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