Thursday, September 1, 2011

What Were We Thinking: Conference Expansion Fever [From the Archives]

The benefit to us having kept this blog in existence even with a nearly four year layoff is that we have the benefit of a deep archive of the previous two years of posting. All of this includes a ridiculous amount of dated content, but on occasion, we have the joy of looking back and saying, "What Were We Thinking?"

It's the first day of the season, but with Texas A&M bolting the Big XII for somewhere (rumor has it they are outside the SEC's window holding up a boom box playing "In Your Eyes" on repeat until the answer), conference expansion is on the mind.

So we turn the clock back to July 2007, when I wrote the below post on the fever that can't be solved with more cowbell. Discuss and ask yourself. BYU to the Pac-whatever? Pitt the shoe-in as the B1G's 12th team?Louisville to the SEC? A column that relied on the back of the Indiana Jones movies that was before the fourth one came out so we didn't have the opportunity to make a "Nuke the Fridge" joke?

What were we thinking?!

You know it's late in July when the only thing that pundits have to go off of is a story from Des Moines. The Register reported that the introduction of the the Big Ten Network might be encouraging the conference to pick up the magic 12th team in order to gain a championship game.
I'm not writing this post to discuss what options the Big "Ten" has, because I feel like that has been done a lot already in these past few days in a few other places. I quickly want to point out what they are just so that everyone who happens across this can stay up to speed with some of my logic. The way I see it, there's three main scenarios. Just for fun, let's go with them as if they were Indiana Jones movies. 
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (The search for the Grail)
Convincing Notre Dame to stop its exclusive contract with NBC that it splits with nobody and forcing them to change their schedule to something marginally difficult is not an easy task. Remember, that with four OOC games (more on this later), ND would likely want to keep their traditional games against only the service academies and USC. But that's already a 12 game schedule! They go from having cupcakes to playing 3 or 4 teams that are sub-500, max. It's all about the money. Interesting take from the Ann Arbor News on the only way to make this work: ban Big Ten teams from scheduling ND in any sport.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
In this scenario, please understand that Temple of Doom refers to the future of the Big East. There is no way that future expansion of any other conference will not affect the Big East v. 2.0. One of the reasons is that, since the Big Ten Network is driving this, the goal is to pick up an additional media market, but also one from a state that could be considered regional. Syracuse is not that crazy of a suggestion. Picking up the outlying New York City football fans (who would go nuts for Michigan and Ohio State), plus the interest from Buffalo might actually be considerable for the Orange, make Syracuse a realistic option. They were already thinking of leaving the Big East back with Miami and BC when VTech was offered at the 11th hour. If Syracuse leaves, the Big East will be reduced to six football schools and one of their biggest basketball powers absent. Sure, Syracuse football is down right now, but imagine how things would change. 
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
Any of the other dominoes of the Big Ten expansion would hit the Big East, but tons of conference raiding might go on to get there first. Pitt has also been thrown out because of its locale and in-state relationship with Penn State. Rutgers has been jokingly mentioned but they do have the NYC market. It could get worse. The Big Ten could try to get Missou or Iowa State (one for the media market, the other for the rivalry) to jump from the Big 12, who would try to get Arkansas to jump from the SEC, who would try to get Louisville to join Kentucky. Or even try to woo GT, Florida State or Clemson from the ACC who would then just go get Syracuse. Any major conference adjustment hurts the Big East. This also makes my head hurt. I don't see the Big Ten poaching from a conference that already has 12 members.
I actually want to take a step back and just say I can't believe that Indiana Jones thing worked. I just thought it would be funny to think of Charlie Weis as a dying, fatter Sean Connery for a second and look what happened.
Do I really think any of this could happen? To be honest, if expansion happens (something which I generously put at 75-25 in favor of the "No Chance in Hell"), I see it being Pitt or Syracuse, with Pitt edging out because of the Penn State factor, the stadium and facilities. If the Carrier Dome had actually been renovated in the last 20-plus years since it has been built, I'd be singing a different tune. But, as I think about it, I don't rule out 'cuse because I think New Yorkers would really bite on the chance to see Michigan, Wisco, Iowa (who played in Syracuse last year) or Ohio State. I just think the really need to change the name, though, from the Big Ten. 
Alright, so my quick recap got winded but there's a real purpose behind my writing this evening to discuss the other half of conference life: the in conference schedule.
Big Ten expansion could put pressure on the Pac 10 to expand. The Pac 10 has one option as I see it: getting Utah and BYU to join together to hit 12. That's the logical geographic idea and feasible for conference divisions. Just pick one from each of the pairs of schools (the Pac 10 is beautiful sometimes because of this). ASU, UCLA, Cal, Oregon State, Wash and BYU on one side, UofA, USC, Stan, Oregon, Wassu and Utah on the other. Regional rivals always play. Likewise for the other five teams in the division.
My gripe, though, is what happens next. The reason why I don't want the Pac-10 to expand is because they have it right, a true round robin. When the schedule expanded to 12 games permanently two years ago, they chose to use that extra game to have everyone play each other. In every other 12 team system (the ACC for example), you play three cross division opponents. In some years, this makes a huge difference. I pointed it out earlier in the week, but BC misses the three weakest teams in the Coastal - where there is a huge gap between the top three and the bottom three. Even picking up one while dropping the I-AA from the schedule wouldn't matter, but it would make things more fair in conference play. 
So, this endless rant of Harrison Ford and my Pac-10 affinity was for this point: 3 OOC games, not 4. It gives a division champion the ability to prove it. And you want a de facto playoff system? Surviving your conference should be enough, especially when the champion will have had 10 games against its own fraternity. Then, the two highest ranked conference champions play each other.
Sure, that leaves the mid majors (which the Big East will be after the conference shimmying) in a tough situation. They really have to pull their weight to be in play. Outside of Utah and Boise State, though, is this that common? Utah would be in the Pac-10 by this point anyway, in my head.
Conference expansion always interests me. I know its for the money. Almost everything in this industry is. But, I hope that a few folks up in Chicago think hard about making it about the game as well.
All things considered, I could have been significantly more wrong.

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