Recently, Barry Alvarez caused a stir by suggesting the Big Ten was seriously exploring expansion to add a 12th team, thus allowing the Big Ten to split into divisions and play a Championship. See the story here.
Personally, as a fan, I love this idea. But two problems tend to pop up with this:
- Who is your 12th team? Potentially realistic suggestions include Rutgers or Syracuse (to bring in the NYC market), Pitt, Cincinnati, That School From South Bend, and Mizzou. Less realistic suggestions (for academic, geographic, or athletic reasons) include West Virginia, Kentucky, Louisville, Nebraska, or Texas (seriously? Texas? Really?)
- How do you divide the league into divisions without creating a serious "historical competitive imbalance" by placing too many of the big powers (OSU-Michigan-Penn State) in one division, and/or preserve traditional rivalries that teams and fans love?
So, to answer these questions, allow me to present the Chadnudj Plan for Big Ten Expansion -- in which the Big Ten adds Missouri, and divides into North-South divisions, while preserving ALL current protected Big Ten rivalries except one (and that one is Purdue-Northwestern, if you're curious and don't want to read further because this is the only rivalry you care about....what, no takers?)
First, on the teams.....Mizzou ends up being the best choice by default. I'm going to dispute the whole "Rutgers or Syracuse brings you NYC" meme...I just don't buy it. NYC is a pro sports town, maybe moreso than Chicago. I just don't think expanding to New Jersey and Rutgers really improves the Big Ten's media imprint as much as adding a better "fit" (both academically and athletically across all sports) would.
Cincinnati would be a nice choice (it seems strange that Michigan has to split the state with MSU, while OSU gets Ohio to itself), but the small stadium, lack of football tradition, and substandard academics (at least compared to Big Ten standards -- no offense Cincinnati graduates!) dooms them overall. (Still -- OSU, start scheduling Cincinnati regularly in non-conference....)
Obviously, the top choice has to be That School from South Bend (a school that could, arguably, deliver NYC even moreso than Rutgers) -- it fits academically, athletically, geographically, culturally, and tradition-wise. Heck, it already has longstanding rivalries with Michigan, Purdue, and Michigan State, each of which would continue unabated if it joined the Big Ten. (P.S. I think we keep the name, regardless of having 12 teams...it's just too synonymous with the style of football to ever be dropped).
The problem? There is no indication they will join...although that opposition might be thawing somewhat (particularly with the opportunity to get in on guaranteed bowl revenues each season, as well as the Big Ten Network royalties that would only increase if you could market dedicated That School From South Bend programming on the network nationally -- I can almost feel the vomit rising in the back of my throat thinking about "Rudy" marathons being played during the summer doldrums in terms of original Big Ten Network programming). Plus, as I've always contended -- That School From South Bend is scared to play a "real" football schedule. Just look at what happened when they lost to Northwestern -- they cancelled the series, and have never agreed to play Northwestern again (yeah, that's right Brian Kelly -- I'm calling your team yellow!)
So where to turn? Pitt is one option, and further solidifies/pulls in Pennsylvania to Big Ten country, but I'm not seeing it. It is very close on all degress to Big Ten schools academically according to some data I've seen. But I'm just not thinking it will happen...I wouldn't be disappointed if it did, but I doubt it works out that way. There's nothing all that interesting about Pitt joining the conference -- much better to see Penn State take on Pitt as a regular non-conference rival (someone at PSU or Pitt will have to explain to me why this doesn't happen).
The best choice, in my opinion (other than That School from South Bend) is Mizzou. Great academics and athletics in men's and women's sports, ties/rivalries that already exist with Illinois and Iowa (and, arguably, Northwestern). It would probably jump from the Big 12 if asked (opening the Big 12 to add TCU? Boise State? Utah?). The Big Ten schools would be closer to Mizzou than the Big 12 schools, on average (making it easier for their fans to travel).
Plus, and here is the ultimate bonus -- you could add Mizzou to the Big Ten, split into divisions, and only lose ONE Big Ten traditional/protected annual rivalry....as I mentioned before, you'd only lose Northwestern-Purdue (and I think we can agree that would not be a huge loss).
How, you ask? Simple -- divide the conference into North-South divisions as follows:
North: Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State
South: Mizzou, Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, Ohio State, Penn State
Every team would play all their division rivals once. (5 games)
Each team would play a "protected" cross-division rival once each year: Iowa-Mizzou, Northwestern-Illinois, MSU-PSU, OSU-Michigan, and then your pick of Minnesota-Purdue, Wisconsin-Indiana or vice-versa. (1 game)
Then, each team would play 2 of the other 5 cross-divisional opponents on a rotating basis (2 games).
8 conference games, and EVERY current protected rivalry protected, while still allowing Mizzou to have its two best geographic rivals (Iowa and Illinois), and ensuring some competitive balance by dividing up the Michigan-OSU-PSU triumvarate.
(For reference's sake, here is the list of Big Ten protected rivalries....notice, the ONLY one that would disappear is NU-Purdue....which I think we'd gladly trade for NU-Wisconsin being an annual game:
Illinois: Indiana, Northwestern
Indiana: Illinois, Purdue
Iowa: Minnesota, Wisconsin
Michigan: Michigan State, Ohio State
Michigan State: Michigan, Penn State
Minnesota: Iowa, Wisconsin
Northwestern: Illinois, Purdue
Ohio State: Michigan, Penn State
Penn State: Michigan State, Ohio State
Purdue: Indiana, Northwestern
Wisconsin: Iowa, Minnesota)
So, have at it fans -- why would this not work?
(P.S. I've posted this at a couple sites....just wanted to see people's thoughts....)