B1G expansion: What happens if Notre Dame says yes to the Big Ten?
Notre Dame is the biggest undecided player in the latest round of college football conference realignment. It’s no secret the Big Ten would like to add the Fighting Irish to its portfolio. So in the next couple of days, we’ll take a look at the ramifications of each outcome.
Today, we discuss what the B1G may do next should Notre Dame say yes. Before you read any further, the Irish have not said yes. But this is what the B1G would look like and potentially do next IF they do.
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Welcome to the neighborhood, Notre Dame. There was finally too big a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the Fighting Irish to say no. With the potential to double its media revenue rights, Notre Dame finally caved and joined the B1G.
The Irish are the 17th member of the new-look B1G. Which creates a new set of problems, though they are the kinds of problems that only exist when you are at the top of the economic food chain. Such as “Do I buy a Bentley or a Maserati?”
There’s no good way of subdividing a 17-team conference. And when something grows that large, subdivisions are needed to prevent it from becoming unwieldy. At the very least, the B1G would need to add a less illustrious partner to join Notre Dame. In all likelihood, the race would be on with the SEC to reach 20 teams apiece.
So who would fit in best?
The 1-off: Stanford
Continuing the guise that academics are part of this expansion equation remains important to the Big Ten. Every statement welcoming USC and UCLA to the B1G included lip service about academics.
But it is technically true. Every Big Ten school with the exception of Nebraska is a member of the prestigious American Association of Universities. And Nebraska was an AAU member when it applied to the Big Ten, only to get kicked out a year later. Fortuitous timing!
When it comes to matching academics and athletics, Stanford is Notre Dame’s only true peer in the available pool. It is a charter member of the AAU, along with the Ivy League schools and Big Ten charter member Chicago.
Stanford is also a Notre Dame rival of sorts. The schools have played 34 times, meeting annually since 1997.
It’s also pretty clear from an Xs and Os perspective that Stanford and Iowa are destined to become blood rivals.
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Writing the Stanford preview and discussing their "Jumbo" package, which is essentially this: pic.twitter.com/tDFUAHEnys
— Pick Six Previews (@PickSixPreviews) June 9, 2016
Most importantly, Stanford provides a California travel partner for USC and UCLA. That adheres the Cardinal to the same principle that Major League Baseball used when moving the Giants and Dodgers out to San Francisco and Los Angeles in 1958.
And since TV markets seem to be the most important consideration for the B1G, the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose market ranks 6th nationally, according to Nielsen. Stanford is secretly the most valuable commodity on the board behind Notre Dame, if we’re going by that metric.
If the Big Ten stops at 18 after adding Notre Dame, that team will be Stanford.
West Coast Swing: Stanford, Oregon, Washington
This gets the Big Ten to 20 and allows the conference to easily divide into 4 subdivisions of 5 teams. USC, UCLA, Stanford, Oregon and Washington would stick together, making this entire exercise far more feasible in every way.
Should that come to fruition, expect the conference schedule to expand from 9 games to 10. Everyone would play the 4 other teams in their subdivision, plus 2 teams from the 3 other subdivisions.
Bicoastal Conference: Stanford, North Carolina, Virginia
As long as we’re pretending, let’s say the reports of 6 current Pac-12 members potentially leaving for the Big 12 are true. That list includes Washington and Oregon. And let’s also say the Big 12 is actually smart enough to lock the Ducks and Huskies to an ironclad deal.
In that case, the B1G looks to both coasts.
North Carolina and Virginia were candidates for the expansion that actually resulted in the B1G gaining Maryland and Rutgers. (From a competitive perspective, Jim Delany chose poorly, though from a financial perspective he apparently chose wisely.)
ACC programs are locked into a media rights deal until 2036, but Notre Dame bowing out in sports outside of football could leave the deal vulnerable from a legal perspective. The SEC would figure to poach some combination of Clemson, Florida State, Miami, Louisville, Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech.
UVA and UNC are AAU members, but would obviously enhance the B1G in basketball more than football.
Speaking of …
Basketball blue-bloods: North Carolina, Duke, Kansas
Let’s permit ourselves to wander outside the football-first box.
Nobody does this anymore, of course. But an opportunity exists to create the most compelling college basketball conference since the original Big East was founded in 1979.
A conference with UCLA, North Carolina, Duke, Indiana, Kansas and Michigan State would boast a combined 33 national championships among those 6 programs alone. The Big Ten would have 4 of the 6 programs to win at least 4 national titles, with only Kentucky and UConn missing from the equation.
The addition of Duke would also give Maryland fans their most hated rival back. Terps fans have gained nothing emotionally from joining the B1G, but this allows them to get back into those feelings.
Obviously, Duke and Kansas don’t add much on the football side, particularly in terms of facilities. But this would include a boatload of money to upgrade those facilities. And at that point, Duke may well be able to have Northwestern-like program in terms of respectability.
As for Kansas, things aren’t as grim as they used to be. Jayhawks 2nd-year coach Lance Leipold was a winner at Wisconsin-Whitewater and Buffalo, and beat Texas last year with what amounts to a JUCO roster.
Kansas was ranked No. 1 as recently as Thanksgiving 2007 — back when the Big Ten only had 11 teams. In many regards that’s a lifetime ago, but it also shows it’s not impossible to have success there. Just unlikely. But no more unlikely than, say, Minnesota or Indiana.
Basketball has been given short shrift at every stage of conference realignment. And that’s likely to continue. But theoretically speaking, no other combination of potential B1G additions sounds more fun.