A Closer Look At Big Ten Expansion

Posted 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).

That's a lot of gas money even in a Civic.
That’s a lot of gas money even in a Civic.

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):

Distance Between Schools (miles)

Distance Between Schools (miles)

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):

Distance Between Schools (miles)

Key Indicators

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.

Iowa State
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.

Notre Dame
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.

West Virginia
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.

nvr1983 (1398 Posts)

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13 responses to “A Closer Look At Big Ten Expansion”

  1. tallguy says:

    Louisville is a no go due to academics…it’s a commuter college, no way the Big 10 presidents allow Louisville in. It’s either Missouri or Pitt or no expansion until ND loses its NBC contract.

  2. Brett S says:

    Missouri has no real relationship with any Big Ten teams? Maybe you guys have heard of a little thing called the Busch Braggin’ Rights game played annually for the last 20+ years between Missouri and Illinois? No? Ok. Carry on then.

    In any case, Illinois already plays Missouri in both football and basketball. I believe Mizzou played Purdue or Indiana in basketball as recently as several years ago as well. Iowa and Illinois both have the potential to develop into nice rivalries, and the Kansas rivalry can remain in both big money sports as a neutral site non-conference game in Kansas City similar to the one Mizzou now plays against the Illini.

  3. dsdonut says:

    Good summary, but I think you are off on a couple of things.

    Like most fans, you focused on an athletic perspective. As a Big Ten fan, I would like to see the athletic angle given priority, but I think for the Big Ten, the focus will be on academics and $$$$$. The school that gets added will have to bring something to the table. The only realistic candidates from that perspective are Missouri and Rutgers.

    Louisville, Cincy, WV have no shot whatsoever. From a purely athletic standpoint they’d be great fits, but the academics won’t work. B10 members have to be top research universities.

    From the athletic perspective, Missouri is the way to go. They don’t suck at either football or basketball. Rutgers sucks at both. One thing you missed is that Missouri does have a pretty good rivalry with Illinois. The fan in me wanst Mizzou – assuming ND and Texas aren’t interested. Let’s face it – ND MIGHT be interested, Texas will definitely NOT be interested.

    My fear is that the Big Ten is going to go after Rutgers. While I agree that most of NYC doesn’t care about Rutgers, if adding Rutgers gets the Big Ten Network on millions of cable packages in NYC, the Big Ten will make money. Expansion is all about the money. Missouri provides the whole state of Missouri and mainly the StL and KC markets. That’s not NYC, but it wouldn’t hurt. Penn St. already gets BTN into most households in PA, so adding Pitt doesn’t add a new media market.

  4. G. Floyd says:

    What happens when one of these teams does fly north to the Big 10(11,12)? If a Big 12 team goes, I’m guessing that TCU now becomes part of the Big 12 and everything is fine. If the Big 10 snags someone from the Big East does this start a spiral of more conference realignments that the ACC expansion did?

  5. Andrew says:

    As for TCU, there is a lot of talk around the MWC of Boise State jumping on board this summer, bringing that conference up to 10 teams, in the hopes of eventually gaining full-fledged BCS status… While the second portion of that may be wishful thinking around the MWC’s commissioner’s office, I think the BSU part of the equation will happen.
    Does that make it harder for the Big 12 to snag TCU from the MWC? Possibly.

    IMO, the correct way for the Big Televen to do this is to get rid of one member, drop back down to ten members and then be able to play a complete round-robin in football and a home-and-home round robin in basketball the way the Pac-10 does, but the addition of a championship game and the money that goes with it certainly trumps being able to have reasonably intelligent conference scheduling…

  6. Brian says:

    Good summary I think the best realistic choice is Pittsburgh followed by Missouri. Notre Dame would be the slam dunk choice but I can’t see them joining because of football.

    Louisville, as the other poster said, does not have the academics of a Big Ten institution. Neither does West Virginia.

    Saying Rutgers is “mediocre” is really putting it mildly. The football program was the worst in D1 for years until Schiano got there and the basketball team hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 1991. I don’t see how they stand any chance.

    I think it’ll be Missouri because of the rivalry with Illinois and the location, but I’d take Pittsburgh.

  7. Pb says:


    Louisville is closer to Champaign Ill. than Cincy.

    Louisville football stadium seats 56,000 now and can be expanded to over 80,000 seats. We do have a season ticket waiting list.

    Academica are important. But for the so called people who know everything Mich St. did not become an AAU member until 10 years after they joined the Big 10. Louisville could do that in 10-15 years.

    And for the dude that said Louisville is a commuter school but wants Pitt in the confrence…Pitt could qualify as a commute school as well dude. Pitt fans are not the best. they dont travel well and cant even sell their stadium out when they play the so called rival West Virginia.

    Anyway, Louisville makes the most sense to me besides Mizzou. The Cards will go to the Big 10 or SEC….mark it down.

  8. Pb says:

    Another thing is Louisville has over 22,000 students…Not 15,000.

  9. nvr1983 says:

    Distance between Louisville/Cincinnati and Champaign: Were you really whining about 2 miles (235 miles versus 237 miles)? Anyways, you might want to try Google Maps because according to them you are driving the wrong routes.

    Students: I tried to only do the undergraduates since some schools have graduate schools in different cities, which makes them a lot less important for attendance. Yes I know that some schools have separate undergraduate campuses too, but I figure they will still support the school and quite frankly that’s more research than I was willing to do at this point.

    Football Seats: The 56k seats thing is news to me and the U of L official site (http://www.uoflsports.com/facilities/lou-facilities-papajohns-cardinal-stadium.html). The ability to expand to 80k is nice, but until they say they will and have the funds to do so doesn’t count for much.

    I’m not going to touch the petty squabbling about the relative prestige of the two schools (Pitt and Louisville).

  10. Bill K says:

    ND would be best, but Missouri is the only other school that makes sense. TCU would love to go to the Big 12.

  11. Vincent says:

    I echo the earlier comment that you can’t view this solely in athletic terms. The Big Ten views itself as sort of the Ivy League of state research institutions (with Northwestern as the lone exception). It will want Tier I academic schools that also have good Division I athletic programs, provide new markets for the Big Ten TV Network (which the conference owns) and are contiguous to current Big Ten states. Based on those criteria, only three universities qualify: Syracuse, Rutgers and…Maryland. Yes, Maryland is a darkhorse candidate for this, largely because the Big Ten has a significantly larger revenue stream than the ACC does; the allure of Big Ten football and the opportunity to boost College Park as a research institution would easily trump losing basketball games with UNC and Duke. The Big Ten is the only conference Maryland would leave the ACC for (forget those absurd Big East rumors). So expect Syracuse, Rutgers or Maryland to be the 12th school — in fact, the Big Ten could take all three to establish a solid footprint along the eastern seaboard (complementing Penn State).

  12. Jim says:

    Hey! You need to look at a map. Austin Texas is closer to Iowa City, than it is to Champaign Illinois. Iowa would be Texas closest conference competitor.

  13. nvr1983 says:

    Thanks. You are close, but I do have a map (Google Maps) and according to it the driving distance/time between Austin and Iowa City is 1,006 miles (17 hours and 2 minutes) while the distance/time between Austin and Champaign is 1,004 miles (16 hours and 42 minutes) or if you want the quicker trip it is 1,026 miles (16 hours and 32 minutes). I’m not sure why the distance I have in the post is different so I’ll correct it now. It’s close either way because I didn’t calculate the distance between the dorms and the arena, but I’d give the edge to the Austin-Champaign trip.

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