’s Rutgers. There’s no cachet. And to say the addition of the Scarlet Knights – or fellow northeastern school Syracuse – would significantly extend Big Ten fandom and recruiting into New York and New England is pure folly.

Kids growing up out east dream of Madison Square Garden, not Madison, Wis. It’s the same here, where Midwestern kids fantasize about catching touchdowns at the Big House, not in the Carrier Dome.

Has having DePaul in the Big East increased that conference’s exposure in Chicago? Hardly. And it likely has hurt DePaul in recruiting local athletes who were raised on Big Ten tradition and are unfamiliar – or uninterested – with the Big East’s.

Ohio State University president E. Gordon Gee recently told his school’s student newspaper that, along with financing, the main reason for Big Ten expansion is “an inelegance in having 11 teams. We can’t play each other quite like we want.”

He likely was referring to the league’s inability to split into two divisions for football and hold a conference championship game. However, even if you assume each school would garner $1 million-plus with a conference playoff, I’m still not convinced of that game’s value.

In nine of the last 12 years, the Big Ten has placed a second school in the BCS series – and earned an extra $500,000 for all 11 members – largely because the league’s top two teams haven’t had to knock the other out in a conference title game.

With a league championship, that dual-berth regularity would vanish, while the difficulty of reaching the BCS title game would multiply with teams needing to win an additional conference game.

Without a conference championship, some feel that the Big Ten falls off the national radar during December and that its teams suffer from the monthlong break before bowl season.

But that’s just a convenient excuse for failure.

This past season, the Big Ten’s top four teams went 4-0 in bowl games, showing no signs of supposed rust. Fact is, if Big Ten teams are good enough, they’ll win bowl games.

And, barring the addition of a Texas or Notre Dame, the conference is already good enough as is. So, don’t add a lesser school, Big Ten.

No one wants to see a Dirty Dozen.

  • Dave, I don’t think we’d have to worry about Texas having “ties” to the Big 12. Because of politics, Texas A&M will come with Texas should Texas decide to join the Big 10. That just leaves Oklahoma, and they can play that game as a non-conference game anyway. The game will eventually move from the Cotton Bowl to Cowboys Stadium, so the current link to the Texas State Fair will be a non-issue.

    I think there are enough reasons for Texas to make the jump, and they are not all athletic. If I’m the president of UT, I am looking at the academic partnerships with schools of the Big Ten. Simply put, the Big Ten has better schools than the Big 12.

    I don’t necessarily agree with you about adding another team. The ratings and money from a football conference championship game are enough to add the 12th team, as well as eliminating the bad practice of one team always having a bye during the conference season.

  • I’m not against expansion if the team is truly worthwhile, but I’m not in favor of expanding just for the sake of reaching an even number. The school has to be worth it.

    I haven’t seen anyone mention Texas A&M as coming along with Texas to the Big Ten. I’d probably be surprised to see that, but who knows. That means, though, that the league would have to find yet another school to reach 14. And at that point, you’re starting to get Big East-unwieldy with the number of teams.

    I don’t want to see what the Big Ten is and means watered down, and if there is expansion, I’d want to see one worthwhile school (I don’t think there are three worthwhile ones, in terms of athletics and academics) or nothing at all.

    And, really, I’m perfectly fine with nothing at all. If I had to guess, I’d wager that the league ends up standing pat. But we’ll see …