B1G expansion: Which schools make the most sense? Which make no sense?
With Oklahoma and Texas in the preliminary stages of moving to the SEC, other dominos surely will fall. That’s how conference realignment works.
Is the Big 12 really going to move forward with 8 teams? Unlikely. Either that conference will dissolve and the teams will disperse to the Pac-12, Big Ten, ACC and AAC, or the Big 12 will try to pry some AAC members to get back to at least 10.
I think the Big Ten should take a big swing and not settle for teams because they make sense geographically. Realignment is about being bold and maximizing brands, not limiting your imagination. Fifteen years ago, who would’ve thought Maryland and Rutgers would’ve joined the Big Ten?
Where does the Big Ten publicly stand in all of this? Well, in the words of Commissioner Kevin Warren, the B1G’s stance is to see, “how that evolves and where it lands.” Inspiring stuff.
Not to worry, I’ve taken the liberty of looking at teams linked to the Big Ten and issuing a verdict on what the conference should do. There are reports out there that the B1G is looking for schools that are Association of American Universities (AAU) members, which is made up of 64 universities in the U.S. that have specific academic and research standards they abide by. Every Big Ten school except Nebraska is a member.
With that in mind, let’s play America’s favorite game: Fit or Not a Fit (trademark pending).
I don’t know if the Big Ten wants to reach into Texas, but if it does, I think Baylor would be a great option. It has a good football program and is obviously the defending national champs in men’s basketball (and boasts one of the top women’s programs, as well). Baylor has more men’s basketball national titles (1) than the Big Ten in the past 20 years and more women’s basketball national titles (3) than the Big Ten in the past 20 years.
Even though it’s technically not an AAU school, Baylor is still a fit as the second-best academic institution in the Big 12 behind Texas, according to US News & World Report. Baylor isn’t the Pac-12 in terms of academics, but it’s good enough for the Big Ten.
Cincinnati: Not a fit
Cincinnati is in the Big Ten footprint, so this may seem like a natural landing spot, but I think if the Big Ten does expand, it will go for bigger fish. The Bearcats have a good thing going with Luke Fickell and are probably the best Group of 5 program, but they just feel like an ACC school, don’t they? They should reunite with Pitt, Louisville, Miami and other former Big East schools now in the ACC.
The Cincinnati Enquirer did report this on Monday, for what it’s worth:
Sources within the UC athletic department told The Enquirer Monday that the university is “doing everything it can to connect with the ACC, Big Ten and other conferences” to remain proactive and explore all of its options in conference realignment.
Iowa State: Not a fit
This one seems natural, too, given Iowa State’s location in the B1G footprint and close ties to another league member, Iowa. But there has to be a financial incentive for expanding. Scoff at the Big Ten getting into the East Coast market with Maryland and Rutgers, but at least they did that much. Scoff at how Nebraska has performed on the gridiron since joining the B1G, but it’s still a historically strong program that, at the time, was very good. Iowa State wouldn’t be getting the B1G into a new market, and it wouldn’t bring prestige in football or basketball. Previous uptick in the past 4 years under Matt Campbell excluded, Iowa State hadn’t won more than 7 games since 2000.
Iowa State isn’t worth cutting into the other members’ revenue share, as it could potentially go down if the league is watered down and the new members can’t pull their own weight.
Kansas: Not a fit
Aside from geography, I don’t understand linking Kansas to the Big Ten. It is already the worst Power 5 football program in the country, and it’s mired in scandal with sanctions possibly coming soon. Before Les Miles came to town, the Jayhawks were getting less than fewer than 20,000 fans per home game. That’s insane for a Big 12 school. Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State get 5 times the fans!
This move would be purely a basketball move, which would be a mistake in my opinion. If the Big Ten wants basketball, it can get Baylor without the brutal football program that the Jayhawks would bring.
It should be noted, 247Sports refuted that initial report that Kansas set up a call with the Big Ten.
Notre Dame: Fit
Duh. Notre Dame is the Big Ten’s White Whale. The Big Ten last offered Notre Dame a spot in the conference in 1999. And the only reason it hasn’t since being rebuffed over 20 years ago is to save itself the embarrassment of the eventual no. If there was any chance that Notre Dame would’ve accepted, the Big Ten would offer in a second. Any conference would gladly take the Fighting Irish.
If the Fighting Irish had any interest, they would be the Big Ten’s top priority. Who knows how Notre Dame felt about Texas and Oklahoma potentially joining the SEC. It probably didn’t do much — it doesn’t seem like there is anything that will get Notre Dame to join a conference.
But if the Big Ten didn’t at least back channel to Notre Dame to double-check, that is negligence.
Oklahoma State: Not a fit
While the football program is a huge asset, the Big Ten’s academic standards and Oklahoma State’s academic pedigree don’t line up.
The Athletic’s Andy Staples recommends a full-on raid of the Pac-12, and I certainly see the merits. The league would expand its footprint and potentially give the non-Ohio State members a better avenue to recruit nationally. If the traditional bowl structure is going by the wayside with the expanded College Football Playoff, the B1G wouldn’t have to worry about some awkward Rose Bowls. Plus, the Pac-12 has a rookie commissioner. Maybe the B1G’s second-year commissioner can pull a fast one?
Oregon, with its close ties to Nike, is a huge brand. The Ducks also aren’t afraid to come into B1G country, as we will get to see them in Week 2 at Ohio State. They would definitely enhance the B1G’s football brand and be very competitive in hoops, too.
I’ll admit, Colin Cowherd mentioning on his podcast Monday morning that he was hearing USC to the Big Ten was a possibility threw me for a loop. That’s my rigid way of thinking that geography matters in these things, when it obviously does not. USC would be a terrific fit for the Big Ten and would be the next-best thing after Notre Dame. From a football standpoint, USC is a power player, even with an underwhelming recent history. USC needs a jolt to get it back to its glory days, and a move to the cash cow that is the Big Ten may be just the thing. Academically, USC is an AAU school.
USC to the Big Ten rumors (mentioned on my @TheVolumeSports podcast today) are not that crazy. The richest conferences need to grab the greatest available assets. How it all sorts out — who knows. But aggressive wins, in 2021, and the BIG has lots of 💵.
— Colin Cowherd (@ColinCowherd) July 26, 2021
Washington, Cal, Stanford and UCLA: Maybe a fit
Staples also mentioned these schools in his column, and I agree that if the Big Ten gets USC or Oregon to come aboard, there will likely be a few more that follow. It doesn’t really make a ton of sense to grab 1 or 2 West-Coast schools and that’s it. So all of these schools, which are AAU members, would be fits if some bigger fish come first.