Considering Jim Delany and the Big Ten reiterated their original 12 to 18-month timeline just two weeks ago, I’m hesitant to believe the latest scuttlebutt on expansion that has Syracuse, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Nebraska, and Missouri coming to Big Ten country. It was only five months ago that Delany first issued a press release suggesting the Big Ten’s potential expansion interests. I can’t imagine that just five months after giving the original timeline, the Big Ten has already admitted defeat in courting the likes of Notre Dame and Texas. With the massive success of the Big Ten Network, the conference is in a position to be patient and picky. Big Ten institutions have the financial stability and the potential for growth that every school in the country would love to have. There’s a reason why other conferences—including the SEC—are waiting around to see what the Big Ten is going to do. Delany has everyone looking his way for good reason. Right now, he is the maestro of college football. No offense to the five schools mentioned above but if that’s all the Big Ten can attract given its impressive financial standing and academic reputation, then I think it’s fair to question both how much power the conference actually has and Delany’s status as a “maestro.”
The Big Ten doesn’t need to do anything. There is no timeline other than the artificial one that Delany put forward in his press release. Members raked in a mindboggling $22 million per year each from the Big Ten Network alone last year. Everyone in the Big Ten is sitting pretty right now. I realize that the primary—and in the end maybe the only—objective of expansion is to generate even more money through increased ad revenue from the additional live events that expansion would bring to the BTN. If that is the only objective, then Rutgers and Syracuse it is. However, I would think that there is something more to it than just making more money. Given their athletic prowess (or lack thereof) I would think that Rutgers and Syracuse would be fallback options. The Big Ten is about athletic prestige as much as it is about academic. The addition of Penn State made the conference stronger athletically. Subsequent additions should as well. Adding Syracuse and Rutgers would hardly accomplish that objective. They were 63rd and 92nd respectively in last year’s final Director’s Cup Standings. Indiana—the Big Ten’s lowest ranked school in the standings by a considerable margin—chimed at 55th. It’s one thing to invite schools that are not competitive in Olympic sports and another to invite schools that would make the conference weaker in the sport that pays the bills: football. That’s why I find it hard to believe that Delany and Co. have already given up on Texas and Notre Dame.
Maybe it’s a smokescreen. Maybe Delany is working any and all channels to Austin and South Bend as I type. Certainly that would be the very least to expect coming from the guy who had his hands all over the creation of the epically successful Big Ten Network. It just doesn’t make sense for college football’s current A-#1 powerbroker to be fast tracking fallback plans. I understand the allure of Syracuse and Rutgers from a financial perspective. The idea being, of course, to infiltrate the NYC market by stealing the top programs in the New York/New Jersey area. What remains to be scene, however, is how much pull those schools have in NYC. It would seem to be an awfully risky gamble to simply assume that viewers in NYC would collectively start watching Syracuse and Rutgers football when there has been very little previous interest. I have to admit that I’m coming from an ignorant place with respect to their potential drawing power in NYC. Maybe they’ll produce a ratings bonanza for the BTN. I could definitely be wrong but luring Syracuse and Rutgers seems like a feeble attempt to corral a market that just doesn’t have interest in local college football.
Despite his lofty position atop the college football landscape, Delany doesn’t have a genie in a bottle. He can’t simply command schools to the Big Ten. However, his primary objective—even above trying to convince Notre Dame to pursue the path of sanity—should be to sweet talk Texas into joining the Big Ten. I realize there are factors working against this. First, Texas has visions of achieving financial utopia with a network of its own. Second, Texas might find the geographic proximity to the SEC more to its liking. Or, it’s possible that Texas simply wants to remain the benefactor of the disproportionate revenue set-up it currently has in the Big XII. Whatever it is, there are many reasons why Texas might turn down an offer from the Big Ten. None of that should affect Delany’s course of action. If Texas wants to say, “no”, it should be after an onslaught of recruiting attempts by Delany and his Big Ten compatriots. Texas is the biggest fish in the sea by a long shot. Few institutions can equal UT’s athletic prowess. The Longhorns have finished in the top 10 of the Director’s Cup Standings for eight consecutive years. More importantly, no school in the country can come close to offering the sheer number of additional TV viewers. That’s what this is all about, right? The state of Texas has seven of the top 100 TV markets in America and unlike, say, California where allegiances are spread pretty thin , the University of Texas is the main attraction in the state of Texas. That’s 7.2 million additional households just from those top 100 markets for the Big Ten Network to penetrate. NYC and all its glory stands at 7.5 million. If you’re wondering about Texas A&M, my guess is that if Texas is off to the Big Ten, A&M wouldn’t be too far behind. Don’t sleep on TAMU’s credentials. It was ranked as the 22nd best public university by the US News and World Report and finished 13th in the 2009 Director’s Cup Standings.
Texas is a prestigious academic institution. It will not find too many peers in the SEC. That—along with the existence of the Big Ten Network—should be Delany’s primary recruiting tools. The Big Ten has 10 of the top 30 public schools in the country according to the U.S. News & World Report. Northwestern—the only school not on that list—is a private school and better than them all. The SEC, on the other hand, has just three of the top 30 public schools. Texas stands at #15. Based on that, it’s doubtful UT’s administration would be overjoyed by a move to the SEC. Clearly, forcing its athletic teams to travel to the Midwest for every road game is not something the administration would be overjoyed about, either. However, by adding Texas A&M, Nebraska, and Missouri , the Big Ten could soften that blow significantly.
I don’t have any inside information when it comes to expansion talk—or anything for that matter. For all I know, Syracuse, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Missouri, and Nebraska could be headed to the Big Ten tomorrow. What I do have is what I hope amounts to a decent amount of common sense. It makes no sense for the Big Ten to be wrapping up the expansion process early with Syracuse and Rutgers set to receive invitations. Anything short of Texas (and Notre Dame I suppose) filing for a restraining order against Delany should not deter the Big Ten’s pursuit of Texas. While he’s at it, Delany might want to get the king of secondary recruiting violations to make a trip to Austin. There’s no doubt in my mind that Jim Tressel could put together the right kind of financial package to get UT to sign on the dotted line.