Who should the Big Ten target in its search to expand?
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is many things, but dumb isn’t one of them.
His conference snaked football blue blood and powerhouse Nebraska from the Big 12 to grow the conference in 2011. He followed that up by stealing ACC founding member Maryland and Rutgers from the fledgling Big East to grow his conference into lucrative television and recruiting territories.
The Big Ten has much to offer, namely bigger dollars than any other league in the nation by a wide margin — including the SEC — tremendous academics and a great television presence with The Big Ten Network.
However, Delany knows that he can’t offer football championships like his Southern brethren. In order to stay relevant on the field, and not just in the accounting department, he also knows he needs to make a bold statement.
This means growing the Big Ten to 16 teams before their peers. The Big 12 is all but certain to grow by at least two, the ACC will likely have to pilfer the Big East again once it loses the Terrapins and the mighty SEC is lingering at 14 teams. Many believe that the B1G won’t ever play a game as a 14-team league, but rather, is looking to expand by four teams all at once in an effort to rebalance the college football scales.
The equation is simple: More teams equals more money equals more power equals, ideally, more wins. The Big Ten isn’t competitive on the field — it has one BCS national championship and that took place more than a decade ago — so retuning his league to national prominence on the field should be Delany’s primary focus.
News of Big Ten expansion isn’t anything new or shocking, but recently, Virginia has been rumored to be the most likely to join with North Carolina already holding an official offer. Georgia Tech, Miami, Florida State and Virginia Tech will all figure heavily in the mix as well. Expansion hinges on many factors — TV market, likelihood of acceptance, academics, travel costs, exit fees, alumni base, potential growth, on-field success, history and tradition will all play a role in Delany’s decision making process.
Here is how Athlon Sports would rank the Big Ten’s expansion wish list:
1. Notre Dame
Pros: The Fighting Irish and the Big Ten have always seemed like a perfect fit. Notre Dame nearly joined the conference in 1999 and plays a handful of Big Ten teams every year. Notre Dame is one of college football’s most-storied programs and is on its way back to being a consistent national title contender under Brian Kelly.
Cons: Outside of a huge television market in South Bend and not being a member of the AAU, Notre Dame is the perfect Big Ten candidate. Then again, both parties went down this road before. If the Fighting Irish ever want to join the conference, don’t expect much resistance from the Big Ten. With the Irish locked into five ACC football games per year for the foreseeable future, the odds of Notre Dame even figuring in the Big Ten mix are slim and none.
2. North Carolina
Pros: Without question, North Carolina is one of the biggest prizes in the expansion pool. The Tar Heels are on the radar for future SEC expansion and are believed to be the No. 1 target for the Big Ten and even a possibility for the Big 12. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany attended North Carolina, so there’s already a strong tie for the conference. Chapel Hill isn’t a huge television market but is an excellent college town and provides a great location.
Cons: North Carolina hasn’t been awful on the gridiron, but there’s no question this is a basketball school. The Tar Heels have not won more than nine games since 1997 and had five losing seasons from 2000-07.
3. Florida State
Pros: Where should we start? Florida State has been in the rumor mill as a possible candidate for Big 12 expansion, so by adding the Seminoles, the Big Ten could issue a preemptive strike on its competition. The Tallahassee television market isn’t great, but Florida State is one of the top football programs that is likely interested in changing conferences. By adding Florida State, the Big Ten would add a program that is consistently among the top 15 in the nation, along with adding a presence in one of the best recruiting states.
Cons: Florida State is not a member of the AAU. While the money would be an improvement in the Big Ten, leaving a conference centered in the South for one that has more of a Northern flavor may give the Seminoles some concern about leaving the ACC.
Pros: Miami provides a great location and a new market for the Big Ten. Recruiting Florida is always important, so the Big Ten could help its teams by having a bigger presence in the state. Miami is not a member of the AAU but is regarded for its academics.
Cons: This is not the Miami of the 1990s. The Hurricanes have not won an ACC title and lack a double-digit winning season since 2002. While Miami is a good television market to add, it’s a bit of a stretch geographically for the conference.
Pros: Located less than 200 miles outside of Washington, D.C., the Cavaliers are a prime target due to television market, as well as a regional partner for Maryland. Virginia is also a member of the AAU and a solid academic school, which would be a good fit for the Big Ten.
Cons: On-field success doesn’t necessarily mean everything in expansion, but Virginia has not had a season of double-digit victories since 1989. The Cavaliers aren’t a charter member of the ACC but have been a member since 1953 and there could be resistance from within the state to stay in the same conference as Virginia Tech.
6. Georgia Tech
Pros: Due to an excellent location and a strong academic reputation, the Yellow Jackets are a prime target for Big Ten expansion. Atlanta is one of the top-10 television markets, and Georgia Tech has been successful on the gridiron, winning the 1990 national championship. The state of Georgia is also an excellent state for producing talent on the recruiting trail.
Cons: While Georgia Tech is located in Atlanta, the Yellow Jackets aren’t the top destination in town and the campus would be a complete outpost.
7. Virginia Tech
Pros: Blacksburg isn’t a great television market, but Virginia Tech has been a consistent top-20 program during the BCS era. The Hokies also bring an excellent recruiting area to the table, along with a passionate fan base.
Cons: As mentioned with Virginia, there could be some in-state resistance preventing the Hokies and Cavaliers from being in separate conferences. The Hokies are not a member of the AAU but could form an excellent East Coast match with Virginia, Maryland and Rutgers.
Pros: Clemson has a passionate fanbase and an excellent atmosphere for each home game. The Tigers seem to have turned the corner in football, winning at least nine games in three out of the last four seasons.
Cons: Clemson is a charter member of the ACC, and prying the Tigers away could be difficult. Clemson doesn’t bring a huge television market and is not a member of the AAU.
Pros: The Panthers were mentioned as a likely target before the Big Ten added Nebraska. And should be a viable option if the conference wants to jump to 16 teams. Pittsburgh is a member of the AAU and is located in a top-25 television market. Pennsylvania also produces quality talent on the recruiting trail.
Cons: Considering Pittsburgh just joined the ACC, could there be some hesitation about leaving for the Big Ten in such a short window? The Panthers don’t have an on-campus stadium and has only one season of 10 or more wins since 1982.
10. SMU or Houston
Pros: Houston and SMU are the obvious targets here. It gives the Big Ten a foothold in one of the most talent-rich states in the nation — in two of the biggest TV markets in the nation. There is plenty of upward potential for both and both have proven the ability to be successful. This will give Nebraska its recruiting anchor back in the Lone Star State.
Cons: Academically, both programs are behind the rest of the conference. Financially, while both programs are located in huge TV markets, neither commands a large audience in Dallas-Ft. Worth or Houston. Facilities and fan support would need substantial upgrades to rival the rest of the Big Ten.
Potential upside is intriguing but TV market doesn't offer much and fan support is average.
Historic name brand but better days are behind them. Solid TV market but little upside.
13. Boise State
Best on-the-field option to the West but well below requirements academically and financially.
14. Boston College
Excellent academics and solid location, but extremely limited upside and fan support.
15. Iowa State
Sneaky good fan support but brings little to the table financially. Iowa already commands the state.
by Braden Gall and Steven Lassan