When asked about Oklahoma and Texas’ pending move to the SEC, Ohio State coach Ryan Day offered a glimpse into what Big Ten football fans might see in the future.
“We may wake up in five years and not recognize college football,” Day said at Big Ten Media Days. “There’s so many giant things going on right now.”
The transfer portal, NIL and playoff expansion are all part of the puzzle, but the Sooners and Longhorns launched what is coming next.
Realignment. Super conferences. New television deals, and the Big Ten cannot afford to wait five years to see what that end result will be. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is entering his 23rd season as head coach. He offered simple advice.
“Never say never to anything right now in college football or whatever’s going to happen in the future,” Ferentz said.
Will the Big Ten expand? If so, how will they expand? ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg reports the shopping list would likely only include schools Association of American Universities membership. These are the leading academic institutions in the United States and Canada, and 64 are in the United States.
Heard today from several people that B1G only would be interested in adding schools from the AAU (Nebraska no longer, but was when it joined league). Texas is AAU member, along with Pac-12 schools like Cal, Washington, Colorado, USC, UCLA, Oregon, Stanford. Oklahoma is not AAU.
— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) July 26, 2021
Nebraska is the only Big Ten school that is not a AAU member. AAU members in the SEC include Florida, Missouri, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. Knowing that, it makes it a little easier to figure out the Big Ten’s true expansion options moving forward:
Here is a closer look at the Big Ten’s expansion options
AAU schools: Pittsburgh, Kansas, Iowa State
Pitt fits the Big Ten profile from a geographic standpoint in the East, and the Panthers would be a logical rival for Penn State. Iowa State fits the same profile from the West, and the Cyclones would be a natural rival for Iowa.
Are they enough on the football side? Pitt has a .532 winning percentage the last 10 seasons. The Cyclones are at .438. Kansas is at .163, the worst in the FBS. The Jayhawks, of course, would be the best add from the basketball side, but expansion motives are always rooted in football first
Kansas and Iowa State stand to benefit more from this move knowing they could be lost in the superconference shuffle with the Big 12 in a perilous state. Pitt could stay in the ACC at this point.
Would this move make the same financial sense as adding Maryland and Rutgers? The Big Ten pulled in $786.9 million in revenue, which is around $54.3 million per school. Would those three schools be able to do their part in adding to that revenue? Remember, each school will be getting a smaller and smaller piece of the pie with each addition. There’s question as to whether or not these three would increase the value of the overall pie to make their inclusion worth it.
Of the Big Ten’s potential expansion plays, this is the easiest, but it is by far the least-exciting option.
Call Notre Dame again
AAU schools: Notre Dame
Imagine how Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren would start that phone call.
“How about now? Last chance?”
Notre Dame is the biggest prize remaining in the next round of realignment, and it would be the best counter to the SEC’s additions of Texas and Oklahoma. The Irish took advantage of a one-year lease in the ACC last season, but from a regional standpoint it has always made more sense to have the Irish in the Big Ten. Notre Dame does compete in the Big Ten in hockey.
The big hangup? The ACC has grant-of-rights on Notre Dame if it chooses to forego its independent status through the 2035-36 season. If the Irish were going to join the Big Ten, then they would have done it by now.
So what if the ACC and Big Ten could make a deal? Is Notre Dame on the move then?
ACC raid or merger?
AAU schools: Duke, Virginia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina
New commissioner Jim Phillips previously was the Northwestern athletic director, and a superconference made up of Big Ten and ACC teams would rival the SEC given the right fits.
Could the Big Ten stretch to 20 teams with Pitt, Notre Dame, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Duke? There is a balance between football and basketball improvement, and you pick up major markets in North Carolina and Georgia. The Big Ten took Maryland, after all.
Phillips, however, isn’t going to just hand over the two biggest basketball brands in North Carolina and Duke. What is the conference getting in return? Is a mega-merger possible here?
The best football brands in the ACC are Clemson, Florida State and Miami. Why wouldn’t the Big Ten bend the AAU requirement and go after them instead?
Another hitch is the ACC Network, which runs through ESPN.
From the AAU standpoint, working with the ACC makes the most sense. There are just a ton of hurdles to clear.
A Pac-12 combo
AAU schools: Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah, Washington
The Big Ten becomes a coast-to-coast league rooted in that Rose Bowl relationship with the Big Ten and Pac-12. It’s just a matter of how many schools should come.
Would the Big Ten absorb all nine and grab Iowa State or Kansas and become a 24-school league with two 12-team divisions? This would put the conference in every time zone. New Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff and Warren would hit a home run here with the first true superconference, and FOX would certainly be on board given the vested interest in both leagues.
That would split rivalries with Washington State, Arizona State and Oregon State, who would likely be left to cobble something together with the Big 12 leftovers. But if superconferences happen, a lot of feelings are going to get hurt.
This is the boldest plan of all. If Notre Dame can’t be swayed, the Big Ten should look to do this for a true superconference.
Sit back and wait
The Big Ten could simply hold serve and do nothing.
Oklahoma and Texas were the biggest pieces in realignment hypotheticals for years, and the Big Ten missed an opportunity there even though Oklahoma is not an AAU member.
Now, Warren and the conference have to get the next move right. Maryland and Rutgers made sense from a financial standpoint, but from a competitive standpoint in football it wasn’t the best move. The Terps are 30-49 (.380) since joining the conference. The Scarlet Knights are 24-58 (.293).
Instead of chasing teams, the Big Ten can wait and see what happens next. The danger is falling way behind the SEC while watching a Pac-12/Big 12 merger of sorts and Notre Dame finally agreeing to join the ACC. Warren would get hammered for that, especially if Clemson, Florida State and Miami go to the SEC.
Five years from now, the Big Ten wants to be in the best position possible with all those giant changes that are coming.
It’s better for the Big Ten to be proactive than reactive.
They can’t afford to never say never to anything for the next five years.