Talk of Big Ten expansion persists. The idea that the Big Ten would like to get to 16 schools. The Big Ten in November added Rutgers and Maryland, bringing its membership to 14, which is an awkward number for scheduling, not that the Big Ten is too worried about scheduling.
The Big Ten has loftier ideals. Academics and money. The Big Ten would like to keep adding content for The Big Ten Network, while also adding eyeballs to said network. That means expanding to states not already represented in the Big Ten. But commissioner Jim Delany has laid down parameters for conference expansion: schools in states that border the current Big Ten footprint, plus membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities.
Well then. Let’s find the schools that qualify: 1) virgin states to the Big Ten; 2) AAU members; 3) border states to the Big Ten.
Here’s who qualifies: Virginia and Missouri.
But you can’t stop there. If you add Missouri, then you can add Kansas to the list. If you add Virginia, you can add Duke, North Carolina and Vanderbilt to the list. And if you add North Carolina or Duke, you can add Georgia Tech. And if you add Georgia Tech, you can add Florida.
I don’t claim to know the politics. Would Delany suspend the border-state deal? Would the Big Ten want both Duke and North Carolina? Would Duke and Carolina stick together like Bedlam brothers?
Maybe the most compelling question: Would Missouri bolt the SEC to land in the Big Ten, where Mizzou wanted to be all along? There apparently is no exit fee in the SEC, which the conference proudly boasts of. Sort of the opposite of the Big 12, whose members have signed away their media rights to the conference, a shackle that figures to keep the league chained together for the next decade or so. Who knows if that granting of rights would hold up in court, but it would seem to be a deterrent to some other league plucking a current Big 12 member, after four Big 12 schools have bolted in the last two years.
It’s all fascinating, and all enough to make some in the ACC sweat. The presidents of Carolina, Duke, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Clemson spearheaded a statement today, signed by all ACC presidents, that every school was committed to the league. Doesn’t mean squat, of course. The honorable people on college campuses are the ones wearing sneakers and cleats. The people with whistles and neckties around their neck, you can’t trust ‘em to honor their signatures. So believe at your own risk.
Maybe there’s something to the notion that we’re headed for 16-team super conferences.
Maybe the SEC goes up the Eastern Seaboard itself, after Carolina or Duke, plus Virginia Tech. Maybe the Big Ten grabs Virginia and either Carolina or Duke. That would leave the ACC in tatters and the Big 12 could scoop in for Florida State and Clemson to get to 12, plus Georgia Tech and North Carolina State to get to 14, plus Louisville and Pittsburgh to get to 16.
Or maybe the Big Ten and SEC laugh at the Big 12′s granting of rights. Say, see you in court. The Big Ten adds Missouri and Kansas. The SEC comes after OU and is willing to bargain about OSU. Maybe Texas goes independent.
Maybe David Boren gets OU into the AAU and joins the Big Ten. Maybe the Big Ten decides to keep adding weak football schools and invites Vanderbilt.
Everything I’ve just suggested is both silly and completely plausible. If you don’t believe the latter, go back 21/2 years and picture a Pac-16, which nearly happened, Rutgers and Maryland in the Big Ten, Missouri in the SEC, Syracuse in the ACC and Boise State in the Big East.
Here’s what I’m at on conference expansion. I’ll believe most anything and trust virtually no one.