Everybody's weighed in on this from bloggers to the big gorillas of the sports media world: What will BT be?
Who knows exactly what it'll be, but I can tell you what I'd like it to be: Simple, quick and smart.
I believe the world, and specifically, the sports world is dominated by people who are almost the opposite of me. They seem to neglect longevity and stability for a quick payoff. But, the Big Ten is the oldest conference in the land for a lot of reasons. One is it has been stable, deliberate and generally smart with the way it's grown and progressed. Sure, the old-fashioned nature of the league is sometimes infuriating, but let's look at the opposite approach: The Big East.
The Big East basketball conference went after a sizable splash a few years ago when it expanded to 16 teams. EsPN and much of the media loved the move as they lauded this conference as the strongest basketball conference that had ever been created. But, on the eve of Delany and Company's big move, many are grumbling that the Big East as we all know it might be going the way Hummer brand. Can't say I'm upset about it, but the ramifications of this mega conference folding are large.
Sports Illustrated and other sources believe that in once scenario, the Mega Conference will become the standard. The conspiracy theorist in me believes there's some merit in this idea. The NCAA infuriates me at times with their uneven hand, foolish rules and knee jerk reactions. But, I don't think throwing away the NCAA is the right approach. There's not doubt, a few changes need to be made by college sports' governing body, but circumventing the NCAA all-together simply won't work, in my opinion. Plus, four 16-team conferences leaves quite a few good programs on the outside looking in.
Here's some background to why I think the Big Ten needs to not act like a cowboy in this scenario. First off, the super-expansion scenarios for the conference almost-all include Notre Dame. I was sick and tired of kissing their ass years ago...so going back to that well makes no sense to this hombre. Everytime there are hints about UND being involved, the Swarbrick and Co. make sure to reply that they're not interested. For all I care, they can become a one-team conference that has their own set of rules...Oh wait...
The second problem with the mega-expansion, in my opinion, is that it doesn't stay true to the roots of the BT. From academics to athletics, Big Ten schools (probably minus Northwestern) have a certain feel to them...and I don't think schools like Rutgers (on one end) and Nebraska (on the other) fit that mold.
My solution, not unlike many others out there, fulfills a number of needs, in my opinion, and simply makes sense. Add Pitt to make the league a 12-team conference. Pitt meets the research university requirements that Delany's been talking about for months. Their facilities are on par with the other eleven teams (if not better). Their two big money-making sports generate a ton of revenue and have large, loyal fan bases. The Panthers help Penn State off of the Northeast island they're on by re-creating the old rivalry and fitting within the footprint of the current conference. Plus, this will help the strength of the BTN in the northeast as it continues to attempt to gain market share.
I think some of the same arguments can be made for Missouri...but I don't the arguments are quite as strong...so why not seek out the best-fit?
Our poll showed that most of you agree with the least-aggressive expansion plan. That's good...because it'd be pretty hard to hide a 14 or 16 in the words "Big Ten".
The conference divisions might fall into place like this:
During football season, each program would be able to protect one game. This would keep rivalries like UM/aOSU alive and well. For basketball, I don't think there would be any reason or benefit to having the divisional barrier.
Sure, this is all theorizing and blue sky thinking...and not worth much at all. But to me, and many of you, a 12-team conference makes the most sense, from a number of perspectives.
So What's Going to Really Happen?
I don't think anyone outside of the conference offices really knows what's going to happen. But, I don't think Delany has his eyes set on tradition or solid, small-step growth.
My gut tells me Pitt will be a part of the plan, but I think the conference will end up being a 14-team league. The additions might be: Pitt, Rutgers and Missouri.
I think we'll not have any more reason to theorize as a new reality is upon us by mid-summer.