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.