I’m not the Big Ten commissioner. Kevin Warren is. When it was announced Jim Delany was stepping down from the job in 2019, however, I did throw my hat in the ring as a candidate. Just because Warren was chosen over me, and my hat sits in that very same ring collecting dust or possibly being used as a bird’s nest, doesn’t mean I’ve stopped thinking about what’s best for the Big Ten.
So with Texas and Oklahoma officially telling the Big 12 to kick rocks while eyeing the SEC as their new home, I can’t help but think of what steps the Big Ten should take and how I’d approach things if I were, in fact, commissioner.
It’s strange; I’m pretty sure conference realignment will end up being the death of college football as we know it (or, perhaps, knew it), but I enjoy kicking realignment scenarios around so much that I can’t even be mad about it. Instead of being angry with Texas and Oklahoma for being selfish and jeopardizing the future of an entire conference, I’m grateful because it allows me to waste a bunch of time thinking about which schools could end up where.
So if you’re reading this, Kevin Warren, first of all, congratulations on getting the job over me. You deserve it, and there are no hard feelings. And if you think any of these ideas are interesting, feel free to use them.
Option 1: Absorb some Big 12 remnants
I hope that the Big Ten at least approached Oklahoma and Texas to see if there was any interest in joining forces, even if it was a fruitless pursuit. Since we know that isn’t happening, the most logical move for the Big Ten would be to see if any remaining Big 12 teams are worth adding to the fold.
Iowa State and Kansas make the most sense from a cultural and geographical point of view. Both are AAU members, which is important to the Big Ten. Also, while Kansas football is the butt of many jokes, so was Rutgers when the Big Ten added it. Of course, back then, the conference was going after the New York market for the Big Ten Network. Kansas offers very little in terms of television market, but television markets aren’t likely to matter as much this go-round as brands do, and Kansas has a potent basketball brand.
And yes, in the Big Ten, basketball is important.
As for Iowa State, the Cyclones currently have a football program that finished in the top 10 last season. Maybe asking for top-10 finishes from the ‘Clones on an annual basis is unrealistic, but you’d be adding another team capable of consistent top 25 finishes to enhance the league’s standing and add more depth to the western portion of the league.
Option 2: Raid the Pac-12
I’ve seen some talk about the Big Ten and Pac-12 merging to form some kind of Super Rose Bowl League, and while there’s plenty of history between the two conferences, I don’t know how much sense that makes for the Big Ten. It’d be like letting your unemployed sibling move in with you permanently and allowing them to eat your food and watch your television while never charging them any rent. Sure, you’re a great person who just wants to take care of family, but you can’t pay your strength coach seven figures with good intentions.
With brands being the most crucial thing in maximizing revenue, USC would be a significant addition to the Big Ten. Of course, you’d need to add at least one other West Coast team to make life a little easier on the Trojans. The other Pac-12 schools that are AAU members include Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, Utah and Washington. What if the Big Ten adds USC, Oregon, Washington and Cal? Now you’ve added three large brands as well as the television markets of Seattle, Los Angeles and the Bay Area to your footprint.
Option 3: Slide back into Notre Dame’s DMs
You’re still following them on Instagram. You’ve been checking out their photos and stories to see who they’ve been hanging out with lately, and you’re not sure what it is about this ACC character to whom Notre Dame’s gotten so close. Now it’s Friday night, you’ve had a few drinks and you’re starting to wonder if now is the time. I mean, sure, Notre Dame made it clear to you once that it liked you as a friend but wasn’t interested in taking things any further than that. It wanted to stay single and free to mingle.
Well, what if things have changed? What if Notre Dame is starting to wonder if it just might be time to settle down and join a family. And what if Notre Dame just might be interested in a far wealthier family than the one it’s been hanging out with lately?
Option 4: Shop in the ACC
The Big Ten has expanded three times since the early 1990s by adding four teams. What you might have noticed about those four teams is that only one of them — Nebraska — came from west of the conference’s footprint at the time. The other three — Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers — all came from the East.
Over the years, the country’s population has migrated southeast, which is one of the reasons there’s so much football and basketball talent in the region. It would make sense for the Big Ten to give itself easier recruiting access to the area from a competitive standpoint. Also, let’s not forget that while the Big Ten ended up with Rutgers and Maryland in the last realignment carousel, the conference was reportedly sniffing around places like North Carolina, Duke, Georgia Tech and Virginia at the time.
Well, what if a conference that has a strong enough football brand to pull in the money and takes basketball seriously wants to add a couple of more strong brands to the stable? North Carolina and Duke could make the Big Ten the strongest basketball conference in the country. If they aren’t interested, Virginia would bring in a strong basketball program, while Georgia Tech would give the conference access to the Atlanta market and the state of Georgia’s talent. Pitt is also an AAU member, which would make it more appealing to the Big Ten and could provide another natural rival for Penn State.
Of course, one major roadblock to this idea is the grant of rights the ACC put in place after losing Maryland to the Big Ten — but contracts aren’t constitutional amendments; you don’t need Congress or the Supreme Court to get you out of them. You just need lawyers to find the loopholes in the contract they wrote for you. It likely wouldn’t come cheap, but I’m sure there’s a work-around if both sides are interested.
Option 5: Stand pat
If you feel like your brand is strong enough and your television package is attractive enough as is, maybe you don’t do anything. It’s not a horrible option, though I do wonder if it’d be one you regret because Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC would likely make it only a matter of time before the SEC passes you in annual revenue.
So which option will it be?
I think the Big Ten will look to the southeast and the ACC again. It would be my first move if I were in charge. It makes more sense from a financial standpoint to head that direction than it does to go to the West. I mean, let’s be honest: the Big 12 and Pac-12 are the two Power Five conferences standing on the most dangerous ground. Why should the Big Ten go stand out there with them?
If your goal is to be as powerful as the SEC on and off the field, you need to get into the southeast. So, from that perspective, the ACC makes more sense, even if it’ll cost a lot more in billable hours in the short term. Also, maybe adding ACC schools is the way to get Notre Dame to finally join because, depending on which ACC schools you take, that conference might find itself in the same spot the Big 12 does right now.