A Closer Look At Big Ten ExpansionPosted by nvr1983 on December 17th, 2009
The news that the Big Ten was looking to expand from 11 teams (yeah I know 11 > 10) to 12 teams (yeah I know there is already a Big 12) set the college sports world abuzz with speculation about who the 12th team would be. And that set off a chain reaction of questions about who would fill in the spot in the conference that the Big Ten’s 12th member would leave vacant and so on. We will leave the latter for another post if and when the Big Ten finally commits to expansion and selects a school. Right now the schools I have heard mentioned most often are Cincinnati, Connecticut, Iowa State, Louisville, Missouri, Notre Dame, Rutgers, Syracuse, Texas, and West Virginia. I’ll go ahead and make this simple for everybody. Despite what Mike DeCourcy says Texas is not going to the Big Ten. The prospect of Texas leaving the Big 12 is too disastrous for the Big 12 officials to let happen. He can argue about TV revenues and how Texas is a much bigger TV draw than any of its Big 12 competitors, but he is missing a key element here. Unfortunately for Mike, geography destroys his grand scheme of having the Longhorns leave the Big 12 for the Big Ten. As the graphic clearly illustrates, Austin, Texas, is very far away from the members of the Big Ten. In fact the closest school would be Illinois, which is just a short 1,004 mile trip away from Austin (or 3 Mike DeCourcy Sporting News glamour shots).
While I understand a college team expects to have its fans outnumbered in road games, I can’t imagine that they would want to have a scenario where none of their students could go to a road game and none of the opposing team’s fans could watch games in Austin. So in my mind that pretty clearly eliminates Texas from consideration in the Big Ten. You can use this same argument when Mike suggests that UCLA join the Big East after the Big Ten poaches one of their programs for this round of expansion.
Now that we are done with the Texas nonsense we can get onto more realistic possibilities. I am going to save everybody some time by saying that I am ignoring the supposed rule that all Big Ten member institutions belong to the Association of American Universities. Sure a lot of the schools in that organization are considered among the most prestigious in the nation, but there are others that, to put it kindly, are not. (No. We will not be naming the latter schools.) Being the analytical bunch that we are, we decided to look at this systematically by seeing what criteria the Big Ten officials would be objectively interested in. The factors we came up with were distance, enrollment, wealth and size of the athletic program. The first factor (distance) is clearly important as we noted with our quick deconstruction of DeCourcy’s Texas argument. The next three are a little less practical and more elitist, but we are assuming the Big Ten wants a new school that is at the level of its current schools or at least could realistically be at that level in the near future. So let’s take a look at these factors before deconstructing the arguments for or against each school joining the Big Ten. To make things easier I have color-coded the results. Numbers in green are assumed to be better (e.g. less travel, more money, and bigger stadium) while numbers in red are assumed to be worse (e.g. more travel, less money, and smaller stadiums).
Here is our first metric (driving distance):
We set an arbitrary cut-off for a reasonable distance for a roadtrip at 500 miles (half the distance The Proclaimers were willing to walk). Anything more than that is getting excessive. Only 3 schools–UConn, Rutgers, and Syracuse–averaged more than 500 miles per roadtrip and each did so by a large margin. I think it’s pretty safe to say this would be a major “minus” with the Big Ten officials when they look at the cases for selecting a potential 12th team. Conversely, Notre Dame scores very well as it was the only school to average less than a 300-mile roadtrip (about 1 tank of gas in my car) to each of the 11 Big Ten schools.
Our next chart takes a look at several metrics (school/city size, endowment, athletic budget, and stadium capacity):
I put the numbers for the current Big Ten schools above the light gray bar which lists the mean and medians for the schools to give you an idea of where the average Big Ten program falls. Obviously, Northwestern brings down the numbers down in terms of size of the school, but thanks to their elite academics they crush most other current Big Ten schools in terms of endowment per capita. For this chart I used red to denote schools that were significantly below the worst Big Ten school in that category and green to denote schools that were near or above the best Big Ten school in that category. The only exception is Notre Dame for its sports revenue and expenses where they turn an astonishing $23.3M profit (no doubt buoyed by their $15M/year NBC football contract) so they do deserve the green even if the individual category numbers aren’t that far above the rest of the Big Ten. As you can tell a lot of these schools fall far short of Big Ten “standards.” Obviously joining the Big Ten would mean significantly more revenue from a TV contract than any of these schools get currently with the exception of Notre Dame (again). Just looking at the numbers I would say that UConn and Iowa State score the worst while Notre Dame comes out in first with Syracuse a respectable second. To be fair, you can question the metrics particularly when you realize that a stadium that seats just 9,314 is home to the #1 college basketball program in the country (in terms of national visibility).
Now that we have those pesky numbers out in front of us let’s look at the case for an against each school:
For: Strong programs in both basketball and football, a major city with a large airport (that we have been stuck in many times), a surprisingly high graduation rate for its football players, and its proximity to the current Big Ten schools
Against: A surprisingly small athletic budget, a small football stadium, a lack of a national following, and the reputation of its basketball program from the Bob Huggins era
Verdict: An interesting possibility. I think this could be a legitimate darkhorse if Notre Dame doesn’t think the NBC contract might run out after a few more seasons of mediocrity. A more impassioned plea for their inclusion can be found here.
For: One of the top 5 basketball programs in the country, relatively close to the New York market, a respectable football program, and a nice national following (thanks to basketball)
Against: An alarmingly small endowment (the above number is from 2007 before the market crashed), a small football stadium, very far away from the current Big Ten schools, and the fact that they are a basketball school (and no matter what happens this year the Big East is a better basketball conference than the Big Ten)
Verdict: Not a chance. The Big Ten wouldn’t want it for football and UConn wouldn’t want the Big Ten for basketball.
For: A natural in-state rival for the Hawkeyes and . . . a lot of ESPN Full Court airtime?
Against: A relatively small school (both in endowment and athletic budget) in a small market, a lack of a national presence, and the fact that the Hawkeyes basically own Iowa in the eyes of the rest of the nation.
Verdict: It might happen, but in our eyes it would be a bad choice. It doesn’t add anything geographically. The only reason to take the Cyclones would be to have a 12th team to get their two divisions and a football championship game.
For: A solid basketball and football program (a few years ago), a new fairly, large market, relatively close, a brand new big college basketball arena, and an iconic coaching figure (Rick Pitino).
Against: The football program has fallen off a lot (ask Rick Bozich), a relatively small stadium, and the fact that they are a basketball school (see UConn discussion above).
Verdict: One of the better viable options. In recent years, they have had solid programs in both major sports and they are relatively close. I would keep an eye on Louisville as a darkhorse.
For: Solid programs in both football and basketball, large stadiums with big budgets, and a decent size school/city.
Against: No real relationship with any of the Big Ten schools and a question of what will happen with their rivalries with Big 12 schools (Kansas? Nebraska?)
Verdict: Our most likely choice. The Tigers seem like the perfect fit with the exception of the rivalry issue. I think they can get around it in basketball, but football will be tough with its smaller schedule.
For: One of the biggest (if not the biggest) brand names in college athletics, a prestigious university with a large endowment and athletic budget, and one of the most iconic stadiums in football
Against: Matching the previously mentioned NBC TV contract
Verdict: Not happening unless the Irish administration hear rumors that NBC might not renew their TV contract and then the transition would only happen after that contract expires.
For: Great football, basketball, and academics, a big city, and reasonable size stadiums.
Against: Surprisingly small athletic budget and proximity to Penn State. Would Joe Paterno want such a powerful program in the his neighborhood in the same conference? Will it matter?
Verdict: Our guess here is that Paterno doesn’t hold as much influence as he once did (and remember Penn State is the newest member of the Big Ten). Still I think the proximity to Penn State (more in terms of region than distance) will drop them below Missouri. Still the #2 choice in our eyes.
For: Proximity to New York City and a large student body.
Against: It’s not in New York City. 99.9% of New York City doesn’t care about Rutgers. Mediocre football and basketball programs.
Verdict: The proximity to NYC might be enticing to the Big Ten officials as it might give them the NYC market for regional broadcasts, but the fact that nobody in NYC cares about Rutgers should mitigate that. A middle-of-the-pack candidate at best.
For: A top 10 basketball program with a huge basketball arena, a legendary coach (Jim Boeheim), a new market, and a solid athletic program (outside of football).
Against: A bad football program with a small football stadium (yeah, I know it’s the same place as the basketball arena), the fact that it is also a basketball school, and the distance between Syracuse and the schools currently in the Big Ten.
Verdict: A tempting pick on paper especially with what they would add for Big Ten basketball, but their weak presence in football and the fact that Boeheim appears pretty adamant that he doesn’t want to go to the Big Ten probably eliminates any chance of the Orange joining the Big Ten.
For: Excellent football and basketball programs (probably one of the best combinations in the country right now) and appropriately sized athletic programs/stadiums.
Against: The perception that WVU doesn’t meet the academic standards of the current Big Ten members and their relatively small endowment.
Verdict: I think they would be a great choice athletically in the big two sports, but I also have a suspicion that the Big Ten officials might turn their nose at West Virginia.
The three most realistic choices are Missouri, Pittsburgh and Louisville. Louisville should theoretically be the easiest to pry away from their conference since they are relatively new to the Big East and the fact that the Big East frankly needs to get rid of a few teams particularly in basketball. Pittsburgh is in a similar spot, but I think the Big East would probably want to keep them because I think they are a more attractive school (athletics, location, and prestige) than Louisville. The Big 12 would probably put up a fight to keep Missouri to maintain their whole academic persona (12 teams in the 12-team league) and to keep their title game, but they could be replaced by another Southern program (TCU-Texas in the Big 12 championship game anybody?). The final thought here is that the Big Ten will push for Missouri or Pittsburgh assuming Notre Dame is still untouchable.