Last summer, there was discontent in the college football landscape as a record number of teams were choosing to head to greener pastures. The Big Ten added Nebraska, the Pac-10 added Utah and Colorado to get to the Pac-12, the Big East added TCU, the Mountain West added Boise State, and the list goes on.
Now, we are looking at the potential for round two to the madness of last summer as Texas A&M could be heading to the SEC. In addition, rumors are circulating that Florida State could be headed there also.
If Texas A&M heads east to the SEC, then a team from the east coast also will be (likely FSU but keep an eye on Virginia Tech also). Furthermore, the Big 12 will be tested to replace A&M or it could dissolve all together.
If the SEC goes to 14 or even 16 teams, chances are the Big Ten will match them as Jim Delanysimply will not let the Big Ten fall behind the SEC after matching them last summer.
Now, the big question is: Who will Delany target in these situations?
If the SEC goes to 14 teams, then I believe that the Big Ten will be seriously considering 4 schools as replacements. The four schools that the Big Ten would have legitimate interest in would be Notre Dame, Missouri, Maryland, and Syracuse.
Notre Dame would be a home-run for the Big Ten, however, it is probably the least likely to happen. This has been tried before and Notre Dame isn’t ready to let go of its football independence yet. Granted, if the SEC would create the first 14 team conference, perhaps Notre Dame would come to its senses and join the Big Ten to avoid the possibility of being left in the dust when it is all said and done with. The Irish football team is also back on the upswing after a decade of mediocrity.
Missouri was a school that was heavily rumored to be headed to the Big Ten last summer, and was left with a hurt ego after the Big Ten looked to Nebraska instead of themselves. While Missouri is not the elite program that the Big Ten will be looking for, they are very competitive in both football and men’s basketball, which are the two marquee sports that conferences will look at first and foremost.
Maryland will be in the conversation due to the fact that the Big Ten will be looking to expand its media reach, and the Washington D.C.-Baltimore market is nothing to sneeze at. In addition, Maryland is a fertile recruiting ground that the Big Ten could expand its reach in. Currently, most of the elite players in Maryland choose to stay in the ACC, but the presence of the Big Ten would likely reverse that trend.
Syracuse is another program that isn’t elite, but is saved by its presence in a major media market. While I’m not sold on the fact that New Yorkers will take college football seriously given all the entertainment options as well as the pro sports market, it is an intriguing possibility for the Big Ten Network to expand its footprint. Syracuse would also give the Big Ten another elite basketball program, while weakening the Big East’s stronghold on college basketball.
If the SEC goes to 16 teams, or the Big 12 dissolves, you could also see teams such as Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, and Kansas State added to this list. My guess is that if the SEC went to 16 teams, the Big Ten would try to add at least two teams out of its current footprint.
Oklahoma would be another elite program, but it may be to far south for the Big Ten to court them successfully. Another potential problem is that Oklahoma State would likely have to come with OU and I’m not sure that Oklahoma State fits what the Big Ten is looking for in expansion. In addition to that, the Pac-12 would most likely be trying to add OU, Oklahoma State, Texas, and Texas Tech to create its own 16 team super-conference.
Kansas and Kansas State are also likely tied at the hip and therefore unlikely to be targeted by the Big Ten. If Delany could somehow get them separated, KU would likely be the Big Ten’s choice given the football program has been more successful of late, and the basketball program is top-notch.
Rutgers is another school to watch in the 16 team super-conference alignment as they have a major media market presence (New Jersey). While they have not had a lot of success recently, they do live in a fertile recruiting ground which would attract the Big Ten schools.
A potential dark horse would be Pitt, as they have excellent academics, as well as a decent football program to go along with an excellent basketball program. Pitt would also give Penn State the natural rival that they have lacked since joining the Big Ten.
I will give the Big Ten’s dream divisions under both the 14 and 16 team alignments below:
Leaders: Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, Maryland
Legends: Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern, Minnesota, Missouri
Leaders: Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Purdue, Maryland, Notre Dame
Legends: Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma