There hasn't been serious expansion talk since 1999, when Notre Dame's administration seriously considered joining up. Nevertheless, the commish has revived that talk with a suggestion that the existence of the BTN makes expansion more valuable. Where might the league be looking?:
"Wherever," Delany said when asked about specifics. "With the network — there's a different element. It changes the dynamics."
"We have eight states. With expansion, you could have nine."
suggests that the focus would be on expanding the league's footprint rather than adding a school within the current Big Ten territory such as Iowa State or Pitt. I have often heard, but never confirmed, that the Big Ten bylaws require that expansion be limited to contiguous states, so for now I will forget Texas and other attractive schools elsewhere. Is there a good fit in the adjacent states? Let's consider what Penn State added to the conference: 1) one of the nation's most prominent football programs; 2) academic profile very similar to that of many Big Ten schools; 3) two significant media markets. Limiting ourselves to contiguous states, who are the possibilities and how do they measure up? (For what it's worth, here is how the eleven Big Ten schools are ranked by US News & World Report among "national universities": 14. Northwestern; 24. Michigan; 34. Wisconsin; 41. Illinois; 47. Penn State; 57. Ohio State; 64. Iowa; 64. Purdue; 67. Minnesota; 70. Indiana; 70. Michigan State). (P.S. I started this post before realizing that mgoblog was doing much the same thing. Since my approach is a bit different, here goes.)
From east to west:
- Rutgers. 1) Athletics: Meh. The Scarlet Knights have always been a supposed sleeping giant. They did play in the first college football game ever, so they have that going for them. Rutgers finally seems to have found a really good coach who actually wants to be at Rutgers, and combined with the departure of Miami, BC, and VT from the Big East, could emerge as a perennial contender in the Big East. Could they compete with Michigan and OSU for Big Ten supremacy? Seems pretty unlikely. Rutgers has had a bit more success in basketball, but not much. Rutgers has a fairly new football stadium (opened in 1994), but at 41,000 would be the conference's smallest football stadium by far (Ryan Field seats around 49,000; IU's Memorial Stadium will seat somewhere between 53,000-54,000 when the current construction is complete). 2) Academics: Rutgers is ranked #60 in the US News rankings, right in the middle of the pack. That wouldn't be an issue. 3) Media markets. Rutgers is in the NYC market, the Holy Grail for conference commissioners and TV executives (is there a difference anymore?). My main concern would be whether Rutgers is of any significance in the NYC market. Do Rutgers games have any ratings pull? Would any cable subscribers in New York or Connecticut care if the BTN were on their cable system? I'm less than overwhelmed by Rutgers.
- Maryland. I'm trying to list all theoretical candidates in contiguous states, not just the real candidates, if there are any. Maryland doesn't immediately come to mind as a state anywhere near Big Ten territory, but it's right there south of Pennsylvania. 1) Athletics: Maryland isn't a football power, but has had a nice run in recent years. Maryland is more of a basketball school, and in light of that seems quite unlikely to leave the ACC. 2) Academics: Maryland ranks #54 in the USN&WP sweepstakes, right in the heart of the Big Ten. 3) Media markets: Baltimore, of course, and Maryland seems to be a bigger draw in the shared Washington TV market than Rutgers is in New York. In sum, it seems that Maryland has everything the Big Ten would want except for any inclination to join.
- Syracuse. The Orangemen have long been mentioned as a possible candidate. One would have to think that any Big East school, despite competitive concerns, would have a tough time saying no to the Big Ten. 1) Athletics: tradition rich, if currently downtrodden football program. I don't know enough about Syracuse's athletic history to know how long this has been the case, but in my living memory as a sports fan, Syracuse is a basketball school, one of the traditional powers of the Big East. Would Jim Boeheim want to trade Madison Square Garden for Conseco Fieldhouse, and if not, would he have enough power to stop it? 2) Academics: Syracuse is private school, small by Big Ten standards but fairly large for a private school: about 13,000 undergrads, 19,000 total. USN&WR ranks Syracuse #52. 3) Media markets: I don't know much about Syracuse's fan following. I presume that the Orange are closely followed in Syracuse and Rochester, but are they Buffalo's team? I know that SU draws much of its student population from metro New York, but is there any interest there?
- West Virginia. 1) Athletics. Good football program, solid basketball program. Again, WVU might have a hard time turning us down, but the football staff might be perfectly happy not having to go to Columbus in November. 2) Academics: not among the top 124 USN&WR universities. Still, as the state's flagship university, WVU probably isn't too much of a stretch. 3) Media: Not much. WV is pretty lightly populated. If I recall correctly, Morgantown gets its TV from Pittsburgh, a market that already has a Big Ten presence via PSU.
- Louisville. 1) Athletics: Same caveat as all other Big East teams--big fish, small pond, etc. Top shelf basketball tradition, of course, and a remarkable renaissance in football. As a bitter Indiana fan, I have to note that building a football program in C-USA isn't as hard as building one in the Big Ten, but UL's improvement is impressive by any standard. 2) Academics: USN&WR doesn't seem to give away its entire rankings for free anymore. When they did, my recollection is that UL was in tier four. For reference, Ball State is Tier 3 and Indiana State is Tier 4. UL has a research component and a med school, but as an undergrad institution Louisville is a commuter school that isn't in the same league as any Big Ten school. As Brian notes, whatever the athletic merits, UL's academic reputation almost certainly would be a dealbreaker. 3)Media: not much. UL's fan base is concentrated in Louisville, essentially, and IU already has some presence in that market.
- Kentucky. This one intrigues me. 1) Athletics: not a great football program, but Kentucky does seem to support its football program well. UK's basketball program is legendary, of course. As Brian notes, UK is a charter member of the SEC. Still, UK might be the flip side of the Big East coin. As the SEC is currently aligned, absent a blimp crash at the Cocktail Party, UK will never play in the SEC title game. The right Big Ten alignment might look attractive to Kentucky. As for hoops, they have an existing rivalry with IU. Indeed, it would immediately become the Big Ten's signature basketball rivalry, with twelve combined NCAA titles (compared to a measly seven for Duke-Carolina). UK has been in the SEC since the beginning, but oddly enough, its two biggest rivals (Louisville and Indiana) are non-conference rivals. 2) Academics. UK is #112 in US News, lower than every Big Ten school, but not outrageously so. UK is the state's flagship public university and doesn't strike me as a stretch academically. 3) Media: UK is immensely popular throughout the state, and of course would deliver the middling Lexington market. The currently split markets of Louisville and Cincinnati would be Big Ten territory on both sides of the river. In sum, as a Hoosier, I can't help but be somewhat hoops-centric, although I think UK is a worthy addition in football: I would prefer Kentucky over any other candidate in the states contiguous to Big Ten territory.
- Missouri. 1) Athletics. Mizzou is a mystery. Missouri is a decent-size state with two large metro areas, yet the Tigers have never emerged as a power in either sport. Thanks to Maryland's recent success, Mizzou probably holds the less-than-prestigious title of "best basketball program without a Final Four appearance." The football program had its moments under Dan Devine half a century ago, but in modern times, Mizzou is best known for finding uniquely awful ways to lose (the fifth down against Colorado; the kicked ball against Nebraska). Still, the potential seems to be there. It is unclear whether Mizzou fans and alumni would be willing to walk away from a long history in the Big 8/XII or from their rivalry with Kansas. The Tigers do have an existing rivalry with Illinois. 2) Academics: #88 in USN&WR. Like Kentucky, ranked lower than all Big Ten schools, but not outrageously so. 3) Media: the Tigers would bring the bulk of the population of metro St. Louis and some significant portion (probably more than half) of the KC market. Anyone who lives there can correct me if I'm wrong, but I have never had the impression that either St. Louis or KC is crazy about Mizzou. Overall, Missouri is a solid fit but not terribly exciting.
- Nebraska: 1) Athletics: legendary football program, nothing on the basketball side. Long history of Big 8/XII membership and a division that it should dominate. I'm guessing that NU fans wouldn't like the move. 2) Academics: #98. See Kentucky and Mizzou. 3) Media: nothing of note. Still, the state follows Husker football with religious fervor. Would the Big Ten be better off with a populous state like Missouri that seems lukewarm about its flagship university, or a less populated, rural state like Nebraska where it seems that nearly everyone is invested?
I don't have any idea on the likelihood of any particular school joining. As is obvious above, I would like to see Kentucky in the league. Louisville will never happen. I could live with any of the others. The question Delany and Co. will have to ask is whether expansion is worthwhile absent a slam-dunk such as Penn State or Notre Dame.