Big Ten Expansion - the case for Pitt

Wrvfcu5gwma4v22cyof6_mediumThe topic of Big Ten Expansion has been covered by every major and minor newspaper, TV outlet and blog since Jim Delaney made the announcement in late 2009. A quick google search of "Big Ten Expansion" gets you a mere 22,3000,000 results. We here at TDG haven't really weighed in on the issued. Clearly as bloggers of a current Big Ten institution we will be significantly impacted by the conference additions. But since virtually everyone with a keyboard has thrown out their speculation as to who, how and when I haven't seen the point in adding to the monkey pile of opinions. Essentially everything written is pure speculation. Who is going to be added? How will the conference align? What makes the most sense for the Big Ten?

So rather than throw out my own opinions I've decided to bring everyone together from the schools suggested as likely candidates for Big Ten expansion. Rather than figuring out what is best for the Big Ten, I wanted to know what the Big Ten does for these schools? As bloggers, they are representing their fan base and I want to know if they even want anything to do with the Big Ten.

I asked the following bloggers a series of questions regarding Big Ten expansion. I think most of us in Big Ten country have our wish list of school we want to add for whatever reason. Notre Dame brings a national power, Nebraska brings tradition, Texas bring Texas, Rutgers brings NYC, etc. But do these schools even want to join the Big Ten? We know what is in it for us, but also what is in it for them? And most importantly does their fan base really want to switch conferences and come to the plodding and perennially-labled overrated conference?

I'll continue with the Big East schools and finish with what I believe is the only other Big East school under consideration. At least that is the assumption.

Pitt is a very interesting resume for Big Ten consideration. They have strong programs in both basketball and football, Pittsburgh is the 23rd largest media market in the country, it would be a natural rival for Penn State and it has that Big Ten feel to it. The city of Pittsburgh and it's blue-collar tradition would fit right in with the midwestern teams of the Big Ten.

But this isn't just about residing in a city with blue-collar roots, this is about TV markets, money, football and money. So let's get into the Pitt resume. Before we get into what Pitt brings to the Big Ten, I asked Chas at Pitt Blather what does the Big Ten do for Pitt both positively and negatively?

Money, money, money, money. That's primarily what this is about. It's about the money.

The conference stability is also a very attractive notion. After the ACC raid in 2003, I think most of the old Big East football programs are just looking to put an end to rumors and possible doomsday scenarios for the conference.

After that, there is the academic affiliation with the Big Something programs along with the University of Chicago.

Finally, the resumption of Pitt and Penn State playing is quite obviously a very appealing notion.

As for the negatives, well aside from Penn State there is no real history with Pitt and the rest of the conference members. Eight of the present eleven members have played Pitt 9 times or less over the 120 years Pitt has played football.

Pitt has pushed further east in recruiting than west. A move to a predominantly midwest conference would -- at least in the short term -- probably hurt recruiting as resources would have to be allocated at least in part to a new geographic area.

Much of that echos what the rest of the Big East schools are saying. The money would be outstanding and it would be incredibly comforting to have a conference home in this time of conference shakeups. The intent of this little exercise was to get an gauge on what the Big Ten meant for these candidate schools and I wanted to find out how their fans would feel about a move to the Big Ten. But I also asked Chas what Pitt would do for us.

Well, Pitt has a top men's basketball program. They haven't missed the NCAA Tournament in the past 9 seasons. It has been one of the top prorgams in the Big East this past decade and does not appear to be showing any signs of dipping. Forbes ranked Pitt in the top-20 of most valuable basketball programs for two straight years now.

The women's basketball program has become much stronger in the past five years as more resources and energy have been put into it. A disappointing season this year, but the past two have seen Pitt in the Sweet 16.

The baseball program was ranked this season and has gotten better.

Football of course has great history and is a preseason top-25 team.

Overall, Pitt athletics have been on an upswing as the athletic department has put money and time into building new facilities and upgrading others in the non-revenue sports.

and financially?

This is Pitt's obvious weak spot in the whole matter. We all know that Pennsylvania is represented by Penn State and adding Pitt will not meaningfully improve subscriber numbers for the Big Ten. That's the primary issue, and clearly Pitt doesn't have that to offer.

Where Pitt can help is in advertising money with ratings for their live sports. Pitt has done very well in getting eyeballs when televised. The fact that Pitt is good in both football and men's basketball provides better match-ups and ratings for games.

The only other point is that Pitt's athletic department is in fiscally excellent shape even with the smaller revenue streams from the Big East. If Pitt were to join the Big Ten, the athletic department would not need to look to future revenues to plug holes in the budget. Future revenue would most likely be used to expand the athletic department and elevate some of the club sports (hockey, lacrosse, etc.) to team status. This helps put more teams in the other sports on the BTN programming rotation.

Chas downplays what Pitt would bring but I think Pitt offers more than he realizes. Currently, according to what I could find, the city of Pittsburgh does not included the BTN in it's basic cable package. Adding Pitt to the conference would be a very nice addition. It's not New York, but Pittsburgh is a top 25 media market with just over 1.1 million TV households.

He adds a nice anecdote about the financial viability of the Pitt athletic department. In this current economic climate it has to be something the Big Ten is looking at. They won't be interested in adding a program that is facing budget issues and contemplating cutting non-rev sports.

One of the other things always mentioned along with the candidacy of Pitt is the "natural" rivalry with Penn State. I guess the citizens of Pennsylvania would look forward to this and then maybe Penn State can drop some of it's ridiculous made up trophy games.

Obviously the Backyard Brawl with WVU would no longer be a conference game. I would, however expect that game to continue as an annual non-con in football and basketball. There's too much history and animosity to end that one.

There wouldn't really be any other football rivalry games that would be lost. Rutgers until recently, had been a Temple-like game. Played frequently but rarely a loss. Syracuse never had great meaning in football because both teams were rarely any good at the same time. Making the series even overall, but going in long streaks for one school or the other.

Basketball would be where the rivalries would be lost. Villanova, UConn, Syracuse, Georgetown. Even recent ones with Marquette and Louisville would be the games missed.

Gaining, obviously, it would be playing Penn State. That sits at the top of the list. Ohio State given their geographic proximity. After that, I can't say for sure.

Anyone with any sense of history would look forward to facing Michigan.

In basketball, Michigan State and Indiana clearly stick out. Those sort of games, however, aren't rivalries so much as big games. At least in the beginning.

I think Wisconsin in basketball could be a hell of a thing given some of the similarities in the coaches styles.

Outside of geography, though, I don't think you can predict which teams really become rivalry/meaningful games. That happens and evolves over time.

The other thing always mentioned along with the Pitt candidacy is their connection and likely ensuing rivalry with Penn State. We love our rivalries in the Big Ten so adding a natural, in-state rivalry would be a good thing right?

Obviously the Backyard Brawl with WVU would no longer be a conference game. I would, however expect that game to continue as an annual non-con in football and basketball. There's too much history and animosity to end that one.

There wouldn't really be any other football rivalry games that would be lost. Rutgers until recently, had been a Temple-like game. Played frequently but rarely a loss. Syracuse never had great meaning in football because both teams were rarely any good at the same time. Making the series even overall, but going in long streaks for one school or the other.

Basketball would be where the rivalries would be lost. Villanova, UConn, Syracuse, Georgetown. Even recent ones with Marquette and Louisville would be the games missed.

Gaining, obviously, it would be playing Penn State. That sits at the top of the list. Ohio State given their geographic proximity. After that, I can't say for sure.

Anyone with any sense of history would look forward to facing Michigan.

In basketball, Michigan State and Indiana clearly stick out. Those sort of games, however, aren't rivalries so much as big games. At least in the beginning.

I think Wisconsin in basketball could be a hell of a thing given some of the similarities in the coaches styles.

Outside of geography, though, I don't think you can predict which teams really become rivalry/meaningful games. That happens and evolves over time.

The overall Pitt resume is very strong and obviously the Big Ten will be looking closely at the Panthers. Before that, does Pitt even want to be a member of the new Big Ten? Chas?

A little more than a half-hearted yes.

Obviously the money and conference stability make it a no-brainer intellectually. It's best for the long-term of the program. It needs to happen

It's just a big change in the whole direction of things.

Pitt has been in the Big East since the early 80s. It hasn't always been good -- owing more to Pitt's own ineptness and neglect of athletics in the 90s. -- but it has been a lot of fun in the last 10 years.

And finally what does Chas predict about the Pitt future?

It depends on whether expansion is 14 or 16. If 14 then I doubt it. I think the Big Something will go with Nebraska, Mizzou and Rutgers to maximize subscriber revenue.

At 16, it becomes much more likely to be a yes.

But for the issue of BTN subscribers, Pitt is everything the Big Ten would want.

Financially stable with a large academic endowment and an athletic department that supports itself. A solid athletic program in the major sports. A rich history in football. Top academics and research including AAU membership. Within the Big Ten's geographic footprint -- PSU, OSU, MSU, Michigan, Purdue, Illinois and Northwestern are all within 500 miles of Pittsburgh.

I think he nailed it. In the pecking order Pitt sits behind Rutgers but ahead of Syracuse and UConn. Notre Dame, Texas and Nebraska would be ahead of the Panthers as well. And then their resume is very similar to Missouri's. At 14, I think it is doubtful but at 16 I think they are right in the mix. Personally I think they'd be a great addition when seeing this from all angles. They don't bring the massive TV markets that some others will bring. They don't have the outstanding tradition that others may bring. And nothing stands out making Pitt a "must have" in the Big Ten. But nothing stands out as a reg flag. They would fit nicely into the conference as a competitive and financially stable program immediately.

(photo via www.chriscreamer.com)

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