This afternoon the Big Ten announced that it is actively considering adding a 12th member, one that would give the conference a title game in football and the revenue that such a contest would create. When you have a 51 percent ownership stake in your own TV network, you find yourself in favor of a conference championship game in football. Understood.
After all, if you’re a college hoops fan you’re used to your conference being structured according to the whims and dictates of that other sport. Boston College, a 146-year-old Jesuit university located in the heart of New England, still looks odd to me as a member of the ACC. South Florida, which opened its doors in Tampa recently enough to be younger than some of my cousins, still looks odd to me as a member of the Big East. Both were propelled into their current conference homes solely by football. Penn State is in the Big Ten because of football, goodness knows. And the Big 12 didn’t add the four Texas schools a decade ago for their hoops, to say the least. Granted, DePaul and Marquette were welcomed to the Big East as no-football members, taking their place alongside the similarly-situated likes of Georgetown, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall, and Villanova. Otherwise if you’re looking at a school affiliated with a major conference you are looking at a bond cemented by football.
I don’t have a problem with that, I’m just interested in how it will shake out in basketball terms. For the Big Ten a 12th member (and yes, the conference name will most definitely stay the same–look at the A-10 and its 14 member schools) could mean a shift to a Big 12- and SEC-style hoops schedule. In the new 12-team league there would figure to be two six-team divisions. If you’re, say, Wisconsin, you’ll play each of the other five teams in your division twice (home and away) and each team in the other division once for a total of 16 games. The best feature of such a change is that it would bring an end to the annual hand-wringing about who you play twice in-conference. The worst feature of such a change is that the next 18 months will be spent arguing about who should be in which division–and, at the risk of belaboring the obvious, the divisions will be drawn up according to football.
As for the candidate-schools most often mentioned as member number 12, I will assume here that Notre Dame won’t join, the Big Ten knows they won’t join, and therefore the conference won’t waste its breath. (As Brian Cook puts it, “If the Big Ten is doing this when Notre Dame’s NBC contract has six years to run, the Irish are not in the mix.” Exactly.) That leaves Pitt, Missouri, and, possibly, Syracuse or Rutgers. I hereby exclude the Orangemen from my serious consideration for basic Notre Dame reasons: I just don’t believe that Jim Boeheim would ever countenance an exit from the conference that he pretty much co-built. And my first-blush sense with Rutgers is that they’re being given the Very Serious Consideration, Truly! They Are in the Mix! treatment simply because a certain Big Ten football coach who invented soil has long voiced interest along these lines.
Which very quickly brings us down to Pitt and Mizzou. Either would be fine additions to the league from a hoops standpoint. The Tigers under Mike Anderson would single-handedly push the league into tempo heterogeneity. The Panthers should be required to sign a notarized statement pledging that they will bring the Big Ten another DeJuan Blair. I say expand away.