With all these rumors out there about Texas joining the Big Ten, I thought I’d break this thing down. Three big questions on my mind:
1) Why would Texas be interested in joining the Big Ten??
The biggest question that seems to come up when you start talking about Texas is why they would even be interested. What exactly does Texas gain from joining a league in a dying economic region where the closest team to them geographically is Iowa?? I looked up the distance between Austin, Texas and Iowa City, and you’re looking at a 1,000 mile trip between the schools (16 hour drive). Then you start talking about trips to State College (1,500 miles) and Ann Arbor (1,375), and you start scratching your head wondering why Texas would be interested.
If we were addressing this question 15-20 years ago, there’s no way this could happen. But the world is flat these days so to speak. With air travel and internet and cable tv deals, there’s not as much separation between these two regions of the country as there would have been before the modern era of technology. Take travel for instance. Purdue takes a 3 hour bus ride to Champaign for a Big Ten basketball game. Meanwhile, it’s a 2-2.5 hour flight from Austin to Champaign.
Now, would shuffling around your women’s lacrosse team and your soccer team by air get expensive?? Oh yea, of course. It's a potentially big budget buster except for one thing. The Big Ten would be promising revenue that would make it more than worthwhile.
Why?? Four words. The Big Ten Network. I will admit that I was leery of the BTN initially (especially when cable companies refused to put it on the air and Big Ten fans suddenly couldn’t watch their teams play on television), but it has turned out to be a genius promotional and revenue-generating vehicle for the Big Ten. Not only does every team in the Big Ten draw in $20+ million from the Big Ten Network, they all have a partial ownership in the network that is something like a $35 million equity position. The thing has become a cash cow, and now that the Big Ten has done the heavy lifting to get it on all the major cable providers, these schools are like OPEC countries right now. Just sitting on a pot of gold.
To put this into perspective, a school like Northwestern (which can’t even sell out their own football stadium) is making DOUBLE what Notre Dame is making right now in television revenue. Can you believe that?? We have a national television deal with NBC, and we’re getting half of what teams like Northwestern and Purdue are getting. Imagine what we could do with an extra $10 million a year. Maybe we could build a new basketball practice facility or any number of projects.
And that’s before you start talking about ABC/ESPN television revenue. Say what you want about the Big Ten, but the league still draws television eyeballs. One reason might be all the transplanted Big Ten people that are all over the country. Think about all the people from the Midwest who went to Iowa and Wisconsin and Illinois and Ohio State who now live in places like Phoenix and Los Angeles and Seattle and Tampa and Miami and Jacksonville and all these other Sun Belt cities.
It’s amazing. I remember being in Seattle for a wedding a couple years ago during the college football season, and the biggest sports bar in the downtown area was rented out by the Penn State and Ohio State alumni clubs. What does that say about those fanbases?? They are national brands. There are huge alumni clubs from these Big Ten schools in just about every major city in the country.
Compare this to the SEC schools or the Big 12 schools. Once you get outside of their geographic footprint, it’s like a needle in a haystack finding their fans in other parts of the country. For the most part, Big12 fandom consists of the Great Plains region. Same with SEC fans. How many LSU fans are there in Philly and Detroit??
As much as demographics are changing in this country, the bulk of the American population is still congregated in these northern and eastern cities. In Big 10 country, you have cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Philadephia. In the Big 12, you have all the Texas cities (Austin, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio), Kansas City, St. Louis, and Denver. In terms of population, it’s a smaller footprint. In terms of money and television revenue, the Big Ten is still a far bigger draw than the Big 12.
The other thing is branding. Texas doesn't need the Big Ten by any means to enhance their sports programs (if anything, it's a step down in terms of competition) but in terms of branding, the possibilities for Texas to take their brand to the national level would be enormous. As great as Texas is as a sports program, is anyone really paying that much attention to Texas outside of the southwest??
If they joined the Big Ten, suddenly they’d be getting a major platform in the Midwest and East coast on a week in and week out basis during the college football and basketball seasons. You’d have games like Texas-Penn State, Texas-Michigan, Texas-Ohio State that would be getting massive ratings on national tv. Not only would Texas remain huge in the southwest, they’d also be a major player in the north as well.
This could be Texas’ opportunity to make a move to become the heir apparent to Notre Dame and USC as THE national program going forward. They could have a coast to coast appeal, and it would take their brand to the next level.
Now, I do see some downside here that shouldn’t be completely ignored. From a competitive standpoint, is it a disadvantage to have all those games outside of your home base in Texas?? Last year, they played three football games outside the state of Texas, and one of them was a fluke game at Wyoming. If they joined the Big 10, they’d probably be looking at 4-5 games a year outside of the state.
Same thing with basketball and all the other non-revenue sports. You’d be going on all these long road trips to the Midwest throughout the year. That can become a grind after awhile.
Will the high school athletes in Texas be interested in playing Big 10 sports?? It seems strange that you’d go to school at Texas and then spend half your career in places like Madison and East Lansing instead of spending time in your geographic region in the Texas area.
And where do the fans stand on this?? Would they be ready to give up their various Big 12 rivalries?? Would they even want to join the Big 10??
The sense that I’m getting from the Texas fans is that they would be perfectly fine with joining the Big 10. They view themselves as a class above their Big 12 brethren, and seem to be attracted by the exposure and academic prestige that the Big 10 would bring. If you look at the US News rankings, it’s clear that the Big 10 is a much stronger academic conference than the Big 12. Not only do you have Northwestern, but schools like Michigan and Wisconsin and Illinois and Purdue have very good academic reputations. In fact, there isn’t a school in the Big Ten that is outside the top 50-60 range, and they all have major graduate and research departments. Compare that to the Big 12 where you have schools like Texas Tech and Kansas State, and there’s a noticeable difference.
Travel for the fans would be a pain if they want to go to road games, but you’re talking about 4 games a year. And Texas already goes on long trips to places like Ames, Iowa and Boulder, Colorado and Lincoln, Nebraska and Lawrence, Kansas as it is. There’s really not much of a difference.
I’ve always thought that this “Texas to the Big 10” thing was a pipedream, but it makes more and more sense as you think about it. For all the talk about this not making sense, I think there are a lot of attractive elements to Big 10 membership for Texas. The money is right, Texas is not enamored with their status as the lone breadwinner in the Big 12, and Texas could set themselves up as the marquee program in the nation by making that move.
2) What would the impact be on the Big 10??
Before we get to football, think about what this move would do for the Big Ten in basketball. You’d have the likes of Izzo, Barnes, Matta, Painter, Weber, Crean, Tubby Smith, and Bo Ryan. My goodness. There wouldn’t be many easy nights in that league.
But this move is about two things and two things only: Money and football. From a football standpoint, it would send a shot across the bow of the rest of the college football world. If the Big Ten could pull in Texas, the league would suddenly have four heavyweight programs (Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, Texas) and would immediately be the 2nd best football conference in America with a legitimate claim to being the best, especially if A&M and Nebraska came as part of a 14 team package deal.
The Big 10 got its mojo back a little bit in the 2010 bowl season, but it’s still a league that is on shaky ground. If a Big 10 team goes undefeated these days, the country still views them with a skeptical eye. But if you added Texas, that would all change. Either you’d have Texas coming out of the Big 10 as the undefeated champ, or you’d have someone who beat Texas. Either way, that’s a game changer.
Think about the bowl lineup that the Big 10 could trot out. They could go 7-8 deep with high quality programs. Instead of Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl, you get Penn State. Instead of Minnesota in some third tier, you might get Iowa or Texas A&M.
Only one concern there from a competitiveness standpoint. What would happen to the Minnesotas and Northwesterns and Purdues of the world?? They would be overwhelmed by the new Big Ten. You’d suddenly have Purdue going to a bowl game once every 5-6 years. In many ways, it would be like the new Big East with all the bottomfeeders who can't sniff the top half of the standings.
If you’re an Iowa fan and suddenly you have Texas, A&M, and Nebraska/Missouri to deal with plus the usual suspects, wouldn’t that make you extremely nervous?? Iowa has a lot to be proud about as a program, but that would be a major infusion of big time programs coming into the Big Ten. Right now, Iowa can crank out 8-4 seasons with an occasional run at a Big 10 title or a BCS bowl game. With Texas and Nebraska on board, would those goals still be feasible??
For the big boys, I think this move would turn about to be beneficial (although it would be an ego check when Texas shows up as the kingpin of the league from day one). Long term, adding a Texas can only help a school like Ohio State or Penn State. Maybe it would keep them out of a few BCS bowl game appearances, but it would validate their seasons if they do beat a team like Texas in the regular season or a conference championship game. Plus, for recruiting, it would be a possible boon for programs like OSU and PSU and Michigan to get more exposure in Texas.
The other thing is scheduling in general. I think it would be a lot of fun for a Michigan fan if you got to play at Texas A&M or Texas every few years, and you’d add another big time possible heavyweight opponent to the schedule. I realize that these teams wouldn’t play every year (which could be somewhat problematic for scheduling purposes), but they would be fun new additions to future schedules.
Money is obviously the other huge factor for the Big Ten. If there isn't a home run fit in the north, why not look south and west?? Adding Texas alone would bring you markets in Austin, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. You add the Big Ten Network to all those Texas markets and go into the next round of negotiations with ABC/ESPN with Texas in the fold, and the Big Ten could make a fortune.
Texas is a no-brainer. I know the Big 10 would lose a little bit of its Midwest identity, but Texas is a home run. You put them in the Big 10, and it would send shockwaves through the rest of college football. Now the question is whether they can get a deal done.
3) What does this mean for Notre Dame??
Wouldn't be a Notre Dame blog unless I threw in some thoughts on how this might affect ND. I gotta admit that I'm staring at this list of possible opponents and feeling a little envious:
Are you kidding me?? I realize we wouldn't play all those teams in a 14 team league, but how great would that be if we played six or so of those teams every year?? We'd be getting 3-4 guaranteed heavyweights, plus a possible conference championship game, and whatever games we wanted to play in the nonconference. Plus, assuming we were in the western division, we'd be getting annual games against a Texas team for some national exposure.
I'm staring at a schedule like this and salivating:
Or this one:
How great would that be?? We'd have 3-4 heavyweight opponents every year, the November schedule could be phenomenal, the home schedule has 2-3 great games a year, and we'd still have room to play Navy and USC in the nonconference if we wanted to. And if we didn't, we'd already have a bunch of great games in the conference schedule. Plus, we'd have every game on either the Big Ten Network or ABC/ESPN. In terms of exposure, there's not even that big of a difference. How great would those Texas matchups be??
Put it this way. Ideally, we would remain independent, but what are we really doing with our independence these days?? It's not like we're doing anything with it. We're scheduling a bunch of dog Big East teams and bogus neutral site games and "buy games." It's not like we're paying any SEC or Big 12 teams as it is. We can sit here and talk about the teams that we could potentially schedule as an independent, but the reality is that we're not scheduling these teams like Texas and Alabama. I don't know if it's because no one wants to play us or we're afraid to play them or if it's some reason, but I'm tired of discussing it. If it takes joining a conference to get better schedules, I'm all for it. I'm tired of getting the ticket application and trying to decide if Purdue or Pitt is the 2nd best home game on the schedule.
I appreciate the argument that ND wouldn't be "special" if we joined a conference because we'd be just like everybody else, but why does that have to stop us from having a great football program?? We still have the ND brand name and the Catholic aspect and a nationwide network of alumni and fans. Every other school in a conference has made it work. Why couldn't we?? Instead of chickening out and throwing our hands up like we can't win, how about we sack up and become a great football program?? It doesn't matter what conference you're in if you are committed and willing to do what it takes to be a champion. If we hire great coaches and have great administrative support and visionary thinking, we can win in a conference.
I've generally sided with the idea of remaining independent in football, but I'm bored with ND football as an independent. I don't like the schedules, I don't like the efforts from the national media to marginalize us, I don't like the mid-majorization of ND football, and I don't like playing our games on god awful NBC with their Olympic broadcasters and NFL preview halftime shows. I could care less if we "lose" the NBC contract. Put us on ABC or ESPN all day long as far as I'm concerned. It's a better broadcast.
Something's got to be done. If it takes joining a conference to make this program exciting again and to put some juice back into Notre Dame Stadium, let's do it.
---) Finally, some brief thoughts on the proposed NCAA rule changes in college football:
--The taunting rule is insane. I'm not in favor of taunting by any means, but taking a touchdown off the board?? Come on. That's insane, and could lead to a disastrous scenario where a player is pumping his fist in excitement as he's running for the goal line and draws a taunting penalty that takes away his touchdown. There's too much gray area with something like that. Couldn't any form of excitement be ruled as a taunting penalty?? All I can think of is that Jake Locker celebration penalty from a few years back. You cannot let a ref take a game out of a team's hands on something like this.
--Interesting move with the television monitors in the coaches booths. Should lead to more informed replay decisions.
--Can we just call the new eye black restrictions the "Tim Tebow Rule"?? I kind of liked the various eyeblack designs, but I can understand why the NCAA felt the need to step in. It was only a matter of time before guys started taking political stands or doing all sorts of other stuff with their eyeblack.