With the news that Joe Paterno wants a 12th team added to the Big Ten and the creation of a championship game, I figured I’d break down the list of possible candidates and who we might see as that 12th team someday if it happens.
First, I think it’s a good idea for the Big 10 to add another team and get up to twelve. The Big Ten is badly in need of some credibility. Don’t they sort of have to do something to change the game for the Big Ten to get some respect back?? Look at what’s going on in that league right now. They don’t have a championship game, they haven’t matched the Pac 10 by playing a 9th league game, and almost every team in the league opens the season by playing 3 MAC teams and a I-AA team!! It’s like a pupu platter of lousy scheduling.
Not only that, the Big Ten has been getting run off the field time and time again in big games and bowl games. Why not add a 12th team and a championship game to get the league playing games in December so that it’s closer to the bowl games in January?? And while you’re at it, why not man up and add a 9th league game?? Wouldn’t that immediately add some credibility to the league??
For those reasons, I think the Big Ten should make some serious inquiries about adding a 12th team to the league. My criteria for this list would the following:
1) Would they come?? - Obviously there are certain schools that the Big Ten would probably love to have (ND immediately comes to mind), but it’s not realistically going to happen
2) Is it a good fit for the league?? - This category comes down to media markets, geographical fit, academic fit, and also school enrollment fit.
3) What do they add to the league in football and basketball?? - At the end of the day, the Big Ten is a football league and football is going to get first consideration, but I think a strong basketball program certainly would be a good addition to the league
By the way, what would happen to the league name if the Big Ten added another team?? How could they still call themselves the Big Ten if they added a 12th team?? Wouldn’t that be even more silly than it already is with eleven teams?? I think a league name would have to come with the expansion. My nomination would be The Great Lakes Conference or maybe the Midwest Conference or something like that.
Without further adieu, a list of teams in order that I’d go after if I was the Big Ten. Since any Big Ten expansion would be a marriage of sorts, I've broken these categories down into a list from "no way" to "she's the one!!"
"She won't even talk to me, man"
While I have no idea if this is actually true, I have heard from time to time that the Big 10 would love to talk to Texas as a possibility. Even though the geographical fit makes zero sense, there are some in Big Ten camps who think that Texas would be such a perfect fit academically and athletically and that the geography problem would be worth it. Texas is such a high-profile school with elite athletics and big time grad programs and research dollars. They are basically the dream school for what the Big 10 would want. A monster school with tons of money and great sports and great media markets.
The problem is that Texas is probably the dream school for every conference. The SEC, the Pac 10, and of course the Big 12. And Texas knows it. I have heard that they are not in love with their situation in the Big 12 for money reasons, but why would they be interested in the Big 10?? What is the nexus between schools like Illinois and Texas?? It's way too unwieldy to even think about.
Texas has become the heart of Big 12 country, and they are the king pin of the entire Southwest region. I really can't see them ever leaving the Big 12. Heck, the only move I could see Texas making would be a move toward independence like Notre Dame. The Big 10 is most likely never going to be on their radar.
"Quick, change the phone number before they call us again"
Please. No way Memphis is even on the radar. It’s a bad geographical fit, it’s a bad school academically, and their football program is a mid-major with no tradition. Even the basketball program is going to take a major step back without Calipari. Memphis would probably join the Big Ten in a heartbeat, but there’s no way the Big Ten would ever reciprocate.
17. Iowa State --
Ummm, no thanks. I've heard their name mentioned a few times, but what would be the point of adding Iowa State?? So that Iowa has a rival?? Who cares if Iowa has a rival in the Big 10?? It's Iowa. Iowa is LUCKY to have one team in the Big 10 as far as I'm concerned. The Big 10 doesn't need to be doing any favors to the state of Iowa.
Iowa State has barely been on the radar in the sports world in the last decade. It's freaking Iowa State. They're maybe the worst sports program in the Big 12 right now. And it's in Ames, Iowa!! Unless the Big 10 is trying to corner those huge Iowa media markets of Davenport and Des Moines, there's no point in adding them to the league.
If the Big 10 waits all this time to expand and then adds Iowa State and trumpets that as a major move to increase the competitiveness of the league, the league will be an even bigger laughingstock than it already is. That's like the Pittsburgh Pirates trading for Matt Morris last year and then trying to sell it like it was a significant move.
The Big 10 only gets one shot to expand here. If they use their chip on Iowa State, it would be a disaster.
"Intriguing at first, but way too crazy"
16. Rutgers –
I’ve heard Rutgers trotted out there as a “sleeper” team a few times, but this one makes no sense to me. I’ve heard that the Big Ten is intrigued by Rutgers because of the proximity to the New York media market, but I don’t buy that. Since when has Rutgers, a school in NEW JERSEY, ever captivated the New York media market?? Get real. Who cares about freaking Rutgers in New York City?? NYC is a pro town, and the only college football teams that anyone probably even remotely pays attention to in New York City are Notre Dame and Michigan. If the Big Ten added Rutgers with an expectation that they would suddenly be able to corner the NYC market, they’re out of their minds.
Rutgers is not a good fit. It’s an east coast school with a small fanbase that isn’t going to appeal to anyone in the Midwest. If you live in the Midwest, you’ve probably met someone who is a fan of just about every school in the Big 10. When would you ever come into contact with a Rutgers fan?? Are there Rutgers fans??
If the Big Ten added Rutgers, I think it would be a huge mistake. It would be similar to the NHL abandoning Canada and adding all those Sun Belt teams. On paper, it makes sense to go for the bigger markets and attractive areas, but it’s not a good fit. Stick to the parts of the country that know Big Ten sports. Rutgers would make the league this hybrid East coast/Midwest league. That’s not the Big Ten, and it would dilute the product. The Big Ten probably needs to keep its focus in the Midwest.
15. Boise State --
Believe it or not, I've actually heard a rumbling or two about Boise State as a candidate for the Big 10. Boise State is begging to get into a BCS conference. The only way they are ever going to take the next step as a football program is if they get themselves into a BCS conference. The two leagues that are the most logical fit for Boise State (the Big 12 and the Pac 10) don't really have room for them right now or aren't interested or both.
As crazy as it sounds, I think there are some intriguing aspects to Boise State. First, Boise State is COMMITTED to having a big time football program. They have pumped considerable money into the program, they are pounding the recruiting trail, and it seems like they have galvanized that region of the country into Broncos Nation. As we've said here on this blog a few times, that Mountain region is growing in terms of population, and it seems like football is really getting popular out there with an explosion in high school programs. Between Utah, Boise, and BYU, there are some programs really on the rise out there. For all we know, Boise State could be a powerhouse someday. I honestly would not be shocked by that. The way these west coast governments are going with their spending and taxes and debt, people are going to be fleeing California and the coastal states for the Utahs and Idahos of the Mountain region.
Second, adding Boise State to the league would be the kind of bold move that you NEVER see out of the Big 10. When has the Big 10 ever done something bold like that to really shake things up in the league and sort of get people intrigued about the league?? Imagine the reaction if they made that announcement.
"WHOA! Boise State in the Big 10?? That's a bold move!!"
I think about it this way. SOMEBODY is going to add Boise State someday. Maybe the Big 12. Maybe the Pac 10. Maybe a new Mountain West Conference chips off a couple teams from the Big 12 and WAC and gets BCS status. If Boise keeps this up and the program continues to gain a higher profile, they'll be attractive to someone.
Why not the Big 10?? Why not at least look into it?? If Boise State has the potential to become a perennial top 15 team, wouldn't they be a potentially great addition to a league that badly needs some new blood??
With air travel and things like that, having a team in Boise is not completely unreasonable either in terms of geography. It wouldn't be quite as convenient, but a lot of leagues are spread all over these days. Look at the ACC right now. At the end of the day, a flight is a flight. They could make that work.
The problem is that Boise is a bit of a cowboy school, and I have no idea how they fit in academically with the Big 10 schools. They may also have shoddy Olympic sports for all I know, so it's definitely something that the Big 10 would have to look at from all angles. They might not be a realistic candidate right now, but they have to be on the radar. If the Big 10 still hasn't expanded in 5-6 years and Boise is still surging and growing, they might become a legitimate option.
"Has a 'great personality'"
14. Navy -
As strange as this one would sound, Navy would actually be an intriguing option someday if they ever changed the military service requirement laws for USNA students. I don't know if that is something they would ever do, but I have heard rumors before that they have considered it.
If Navy ever reversed that stance and made a commitment to have better athletic programs, I could see them turning into a really solid football program that could compete in major college football. Isn't there something attractive about the Navy and the education that you would get?? Obviously not every big time football player would be interested, but I think at least some people would be attracted to what Navy has to offer. If you didn't have that five year service commitment hanging over your head and could go to Navy with a goal to play professional football, Navy could really pick up in recruiting. Couldn't they build a new stadium with some federal dollars and join the arms race??
In terms of the prestige of adding the Naval Academy to your conference and their overall academic profile, I think they'd be an interesting addition. As it stands though, it would never happen. Navy doesn't have the appeal from an athletic standpoint that the Big Ten is looking for. Adding Navy right now would be the equivalent of adding a MAC team, and they don't even have their own stadium. Adding Navy would be purely an academic prestige move, and that's not enough reason to expand.
13. Vanderbilt -
Another school that has a lot of things going for it, but they don't really the big time athletics that the Big 10 probably wants to add. I think Vandy would be a good fit culturally and academically in the Big 10. How are they in the SEC anyway?? The SEC has turned into an NFL minor league, and then there's Vandy trotting out mid-major talent and boosting up the league's graduation rate. It's sort of a strange fit. In the Big 10, Vandy could have a fighting chance to hang around in the middle of the league with the Northwesterns and Minnesotas of the league.
I know Vandy is a southern school, but I feel like there a ton of people from Cincy and Ohio and the Midwest who end up going down there. It's got a southern flavor with some of the fraternity stuff, but it'd probably fit in just fine in the Midwest as well.
Anyway, Vandy would not be a realistic candidate unless they really changed their mindset on sports. As of right now, I don't even think they have a full athletic department. Their sports are decent, but how would it be a good thing for the Big 10 if they added the worst football program in the SEC to the league?? That would be sort of laughable.
"Doesn't get along with the family"
12. Syracuse --
The next category of schools don't really fit the Big Ten profile academically or in terms of size and regional appeal, but they do have some positives going for them and are much more realistic options than some of the other entrenched schools. This category also could be known as the "city schools that are known for basketball and don't really add a ton of cache to the league" grouping.
Syracuse isn’t a natural fit on paper, but at least Syracuse is a college town. A place like Syracuse that lives and dies with Syracuse sports probably has a lot of similarities to places like Madison and Lansing and even Columbus for that matter. That whole upstate New York region is Syracuse country, so there’s sort of a regional appeal to Syracuse that you see at a lot of these Big Ten schools. It’s different from these city schools like Pitt and Cincy that are in pro towns and have limited regional appeal.
My question would be how interested Syracuse would be in joining the Big Ten. At the end of the day, Syracuse is a basketball school. That’s where their bread is buttered, and I assume that they generate big revenue for hoops with that huge stadium. Syracuse IS the Big East. When I think of the Big East in hoops, I think of Syracuse basketball. Along with Georgetown, they’ve been the flagship program of the league for the last 30 years. I couldn’t even imagine Syracuse not playing Big East basketball. If the Big East breaks up someday, I still think that Syracuse will find a way to make sure they are still associated with Georgetown and UConn in some capacity.
Syracuse probably wouldn’t be a viable candidate unless there was a Big East implosion, but I could see them as an attractive backup plan if some other big names declined.
11. Louisville –
In terms of geography, Louisville would have to be a candidate, and there's no denying that Louisville has a GREAT fanbase. Louisville fans are probably the most underrated fanbase in terms of travel in the country. Those folks will go on the road to support their Cards. Plus, you'd be getting the Louisville basketball program. Big coup right there. Louisville is also a fun city, so that would be a good addition. I could see them hosting a Big 10 basketball tournament someday.
I’ll say this right now though. The Big Ten is not going to add a “basketball school” to the league. If they add a 12th team to the league, it’s for the purposes of a championship game and beefing up the football part of the league. Having a good basketball program is not going to hurt, but the Big 10 wants to step up its football product. If they can’t get a heavyweight, they at least want to get someone who is going to hold their own and be a reliable program. Louisville is not a reliable football program. There’s just not enough talent in their part of the country to support a top notch college football program, and a lot of the best players in that area are going elsewhere (Kentucky, other SEC schools, ND, Ohio State, etc).
Louisville is a basketball school, and it's a "local" school. Louisville is second rate in its own state and doesn't have much of a presence outside the city of Louisville. It's not a great fit academically for the Big 10 either. I think they'll be on the radar, but I think they are down a notch or two.
10. Cincinnati –
While UC is a Midwestern school that fits in geographically, UC in the Big Ten would never happen. Ohio State would never allow it. The impression that Paterno gave in his talk about Big Ten expansion is that there are “certain people” who are basically running the league. My guess there is that the people he’s referring to are the Ohio State and Michigan presidents and the Ohio State and Michigan athletic directors. The Big Ten today is the same that it’s been for fifty years. OSU and Michigan running the show and everyone else getting in line behind them. If Ohio State doesn’t want a team in the league, that team is not getting into the league.
There is no chance that Ohio State will let Cincinnati in the Big Ten. They don’t want any threat of an in-state rival to eat into the Ohio high school talent pool. If UC is in the Big Ten, suddenly they can sell that to recruits. “Hey, no need to go to Ohio State when you can come to Cincinnati and play Big Ten football just like them.” For kids growing up in the Midwest/Ohio, playing in the Big Ten is a big deal. If UC can offer that, suddenly they might be able to at least compete with Ohio State for players. As it stands now, any kid that is considering UC and Ohio State is going to end up at Ohio State. I don’t think UC has ever won one of those battles. Heck, they are barely even in those recruiting battles.
Honestly, I don’t think UC is really a good fit for the Big Ten anyway. UC is a city school. The Big Ten is full of big land grant schools on huge spread out campuses. I don’t think of UC as a Big Ten type school. Plus, the Cincinnati market isn’t going to become more of a “Big Ten” market by adding UC to the league. Cincy is sort of a divided college town as it is. You have Ohio State fans, Notre Dame fans, UC fans, Xavier fans who won’t root for UC in anything even though Xavier doesn’t have a football team, Kentucky fans, and even some hints of West Virginia and Louisville fans. Cincy is a pro town with pockets of allegiance to college teams. Adding UC to the Big Ten is only going to convert the UC fans to the Big Ten, and that’s not that big of a percentage.
I like UC in the Big East. It’s a good fit. City schools, basketball schools, good east coast presence. The Big Ten with their stodgy ways and sweater vests wouldn’t be a good fit for UC.
9. Pitt –
Pitt is an interesting candidate, and I’d definitely put them somewhere in the second tier candidates. They aren’t an A-list candidate, but they’d be a good addition to the league in many ways. They are also one of the more realistic options as a Big East team that happens to be close to the Midwest.
For starters, Pitt gives Penn State an immediate rival in the league and adds a little spice to the east coast flank of the Big Ten. I feel like Penn State is a little bit disillusioned in the Big Ten right now. It seems like their fanbase has never really warmed up to the Big Ten thing, and a lot of the Penn State people still feel more of a tie to East coast football than the Midwest brand that you see in the Big Ten. For recruiting purposes, Penn State likes to get out into Jersey and Maryland and New York for some recruits to bolster their Pennsylvania players. None of those regions have any sort of presence in the Big Ten.
Let’s face it, the Big Ten is a Midwestern league. Penn State is an elite football program in an elite state for high school talent, but they haven’t really blended smoothly into the league even to this day. Penn State people don’t care about places like Minneapolis and Des Moines and Champaign. They have no ties to those parts of the country. Culturally, it’s still a strange fit.
Plus, Penn State has no rival right now. They can’t really claim Ohio State or Michigan. That’s silliness. There isn’t one Ohio State or Michigan fan in the country who considers Penn State their biggest rival. Especially the Michigan fans. The Big Ten has been trotting out Michigan State as a rival for Penn State, but come on. It’s forced at best. Sparty has one rival: Michigan. Adding Pitt to the league would give Penn State a legitimate rival, and at least Pitt is within the geographical range of the Big Ten. The city of Pittsburgh has already gotten used to Big Ten sports with Penn State in the league, so there’s already a tie that makes sense.
Plus, Pitt has turned into a great basketball school that would really give a shot of life to the Big Ten in hoops. They have a great arena, great coach, good fans, good recruiting pipeline in New York City. They would give the Big Ten a little bit of east coast exposure that the Big Ten sorely needs in basketball. They sort of play an east coast brand of basketball mixed in with a hardnosed Big Ten style, so it would even be a good fit from that standpoint.
The only thing holding me back from embracing Pitt as a viable candidate is the football program. Are we really sure that Pitt is headed in the right direction in football?? Are they really a legitimate football program?? I can’t say at this point. They’ve made some strides in the last decade or so, but it’s just not that great of a program. It just feels like they are hanging by a string at all times. If Wannstedt lost control a little bit, they could very easily swirl down the drain again. What do they really add from a football standpoint?? Plus, would Pitt be the only team in the Big Ten that doesn’t have its own stadium on campus?? Now that Minnesota has their own on campus stadium, I think everyone in the league has their own stadium. Pitt plays in the Steelers Stadium, and their crowds are really nothing special.
The other thing is that I wonder how much Pitt would actually fit into the Big East. Again, it’s more of an eastern school, and it’s a city school. A school like Pitt and a school like Wisconsin or Illinois couldn’t be more different. Are we sure Pitt would even go running to the Big Ten?? I guess the money that the Big Ten brings in for football would be tough to turn down.
I don’t know. Pitt gets brought up a lot for the Big Ten. I don’t think it would be a bad choice, but there are better choices out there.
"Already dating someone else"
8. Boston College –
This one is probably very unlikely to happen, but I can’t quite rule it out for some reason. I could at least see a scenario where these two parties have a discussion on the possibility someday.
The reason why I’m putting BC down here is that I still can’t take them seriously in the ACC. Even though they say they are perfectly happy, is BC really benefiting from the ACC?? They’re attendance still stinks, they’re on an island up there in Boston, they don’t really recruit any players down in the Carolinas, and it seems like the league goes out of its way to stick BC in the worst bowl games possible. The ACC is a southern league. BC is an afterthought with no leverage. In terms of importance to the league, they’re probably at or near the bottom.
Now, would that possibly be the case as well in the Big Ten with all these big land grant schools running the show?? Potentially, but I think there’s much more of a connection in the Midwest with BC. First, the Catholic population in the Midwest is pretty high, and there are always quite a few kids from the Midwest who end up going to BC. The BC-ND connection is strong, so a lot of people know about BC from watching BC-ND games over the years. BC also seems to recruit a lot of players from Ohio and Indiana and Illinois. There’s always a handful of Cincy kids on the BC roster just about every year. Even though it’s an eastern school, the Catholic thing has given BC a presence in the Midwest that you don’t see from schools like Syracuse and certainly not from Rutgers or even Pitt for that matter. Put it this way. I can’t remember one Cincy high school kid who has ever gone to Syracuse or Rutgers to play football. But BC?? They are almost always on the radar with the Catholic high school kids in Cleveland and Cincy and other schools.
BC is not a national school by any means, but it’s also not a local school either and certainly not a southern school. There’s at least somewhat of a fit between the Big Ten and BC. It would actually help their recruiting to be affiliated with the Big Ten because it would enhance their profile with Midwest Catholics who want to go to college in a big city. And it’s a good school, so they might steal away some of the guys who would ordinarily consider a place like Northwestern.
For the Big Ten, I think they would benefit from BC in the league. BC is sort of a poor man’s Notre Dame, and the Big Ten covets Notre Dame. So maybe BC would be the next best thing for the league. They’d get a Catholic presence, it’s a good school, and they at least have some appeal in the Midwest. They wouldn’t be a heavyweight to add to the league, but they’d probably fit in somewhere in the middle class of the Big Ten depending on who their coach is and who they have on the roster. They could do a lot worse than adding BC.
BC says they’re happy in the ACC, so I do have to take them at their word. But if they reach a point in 5-10 years where they don’t like their relationship with the ACC and don’t feel like they are fitting in, they might start looking around. The Big East is probably going to be broken up by then, and they might not want BC anyway after getting burned by them. So the Big Ten could get into the mix for them someday.
7. Notre Dame
The only reason I even have Notre Dame on this list is that I have no doubt that the Big 10 will make a play for Notre Dame again if they ever commit to expansion. Before they start looking at the Missouris and Pitts and Syracuses of the world, Jim Delaney is going to make that phone call up to South Bend to talk to Jack Swarbrick and see if he can work something out to entice ND to the Big 10. If ND ever had interest, they are always at the top of the list. Say what you want about ND's sports programs, but ND puts butts in the seats and money in the coffers. In terms of getting national exposure and adding a high profile program, there is no bigger name than ND. The Big 10 wants the New York market?? Forget Rutgers or Syracuse. Go get ND. The Big 10 wants a mid-Atlantic presence?? Forget Pitt or Maryland. ND dwarfs both of them combined. The Big 10 wants St. Louis?? Missouri would be great, but ND gives you plenty of people in St. Louis but also throws in the rest of the country.
Plus, you couldn't ask for a better geographical fit. ND is basically right in the heart of Big Ten country within a 2-3 hour drive of West Lafayette, Bloomington, Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Champaign, and Chicago. South Bend is practically the epicenter of the Big Ten. For an ND fan living in the Midwest, every road trip would be within driving distance.
With that said, there is a 0% chance that ND is joining the Big 10, and I don't want ND to join the Big 10. From ND's perspective, the Big 10 is not a good fit at all. We'd be boxing ourselves into the Midwest even though we have all sorts of pipelines and connections to the west coast and the east and even the south. There is no reason to join the Big 10 from a financial or academic or athletic perspective.
I think ND will always remain an independent, and I prefer it that way. The only conference affiliation that I could conceivably support would be a revamped Big East conference where a bunch of long time ND opponents got together to form a new league. Maybe something like this:
I think that would be an interesting league. ND could play 8 league games, traditional games with Navy and USC, someone out of the MSU/Purdue/Michigan group, and maybe one "flex" game that depends on the circumstances of the schedule (Stanford, "buy game", occasional big time home and home). That would be a very interesting schedule year in and year out for ND, and we'd get a pretty wide variety of games throughout the country. 3-4 heavyweights, tons of mid-level teams, and a handful of easier games that should be wins.
6. Maryland --
Believe it or not, I've heard Maryland's name come up before in the past about the Big 10. If there was actually some legitimate interest on their end, I think they would be a very exciting addition to the league. In terms of a "wow" move, that one would be right near the top of the list.
The question is whether Maryland would actually be interested. I know they are pretty entrenched down in the ACC, but I've always felt like some of those non-Carolina teams feel left out in the ACC. Maryland has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle a little bit in football and basketball. Maybe the Big 10 could give them a breath of fresh air.
Geographically, it's not as strange of a fit as one would presume. The state of Maryland bumps up against Pennsylvania and West Virginia. It's not like it's a southern state that would make no sense. The other thing is that Maryland has a little more statewide/regional appeal than a place like Pitt or Louisville.
For the record, I don't consider Maryland all that realistic of an option. They are a long time ACC school with long time rivalries. I can't see Maryland fans being excited about giving up Duke and UNC games for Ohio State and Purdue. I'd put this one down as a bit of a pipe dream, but I wouldn't completely rule it out.
5. Kentucky -
I have absolutely no idea if Kentucky would even listen, but UK would be a big time addition on a number of fronts. It would give the Big 10 a unique culture, a great new city in Lexington, a southern element that still has connections to the north, great basketball, the flagship football program in the state of Kentucky, great fans, good fit geographically, and a pretty good school with good graduate programs. If the Big 10 wants to add a fanbase that will bring 30,000 people to the freaking Champs Sports Bowl, UK is the school they want.
UK would be more of a well-rounded addition than a football addition. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'd rather have Kentucky in the Big 10 than Iowa or Minnesota or even Purdue.
In terms of basketball, you're getting one of the premier programs in the country. And it's only a couple hours from Ohio State and IU and Illinois for that matter. UK would fit right into the league in basketball, and I actually think it would help their recruiting to go to the Big 10. They don't really seem to recruit a lot of players in the deep south, so the SEC does them no favors in terms of recruiting. Plus, the SEC is so football-obsessed that UK is sort of out on an island anyway. UK almost has to apologize to recruits for playing in the SEC. That shouldn't be the case. They might actually like the change to the Big 10 for their hoops program, and it would be a huge gain for Big 10 basketball.
Even for football, UK would be a good addition. As it stands now, they have a 0% chance of ever getting to an SEC championship game with Florida and Georgia and Tennessee in their division. If they got the right draw in the Big 10, I could see it happening. Kentucky is not a great football program, but they are competitive. And their football games are fun and draw good crowds. I think the Big 10 would be attractive for football to UK.
The only problem here. Would they be interested?? As soon as you cross the Ohio River into the Commonwealth of Kentucky, it's like entering a different country. Lexington is 70 miles from Cincinnati, but it's a southern city in every way. Completely different culturally than Ann Arbor or Minneapolis or Bloomington. Lexington is one of the nicest little cities around, but the suits from the Big 10 might not adjust well to being called "honey" when they walk into a gas station. Kentucky fans and alums are more likely to identify with Georgia and Tennessee fans than Illinois and Michigan State fans even if the proximity to both is about the same.
If UK was interested, I'd probably bump them up a few spots here, maybe even as high as #2. As it stands, they are a long time SEC member with southern ties galore, so it would probably take some pretty extensive salesmanship to get them to leave.
4. Virginia Tech --
I've mentioned a few ACC schools now, and none of them really seem like realistic options. And while BC and Maryland would both be fine additions to the Big 10, neither of them would be the type of impact school that really shook up the balance of power in the league. Virginia Tech would be a major addition to the Big 10 though.
Would they be interested?? Probably not if you really think about it. They've been dying to get into the ACC for years, so I can't see them leaving now that they've joined that club. They have the in-state rivalry in place with Virginia, and their geography makes sense in the ACC.
But is it possible that the Big 10 would be a better fit for a football school like Virginia Tech?? The ACC in its current form is sort of floundering in football. The two divisions don't have any method to their structure, the big names are down, they aren't really getting much tv exposure, and the ACC Championship game is drawing high school size crowds these days. There's not a lot of enthusiasm about ACC football these days.
Could the Big 10 go to Virginia Tech and really sell them on taking their program to higher levels of exposure by playing in the Big 10?? Say what you want about the Big 10's quality of play, but the Big 10 teams/games get good ratings on ABC. It doesn't matter who Penn State and Michigan are playing. It's going to have good ratings. People have been watching these programs for decades. In the ACC, the only time they are getting any type of large tv audience across the country is for a Florida State-Miami game.
Even though VT has become a consistent top 10-15 program, most people do not watch Virginia Tech all season until their bowl game. Heck, the only guys that most people know from VT's program in the last 10 years are the Vick brothers. If they were playing more of those "national tv" Virginia Tech-Michigan type games in the Big 10 at 3:30pm EST on ABC, would their profile grow a little more??
For the Big 10, the appeal of the Hokies would be obvious. They'd be getting a program that has had great fan support and great success for the last 10-15 years, and they have the crediblity as a "football school" that the Big 10 desires. If they added VT to Penn State, Michigan, and Ohio State, they'd have quite a bit of heavyweight firepower in the league. They would be a school that came in right away looking to win Big Ten championships. Suddenly, the league would be deeper and more competitive in bowl games. Putting Virginia Tech in the Capital One bowl instead of Michigan State would be a big upgrade.
This one would probably come down to whether VT thought they could make their football program better by moving leagues. Recruiting would also be a factor here. I don't know where VT gets their players, but they probably aren't going to think about joining the Big 10 if most of their recruiting terrain is in the Virginia and southern areas. The guys who grew up watching ACC football are not going to want to play at Virginia Tech if they are in the Big 10. Then again, people probably said the same thing about Penn State in the early 1990s when they were about to join the Big 10, and they seem to be doing just fine in recruiting.
3. West Virginia
In terms of value and availability, would there be a better option than West Virginia?? West Virginia isn't flashy or glamourous, but look at what their sports programs have accomplished!! Two BCS bowl wins in the last four years, a steady stream of 8+ wins in the last two decades, a rabid fanbase, a statewide passion for the program, and a reputation for overachieving. And that's just the football program. The basketball program has been to the Sweet 16 three times in the last five years as well.
How many other sports programs have accomplished what the Mountaineers have in the last five or so years??? There are probably a handful of schools at best.
The other thing about West Virginia is that they would probably move heaven and earth to get into the Big 10. The Big East has been good to WVU, but the Big 10 would be a step up in prestige and a safe landing spot in case the Big East implodes for football. West Virginia is probably the strongest all around program in the league these days, and their momentum would be crushed if the Big East went into the tank for football. Instead of playing the Cincys and UConns of the world and having to defend themselves against people bashing their schedule and legitimacy (rightfully so), they'd be in a safe, established league that at least has more credibility than the Big East. Plus, it would give the school a pretty sizeable boost on the academic front.
In terms of rivalries, I think we'd be seeing an Ohio State-West Virginia rivalry spark up immediately. Call it the "Battle for the Burnt Couch" or something like that. There are a lot of WVU fans in Ohio, and I could see that one getting heated.
If the Big Ten is not able to expand its flank to the west, there might be an option in the near east in Morgantown that would work out very well for the league.
Now we're getting to the two sports programs that I would term as "home runs" for the Big 10. The first one I'd list is Missouri. While Missouri doesn't quite have the tradition rich, championship-level football program that the Big 10 might be looking for, it's such a natural fit that the Big 10 would be crazy not to at least try to engage them about the possibility.
For starters, it's one of those big land grant, Midwestern schools with 30,000 students in a nice, progressive college town. It's the type of academic fit that the Big Ten wants with big research dollars and facilities. It's a good fit geographically that would balance out the Big Ten to the west a little bit.
In terms of media markets, Missouri would really open up the St. Louis market to the Big Ten and maybe even shoot out towards Kansas City. They already have a rivalry going with Illinois, so that would probably heat up if they ever joined the league.
The only question is whether Missouri would be interested. I know they have a rivalry with Kansas and a ton of history in the Big 8 with Nebraska and others in that league, so they might not be interested at all. If I was a fan of Missouri, would I be interested in joining the Big 10?? Probably not. You've spent all these years with these other programs that are in your region. Why switch?? Plus, it's not like the Big 10 is some step up athletically for Mizzou sports. The Big 10 has stunk in football and basketball for years while the Big 12 has emerged as a power conference.
I have read that the school would be interested though. The Big 10 has a strong academic pull and probably has the dollars to chase after Mizzou.
If the Big Ten ever gets serious about expanding and comes to terms with the fact that Notre Dame is not joining the league, I'd be going hard after Missouri.
For my #1 choice for Big Ten expansion, let's go to Lincoln, Nebraska. If the Big 10 is looking for football tradition and a big time atmosphere and big time fanbase, there's really nothing like Nebraska football. Their fans are right up there with the best in the nation, and the passion for Husker football in the whole state is unmatched. If the Big 10 was looking for a powerhouse program to anchor a "Western Division," I don't know how they wouldn't at least inquire about Nebraska. Suddenly, the league would have four heavyweights with great tradition and huge fanbases. For the Big 10, the benefits of adding a program like Nebraska would be obvious. They are a no-brainer.
Here's how I would sell Nebraska on the Big 10. Even though I consider Nebraska to still be an elite program, they have sort of been marginalized in the Big 12. The Big 12 has turned into a Texas-oriented league these days. Texas is running the show, and OU is right there with a roster full of Texans. Plus, you have Texas Tech and A&M with huge pull down there. If you want to win in the Big 12, you have to be hitting the Texas area hard for players.
Plus, the Big 12 headquarters are based in Dallas. The marquee game of the year is no longer OU-Nebraska. They don't even play every year any more. Now, it's OU-Texas. That is THE Big 12 game, and the other Texas rivalries are close behind. It is plainly obvious that the focus of the league has shifted to the Big 12 South with the Big 12 North fighting for scraps. For Nebraska, they are now sort of an afterthought in the Big 12 mixed in there with Kansas and Missouri even though they have as much tradition as anyone in the conference. I don't know if that has hurt their recruiting in the Midwest, but maybe players are reaching the point where a Nebraska offer is no different than an offer from Missouri and Kansas. Nebraska doesn't seem to have the same profile right now that they have traditionally had in the league.
Would that change in the Big 10?? Honestly, I think it could be a great move for Nebraska's football program. The Big 10 programs are sort of the old school, traditional programs that remind me of Nebraska. It's Midwestern football instead of southern football. Cold weather, leaves changing colors, hard nosed Midwestern players, fans with Midwestern accents who wear corny sweaters to games. Isn't that basically Nebraska?? Wouldn't they fit in better with Iowa fans and Illinois fans and Wisconsin fans than Texas Tech and A&M fans??
I think a school like Nebraska could get into Illinois and Ohio and Indiana for players while also mining their region and nabbing some kids out of Texas. Bo Pelini is an Ohio guy who could probably make an attractive pitch to kids from this part of the country. Nebraska isn't really on the radar in Ohio, but it would be if they were in the Big 10.
I think they'd be a great cultural fit for the league. Maybe Nebraska doesn't have a bunch of media markets, but there are Husker fans all over. And I guarantee that the Big 10 Network would be getting record ratings on a nightly basis in Lincoln and Omaha if Nebraska joined the league. Those folks follow Nebraska football with a religious fervor.
To me, Nebraska is a grand slam. The expansion is about football. If you are looking for football, go get Nebraska. For Big 10 fans, going out to Lincoln for a game would be a must-do road trip almost immediately. They'd give the league a perfect partner for a 12th team, and they'd be the marquee name that would really accelerate the process for a Big 10 championship game.