Friday, December 18, 2009

The Big Ten Wants to Expand, and I Can Help

For the fourth time since Penn State joined in the conference in 1990, the Big Ten is exploring the possibility of adding a twelfth team. And, if reports are to be believed, the Big Ten is serious this time. (The conference has always been serious about adding Notre Dame; now it seems open to looking outside of South Bend for team number twelve.) The four most likely candidates for expansion are Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, and Missouri. I've also heard Iowa State, Nebraska, and Cincinnati mentioned as possibilities.

The Big Ten has high academic standards for its member institutions; and (I believe) all of the schools mentioned above would meet those standards. The conference also has an interest in expanding into new media markets. This makes Rutgers and Syracuse especially attractive and is a strike against Cincinnati. There also seems to be an interest in bringing in a team that would be a natural rival of an existing team. This makes Pittsburgh (Penn State), Iowa State (Iowa), and Missouri (Illinois) strong candidates.

All of the candidates for expansion named thus far come from either the Big East or Big 12 Conference. If one of the Big East schools defected for the Big Ten, the Big East would need an eighth football school. Memphis or Central Florida from Conference USA would be the most likely candidates for promotion into the Big East. (CUSA might then pick up La Tech as a replacement.) If the Big 12 needed to replace a team, that team likely would come from the Mountain West, probably TCU or Utah. And, if the Big Ten were to expand, the Pac 10 may follow suit, possibly nabbing a couple Mountain West schools. At any rate, Big Ten expansion likely would effect several conferences.

Of course, the Big Ten wouldn't necessarily need to take a team from another major conference. It could promote a school from a less prestigious league. A handful of MAC schools, such as Buffalo and Miami (OH!), would fit well academically. But adding a MAC school would not add a major new television market. (Cincinnati and Cleveland already are in Big Ten territory, and Buffalo doesn't really count as a major market.) A MAC school joining the Big Ten also would need to upgrade its football facilities (and possibly its basketball facilities).

Now I get creative. Here's an idea that's on no one's radar, and it would be a ten-year (or so) project. Ready? The University of Toronto. That's right, in Canada. Hear me out. The University of Toronto is a major public school in the Great Lakes region that also happens to be one of the best research universities in North America. The Varsity Blues have a rich athletic tradition. The first North American football game was played on the University of Toronto campus in 1861, and the school's football team played its first game in 1877 against Michigan (a Big Ten school). These days, Toronto's football team is dreadful, though the school excels at other sports (such as rowing).

A probationary period would be required before Toronto could become a member of the NCAA, and a complete overhaul of the football program would be necessary before the school could join the Big Ten. (The Varsity Blues would need to play at the Rogers Centre until a new stadium could be built.) It would be an undertaking, but this addition would bring a world class research university and one of the largest media markets in North America into the Big Ten. And there's precedent for this sort of thing. Earlier this year Simon Fraser University in British Columbia became a member of NCAA Division II.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude, with all due respect, I think you are dreaming in technicolour.
Yeah, Simon Fraser is going D2 next year, but D2 is definitely not Big Ten.
There are so many US schools that would want that coveted 12th spot....Toronto isn't on anyone's radar.
Believe me, NCAA is not crazy about expanding beyond the US border.
SFU had to jump through hoops, pardon the pun, for nearly 10 years to get accepted in D2.
What Simon Fraser had going for it is the fact they competed in NAIA for thirty years before they were forced to go to the CIS.
For them, competing in lower tier US college has been their status quo from their inception.
The day U of T joins the NCAA is the day Stephen Harper joins Greenpeace!

9:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually. The idea in the long term is not a fantasy that the University of Toronto could be a part of the Big 10. However, athletics are the very reason that conferences exist...that is true of the Ivy League. The Ivy League was not formed because of was sports.

From what I know, the University of Toronto is not ready to compete at the Division I level in the two most important sports that drive the NCAA Division I and men's basketball.

Canadian university athletics seems to be more like club sports of American universities.

Maybe that is a just a generalization. Can Toronto come in and compete in the Big 10 across these two major sports. Even if they are in the basement how far below will they be than the 11th best team. These are questions that would have to be answered.

If they are not ready for these big two sports of NCAA Division I, they may have to make the effort first to bring these sports upto a respectable level before the Big 10 could bring them in. That means spending alot of money.

Not sure if Toronto is ready to spend that kind of money on athletics. The Canadian culture and attitudes towards intercollegiate athletics is different.

Athletics at Canadian universities is not a billion dollar enterprise the way it is in the States.

9:15 PM  

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