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Big Ten Football: With the SEC Adding Teams, Should the Conference Expand?

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Should the Big Ten Conference look to expand to 16 teams?

The Big Ten has been active during recent rounds of college football expansion and realignment, as the league added Nebraska in 2011, followed by Maryland and Rutgers in 2014 to become a 14-team conference. But with Oklahoma and Texas expected to leave the Big 12 in favor of the SEC, expansion or realignment could be back on the table for the Big Ten. New commissioner Kevin Warren got off to a rocky start last season and now has to navigate the conference through an unprecedented time in college athletics. With 14 teams and a strong overall product, the Big Ten doesn’t necessarily have to add. However, if dominoes fall and every conference wants to get to 16, the league would be forced to act.

Realignment and expansion are once again hot topics in college football. Athlon Sports’ writers and editors debate whether or not the Big Ten should expand to 16 teams:

Big Ten Football: With the SEC Adding Teams, Should the Conference Expand?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

I don’t think a move is absolutely necessary for the Big Ten here. Notre Dame is obviously a great fit and makes a ton of sense, but the Fighting Irish are tied to the ACC through 2035, and the program has no interest in giving up football independence. Outside of Notre Dame, is there a program that moves the needle in terms of money and overall value to the league? Not really. If the Big Ten was forced into a move, I could see Kansas (basketball and some hope you can tap into Kansas City media) and either Oklahoma State, Iowa State or TCU if it wanted to grab one of the other programs out of the Big 12. The Cowboys could make sense from a new market and a successful football program point-of-view, but I’m not sure it adds a ton of value for the conference when it negotiates its next television deal. The Cyclones would fortify territory and add a solid all-around program to the conference. While Iowa State wouldn’t necessarily bring a ton of cash to the Big Ten, the program would be an excellent fit in the West Division. 

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Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)

I don't think the Big Ten needs to do a thing. It's not like the name matches up with the number of teams in the first place so why make that gap bigger? Now, if Notre Dame suddenly expresses an interest to join that's different, but the Fighting Irish currently have stronger ties to the ACC. If the Big Ten felt it had to do something for the sake of doing something, Iowa State and West Virginia would make the most sense among the Big 12 leftovers. Both schools are either in the Big Ten's existing footprint or close enough to it and already have some established rivalries within the conference (Iowa State vs. Iowa, West Virginia vs. Maryland). Does either program really move the needle for the Big Ten? No, which is why I don't think the conference needs to add anyone. Just do what you can to keep the current members happy.

Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)

The more I look at the available options on the table, the less I think the Big Ten benefits by expanding beyond its current membership. None of the teams left in the Big 12 likely help the Big Ten in any way, and the conference is already crushing it with revenue distributions. The only expansion out of the Big 12 that would have been good for the Big Ten would have been Oklahoma and Texas, and the SEC and took that scenario out of the picture.

Eric Sorenson (@Stitch_Head)

Make Notre Dame your priority right freakin’ now. Do NOT let the Irish go to the ACC. It’s just not in the question of chance here. If the Big Ten is going to keep up in the power wars of big time college football, the conference must add the Irish, who is an obvious golden child in this sport. Even with their own network deal the Irish won’t be independent for long, not in this money-hungry football climate. The Big Ten has long hoped to get its claws into the Fighting Rocknes-Leahys-Parseghians-Devines-Fausts-Holtzs-Kellys. And now is the time to do so.

Beyond wrangling the Irish into the fold, go ahead and jettison the Scarlett Knights of Rutgers because they haven’t done jack-squat for the sport since the mid-2000s and go ahead and add UConn, West Virginia and North Dakota State. Yes, I said it, add the Bison. Why not? Those sumbitches have won a hundred national titles in the FCS and have a rabid following that will not allow them to fail no matter what the competition is. On top of all that the Bison have already beaten a number of FBS teams over the years proving they could play in the BIG Ten. Oh, and they also hosted ESPN’s "College GameDay" twice. Other than Ohio State, who else can say that in the last five years?

J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)

Yes. You don't want to fall behind the curve here. Everyone focuses on football and money in these situations, but I'm not sure there's any team you could add that will benefit the Big Ten in that regard. As a result, you need to look to the two most logical school: Iowa State and Kansas. Right now, Iowa State is a football program on the rise, with Matt Campbell being one of the hottest names in coaching, and Jamie Pollard sitting atop the Mount Rushmore of athletic directors nationally. Both Campbell and Pollard make great additions to the Big Ten roster, and the Big Ten dollars make it possible for Iowa State to lock down both in the long-term.

As far as Kansas goes, it gives the Big Ten Network a home team in the Kansas City market and adds another blue blood to the already impressive roster of basketball programs. There's little if any added value from a football standpoint, but the money could be what brings the Jayhawk football program back to a level of respectability.

Gabe Salgado (@GabeSalgado82)

If the Big 12 does experience a mass exodus should Oklahoma and Texas join the SEC, Iowa State would be a prime candidate to join the Big Ten. The Cyclones already have a rivalry with Iowa, and would renew their rivalry with Nebraska. Plus I'd like to see how the Cyclones would match up against Northwestern and Wisconsin. It would also keep them in the football stratosphere of the Midwest.

Chip Minnich (@ChipMinnich)

Yes, the Big Ten should expand, but by how many schools? The Big Ten values membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU). If the SEC is going to be constructing a super conference, the Big Ten will want to counter with equally impressive schools. ACC schools such as North Carolina or Georgia Tech would be tough to get, as their grant of rights are held until 2035. Notre Dame prizes its independence, and rebuffed the Big Ten in 1999.

Rumors are circulating about possibly Kansas or Iowa State from the Big 12, but that won't move the needle like the SEC adding Texas and Oklahoma. Maybe the Big Ten targets USC, Colorado, UCLA, and Oregon – all are AAU schools, and big names.

Juan Jose Rodriguez (@JuanJoseRG02)

Should the Big Ten aim to expand? Absolutely. With the SEC already the dominant power nationally and only getting stronger with the additions of Texas and Oklahoma, any effort to maintain relevance — especially in the middle third of the country, where the conference holds plenty of weight — should definitely be considered. Putting aside the obvious goal of keeping the teams currently in the Big Ten from bolting to go elsewhere, I view the true question not as whether the conference should add teams, but more about which schools should be the first contacted.

These discussions largely center around which teams would benefit most from moving into the Big Ten. An alluring financial draw would be the opportunity for greater TV revenue, while one of the primary positive on-field impacts would stand to be higher-profile games, in which a win — or perhaps even a narrow loss — could boost a team’s chances of reaching an expanded CFB Playoff. Notre Dame resides in the heart of Big Ten country, but — barring a major contract reconciliation — would be obligated to join the ACC should it choose to join a conference at all. Thus, I see the Big Ten likely looking towards up-and-coming Group of 5 schools — like Memphis, Cincinnati and Houston from the AAC — seeking the higher levels of prominence offered by the Big Ten, as well as potentially drawing in a program seeking to depart the newly depleted Big 12 like West Virginia, Iowa State or Kansas … who may not be as high-powered in football BUT would be HUGE additions in basketball and would instantly bolster the conference’s already-booming presence on the hardwood.

Aaron Tallent (@AaronTallent)

At first glance, I would have said no, but I think the Big Ten will likely pursue Kansas’ basketball program and then try to round out the conference with Iowa State.