Unless you live under a stone, you likely heard the news that UCLA and USC are joining the Big Ten conference by the 2024 season. The news came out of nowhere, but emphatically confirmed that there is no longer any geographical tie among the teams in this conference. No more Midwest, just vibes.
Combined with the fact that the conference was considering abolishing divisions in football, today’s news has prompted some online soul searching about what the ideal conference would be; who would be included, geographic considerations and whether there should be inter-conference divisions.
As “experts” here at Crimson Quarry, we figured we would tackle these questions for you.
How many teams should be in the conference?
Colin: I don’t know fully know how to answer this question anymore, since it seems like so many of the prominent divisions are going full mask-off and trying to publicly make as much money as possible, abandoning the assumption that a conference provide some geographic or competitive advantage for its members.
That said, I like the idea of an even number on the smaller side, probably not more than 12, for the sake of football scheduling. It’s more fun to play the same teams every 2-3 years and develop a history and rivalry than it is to play in mysterious, faraway lands like Piscataway, New Jersey for the sake of expanding the conference’s geographic footprint.
Miles: Somewhere in the 10-12 range. I personally think conference makeup should be more compact in order to increase the importance and frequency of rivalries. Everyone should see everyone all the time. Power conferences have no business housing more than a dozen schools.
Luke: There’s two ways to answer this question: what the Big Ten would look like in an ideal world and what the conference would look like with the realities of today in mind.
Ideally, the Big Ten would stay around that original 10 with a few carefully planned out additions to push it to 12 or so. Historically, the Big Ten has been the conference of the Midwest and it’d stay that way in this hypothetical ideal scenario.
No trips to New Jersey, no Big Ten Tournament in Madison Square Garden (gross!) and no trips to the coast save for bowl games at the end of the year. Teams like Michigan, Iowa, Ohio State and others have established histories with Indiana that make games special. Now are we supposed to have beef with UCLA football just because?
Now, with the current landscape of college sports in mind, the Big Ten was well positioned to challenge the SEC and made an aggressive move to do so. Does it make The Alliance pointless and incredibly silly in hindsight? Yes, but that’s just how this works now. We’re hurtling toward a world of two power conferences and the Big Ten wasn’t gonna sit on its hands. But it won’t add teams that don’t make sense, so expect it to expand to 18-20, maybe a little more.
Who should be added to the conference?
Colin: Kansas and Iowa State would be good fits competitively, each bringing historic athletic programs and preexisting rivalries to the table. My sleeper pick would be to reintroduce original Big Ten member University of Chicago into the mix. Northwestern tried and failed to be Chicago’s Big Ten team, plus its campus is technically in Evanston. The Maroons only left the conference to divert funding to the Manhattan Project, so it’s time we rectify that mistaken allocation of funds with a shiny new TV deal with the Big Ten.
Miles: Iowa State and Notre Dame make the most sense to me. Pulling in Notre Dame will take a big check and is honestly unrealistic but I think most would love to see it. These selections are all contingent on geography being a factor though. If we continue in the direction of super conferences, on the other hand, I’d love to see the Big Ten make a play at Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia. Winning the Tidewater states would be huge in an arms race with the SEC, and it would also give Maryland a couple more natural rivals.
Luke: Culturally speaking, potential additions to the Big Ten are rather slim. Schools like Iowa State, Kansas and UNC sound good on paper, but each comes with issues. Don’t be surprised if Kansas simply prioritizes basketball and joins the Big East or something. Iowa State’s success comes with a question mark regarding its staying power and UNC... just doesn’t feel right.
With everything I wrote above in mind, cultural fit doesn’t mean a thing anymore. The Big Ten’s gotta go big or go home. Notre Dame is (kind of) a cultural fit that would be a fine addition to the conference, but that’s now three Big Ten teams in one state. A bit crowded when it comes to recruiting and whatnot. Swing for the fences if geography doesn’t matter! Oregon has spent a TON of money on facilities in the last decade and will probably need a new home, Kalen DeBoer could lead Washington football back to greatness and we all know how the conference feels about academics with California and Stanford in mind.
There’s definitely ACC teams to consider like Pitt, UNC and whatnot, but the pickings are slim over there.
Who should be relegated (likely to the MAC, sorry guys)?
Colin: Nebraska, obviously, and my personal hot take is that we would be better off without Northwestern. The conference has a top ten journalism school already in Bloomington, adding UChicago would be an academic upgrade, and it’s honestly embarrassing for the Wildcats to have to play basketball in an arena packed with the opposing team’s fans, game after game. If they aren’t in the Big Ten, they cannot continue claiming to be Chicago’s Big Ten school, and everyone is better off. Oh, I could also do without Rutgers.
Miles: In my perfect nation-wide realignment scenario, the Big Ten loses Maryland, Rutgers, Penn State, Ohio State, and Nebraska. The Terps go back to the ACC while Rutger, PSU, and OSU join the new “National Athletic Conference” that spans from BC down to Vanderbilt, filling the Appalachian no man’s land. Nebraska lands in the “Great Plains Conference” with schools like Utah, Baylor, and Arkansas. Please ask me more about my desired Power 6 alignment.
Luke: To make this work, the Big Ten might ultimately trim some fat in the end. The blog’s feelings on adding Rutgers and (to a lesser degree, mind you) Maryland are well known, but those two would be circled first.
This is about football, frankly. College basketball is getting a poor deal with the new reality of college sports, so don’t expect the Big Ten to wave goodbye to football titans like Penn State and (yes) Nebraska. The Huskers haven’t been good at all in the conference, but they simply draw way too much attention and, by extension, money for the Big Ten to give them the boot.
Are there geographic limitations?
Colin: Yes. Midwest, only. One thing nearly all of the schools in the current Big Ten share in common is that they’re situated in small midwestern towns, where the weekend entertainment options consist of drinking at a bar or drinking at a house. Some of the luxurious college towns, like Madison, provide a third option of drinking near water. My little sister went to school in California, and let me tell you, it’s hard to relate to college students who can spend weekends surfing, hiking, and hanging out with minor celebrities.
Also, just keep all conference championship events in Indianapolis, please.
Miles: Yes. My solution accounts for student-athletes that compete in non-revenue sports. No midweek flights to LA here!
Luke: Personally, I’d like to keep the Big Ten in the midwest for obvious reasons of history and travel.
But as we stated above, geography does not matter anymore.
Are there divisions within the conference?
Colin: No. The only scheduling/administrative requirement should be ensuring yearly rivalry games in all sports.
Miles: Nope. My solution is a Big 11 so in football each member would play all but one of the other members every season. 2-3 permanent opponents would prevent any blips in all the great in-conference rivalries.
Luke: Nope they’re lame.