Let me start by saying that I’m not in total agreement with this particular expansion at this particular time. To me, Nebraska was a natural fit. It was a geographic and demographic fit that kept the Big Ten’s focus in the Midwest and the heartland. It brought the conference up to 12 teams, the standard at the time. It added a respected football power to balance the two divisions created as a result. As for this expansion, neither is a athletic juggernaut. Sure, Rutgers has had football success with six bowl games since 2005 and Maryland had some tough and entertaining teams under Gary Williams in basketball, but neither strikes fear into the opposing conferences. I detect a tinge of fear driving this move, trying to stay out ahead of the superconference storm that nearly consumed the Big 12 and has relegated the Big East to a non-AQ conference starting in 2014 after the loss of West Virginia, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh recently.
One tweet from someone I follow1 mentioned the Big Ten consequently making the ACC even tougher in basketball with the potential addition of Connecticut to replace Maryland. He added that the Big Ten is neither the class of football (SEC) or basketball (ACC). While I certainly agree with that assessment, I would argue that the Big Ten may not be the best in either, but it does have great balance, being consistently relevant in both sports. Has anyone cared about ACC football for nearly a decade? And sure, Kentucky’s a Top 3 program and Florida had their run with Noah and Horford, but there isn’t a whole lot else holding up that conference basketball-wise.
Back to football, the sport where this move has the most impact. If the rumored proposal of the two new schools entering the Leaders Division and Illinois sliding over to the Legends comes to fruition, it will have a drastic effect on Ohio State football. With the current 8-game schedule, the rest of the Legends minus M*ch*g*n2 becomes merely a rumor to OSU. As Doug Lesmirises from The Plain Dealer so clearly pointed out, that means seeing Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Illinois once out of every SIX YEARS. One Nebraska game in the ‘Shoe every dozen years. The Illibuck being played for once every six years. All to play a mediocre Maryland program and a Rutgers program that has been successful but would likely take a step back after entering the B1G.
It begs for a 9-game conference schedule, which is reportedly on the table, and perhaps additional divisional realignment. Sure, this means that Ohio State and others will likely have to fill the schedule with only one cupcake instead of two (or three). But, from the Buckeye perspective, one hopes that a 9-game conference schedule coupled with the high-profile matchups of Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas in the coming years and paired with other AQ conference opponents such as North Carolina and Boston College along with Big East members TCU and Cincinnati will stop the weak schedule discussion.
If the divisions do realign, I think I’m still in favor of keeping Ohio State and Michigan in separate divisions with the protected matchup. These two are the class of the conference, and it makes no sense to prevent your two most high-profile programs from being able to collect division trophies and meet in the Big Ten Championship game. I think the easiest thing to do to spread around the expansion burden is to toss either Maryland or Rutgers in the Legends and have their protected cross-division rivalry game be with the other. That keeps Illinois in the Leaders. As for basketball, it makes sense to go from 18 to 19 games, split into the same divisions as football and play each division opponent twice and everyone else once. I can tell you from the experience of going to a Big Ten basketball game against each team that guaranteeing home games each year against Indiana, Purdue, and Wisconsin would be a very good thing.
If we’re heading towards 16 teams eventually, maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe the Big Ten does eventually get that big fish in Texas, Oklahoma, or Notre Dame3 that everyone has been clamoring for since expanasion talk began. Even if it doesn’t, I think the demise of the Big Ten is greatly exaggerated. The buzz for Big Ten basketball is overwhelming with three top five teams and five ranked teams at the start of the season. With football, I believe Michigan, Nebraska, and Wisconsin will all be back to consistent prominence soon. It can be argued that Ohio State barely even left that category. One down year doesn’t doom a conference4 Still, no matter how large you get or how wealthy the schools become, it will take bowl wins on the highest stage to call off the critics and lessen the SEC love affair.
(Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP)
- @BenAxelrod [↩]
- Sorry, it is Beat Michigan week, after all. [↩]
- Hey, stranger things have happened. [↩]
- I know most will point back to the 2006 BCS National Championship Game as the beginning of the conference’s downfall. That may be true, but the regular season bashing has obviously been taken to another level this season when the Big Ten had no one ranked in the Coaches’ Poll for one week. [↩]