How a Big Ten Expansion Will Help College Football

I know, you read the title and must be asking yourself “Sloppy, how on earth do you put ‘Big Ten’ and ‘help college football’ in the same sentence?” Well, for one, the Big Ten could help college football by sacking Jim Delany and promoting a playoff, but another story for another day. In the meantime, a Big Ten expansion would do wonders for the college football landscape. We’ve been needing a good conference realignment lately. Let’s look at some possible candidates for the expansion and how each could help the sport.

The current Big Ten ConferenceAs you can see from this map, the Big Ten primarily consists of Midwest states, with the exception of Penn State. The Nittany Lions were added to the conference in 1993 and before that the last addition had been Michigan State in 1949. So this isn’t something that happens all the time. The question here is, will the Big Ten go poaching further East, or go for more Midwest states?

The options and speculation are endless, but I’ve done my best to narrow it down to some very likely candidates. There are a few in my mind that would make a lot of sense, and those are the ones I’ll focus on. From the way I see it, the Big Ten could take from the Big 12, MAC,Sun Belt, Big East or Independents. Here’s the top 10 list of who I think they are eying right now in order from least likely to most likely.

10. Western Kentucky from the Sun Belt

These guys just got into the FBS, so not likely. They would get pounded day after day in the Big Ten. Only benefit is breaking into a market that the Big Ten has not been in. I wouldn’t give this a chance, but it is the Big Ten, and the ineptitude of Jim Delany must not be underestimated.

9. Buffalo from the MAC

This is very unlikely, but not impossible. If the Big Ten wanted to expand into the New York market, Buffalo would be a decent choice. They are geographically in the vicinity of Penn State and Ohio State. This would be the least eventful, however, as no other conference realignment would need to happen. The MAC would simply go from 13 to 12 teams, no harm done.

8. Iowa State from the Big 12

Another unlikely choice, but you cannot rule it out. This would simply be to provide the Big Ten West with a punching bag for the most part. Iowa State is just not a great fit, plus the Big Ten already has the Iowa market locked down. They gain nothing by adding Iowa State except a 12th team.

7. Notre Dame as an independent

They offered Notre Dame a spot in the conference in 1999, but the Fighting Irish turned it down. Still, half of Notre Dame’s schedule each year is against Big Ten teams it seems, so a good fit. Just not likely because with the big TV contract the Irish have, they have no incentive to join the conference. I’m sure it would be the Big Ten’s first pick to have them, but I doubt they will go for it.

6. Rutgers from the Big East

Geographically does not make sense. Rutgers is a program on the rise. They will not rise in the Big Ten, they have a better shot in the Big East. Plus they like it where they are. Travel costs only go up if they change conferences now. And they should invest in building up the stadium, not traveling. The Scarlet Knights will have no interest in moving.

5. Pittsburgh from the Big East

Same situation as Rutgers. They don’t want to leave the Big East. It is a much, much easier road to the BCS through the 8 team Big East than it would be through a 12 team Big Ten with a championship game. Plus Pitt has their big time rival in their conference, they’re not about to leave for that reason alone. Not to mention the Big Ten already has a presence in the state.

4. West Virginia from the Big East

This is an intriguing look. The Big Ten would open up to a whole new market that has never cared about them before. They get a pretty competitive squad in West Virginia. Rodriguez over at Michigan already has a history there, so they could get into a rivalry. It makes for an easy East/West division split as well. I think the Big Ten will look very closely at offering West Virginia a spot in the conference. But would West Virginia take it?

3. Louisville from the Big East

There’s one reason this is such a smart move- basketball. Not only does this help in football standards, but the conference has to think of the big picture. Louisville is a traditionally good team in basketball. It wouldn’t hurt to have them around to bolster the conference. Geographically it makes a lot of sense too. Kentucky is right there with Ohio and Indiana. The Big Ten opens up a new market as well. This would be a very good fit for both parties.

2. Missouri from the Big 12

This works on a lot of levels. Missouri has been snubbed by the Big 12 more than once when it comes to bowl selection. They already play a rival in Illinois every year. They are in a geographically solid place to secure a good East/West division. Plus St. Louis is a decent sized market. Outside of the Tigers, there isn’t anyone else in Missouri. Picking them up gives the Big Ten the biggest market. The big question is if they want to stab out west or out east.

1. Syracuse from the Big East

In my mind it is really either Syracuse or Missouri. If the Big Ten wants to move East, Syracuse is a great fit. This is also a great basketball school as well. This opens up the big New York market too, which is the biggest one in question here. Their last expansion was adding Penn State, so maybe they are thinking to keep up the trend. My money is on Syracuse. They would be more than willing to jump ship into the Big Ten too. They have all the tradition the Big Ten wants and can add a lot to the conference. Perfect fit.

So how would any of this help college football? Let’s look over the likely scenarios. Suppose the Big Ten takes Syracuse. Now the Big East will have to scramble again to stay together. But you better believe there will be a ton of pressure on them to either go to 10 or 12 teams. Should they go to 10 teams, then they would undoubtedly add Memphis, Marshall and UCF to the conference. If they go to 12 teams, count in East Carolina and maybe even Southern Miss. That would decimate Conference USA completely. You know they would go straight to the Sun Belt and pick off a few teams in order to get back to 10 or 12.

The Sun Belt would not be a conference so one of two things happen. Sun Belt teams go back to the FCS (with any luck) or some more terrible FCS teams get moved up so the conference can stay together. I really would like to see Troy and a few Florida schools go to CUSA to replace the departed and be rid of the Sun Belt, so we’ll see.

Now don’t forget, if the Big Ten goes to 12 teams, the Pac-10 will be pressured to do it as well. Who do they pick up? My instinct is that grabbing Hawaii is a no brainer. Who would the other team be? Now that is a big mystery. Intuition says Nevada for geography’s sake. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they made an offer to Utah or BYU or even Boise State to hop on board, which all would do in a heartbeat. This of course affects the MWC and WAC, so we would have to see how they reacted to that.

This same scenario plays out if the Big Ten grabs Louisville or any Big East school for that matter. So what if they head west and snag Missouri? Well, the Big 12 would likely replace them with either New Mexico, Utah or BYU. You have to think BYU looks like the best candidate as the last thing they want is a terrible program (New Mexico), another Texas school (TCU) or another team in red (Utah). Ok, the red thing doesn’t matter, but I would bet they would try for BYU or Utah if Missouri took off. Then of course the MWC invites Boise State in a heartbeat, and the Pac-10 likely picks up Hawaii and/or Fresno State, Nevada.

This would be fantastic for the sport if you ask me. If conferences are going to get auto bids to the BCS, at least make them 12 team conferences that have a championship game so we have a “semi-final” if you will at all those games. Here is how I would like to see things play out:

Big Ten picks up Syracuse and goes to two divisions: East- Syracuse, Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State and Indiana. West- Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois.

Big East picks up Marshall, Memphis, UCF, East Carolina and Southern Miss and goes to two divisions: East- Rutgers, Connecticut, East Carolina, South Florida, Marshall and UCF. West- West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis and Southern Miss.

Conference USA picks up Troy, Middle Tennessee State, Ul-Monroe, Florida Atlantic and Florida International.

The remaining Sun Belt teams go back to FCS play where they are actually competitive.

The Pac-10 feels the pressure and adds two more teams: Hawaii and Nevada. They divide into two divisions: North- Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, Nevada, and Cal. South- USC, UCLA, Stanford, Hawaii, Arizona, and Arizona State.

The MWC picks up Boise State, Idaho and Fresno State to get to 12 teams and two divisions: West- Idaho, Boise State, BYU, Utah, UNLV and Fresno State. East- TCU, Air Force, Colorado State, Wyoming, New Mexico and San Diego State.

Utah State, New Mexico State and San Jose State drop back to FCS play. Louisiana Tech tries to hop into CUSA.

Guess what that leaves us? No more WAC or Sun Belt and 9 conferences of 12 teams each, except the MAC and maybe CUSA would have 13 teams. Without Boise State the WAC is meaningless and the Sun Belt is already meaningless, so no one hates to watch them go. Now every conference gets a championship game. How sweet would this be if it actually played out?