Big Ten Expansion - the case for Texas

Lmlfr6dq6nw9z6ughm66_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?

And now the big dog from the south, Texas. When first rumored this seemed like a crazy notion, and to some degree it still does. But in some ways it makes a little sense for both parties. So let's examine the case for Texas coming moving north. Peter Bean, of the entertaining and brilliant Texas blog, Burnt Orange Nation (and kind of my SBN boss, I guess), was kind enough to answer some questions regarding the likelihood and legitimacy of Texas in the Big Ten. To start with I wanted to know on a scale of 1-10, what are the chances Texas becomes the newest Big Ten school.

Put me down for a '3', although my co-author, Hopkins Horn, is very keen on the idea and would like to see it happen. He might give you a higher number, 5 or above. But I'll speak for myself and explain my more pessimistic view by noting that it seems to me that from Texas' position of strength, its best move (at least in the short-term, defined as 5 years) is no move at all.

Conference realignment is a game of incomplete information, which means a lot of things, but here are two of the most important. First, from the Texas perspective, there are several variables that provide UT with a strong incentives to hold off any decision until 4-6 years down the line, if possible. For starters, there is the Big 12 TV contract, which (with ABC/ESPN) does not expire until 2016; Texas would like to know the outcome of the next round of negotiations and whether the Big 12 can remain viable. (If those negotiations go poorly, the conference is done.) But maybe even more important is the BCS contract, which expires in 2014; what happens after that? Are we headed to a playoff? If so, what kind?

Second, this means that Jim Delaney is a smart man to try to force decisions from other players in the game now, when his own position is particularly strong. It might be stronger in a few years (and if so, no loss if things take a while to develop), but it might be weaker, too. The Big 10 is a very attractive destination right now, and has a strong chance of getting a highly desirable outcome by forcing the issue now. It's a smart move, even if it doesn't happen this summer as many think it will. It also means Delaney shouldn't settle for expansion just for the sake of it, which I don't think he will.

See that? That's big picture thinking. I once had a real estate agent tell me I'm a big picture thinker. I think he was just trying to get me to buy a more expensive house, but that's another story. The fact is, Peter is 100% correct. Texas is in a position of strength. They don't 'need' the Big Ten. If there is a massive conference scramble, UT can still go where they want or start their own conference. They have money, they have tradition, they have prestige and they have clout.

So what does the Big Ten even do for the Texas Longhorns?

There is additional TV revenue, although that shouldn't be dispositive for Texas. I think the strongest attraction of the Big 10 is the superior academics and R&D dollars, which are outstanding and would be a terrific fit with our institution.

On the downside, it's not ideal geographically, and we do care about more than just football -- Big 10 baseball, for instance, stands out as a particularly unattractive destination.

It is nice to be appreciated for more than just our bling, but is this a back-handed slap? Are we the girl with the nice personality? Clearly we have things to offer but particularly in the case of Texas our baseball strength is a serious drawback. UT would win every Big Ten conference championship for the foreseeable future. And the non-rev sports would see a serious spike in travel costs. The BTN represents money, but Texas has plenty of it. So I guess academics and the prestige that comes along with that is the best we can do. BTN money being a nice bonus.

This may be the only team on the list that offers the Big Ten far more than we can reciprocate. Peter?

Not to be smug, but I think everyone knows what Texas has to offer: TV sets, money, prestige, academics, superior athletics, and on down the line.

Nine million people live within a three-hour radius of the Austin-Round Rock metro area.

On the field of competition there still isn't a whole lot of sound reason for Texas to make a move. When asked about rivalries lost and rivalries gained Peter points out how few football games have occurred between Texas and the Big Ten.

For Texas, the two rivalries that matter are Oklahoma and Texas A&M, so a move that didn't bring the Aggies with us would require us to play both schools out-of-conference, which complicates things. We don't have any natural rivalry with any Big 10 school -- out of a grand total of 1,196 football games played, Texas has played exactly 19 of them against Big 10 schools -- so this would be entirely new territory for Texas.

I see Texas being a good fit with the Big 10 insofar as I think the institutions as a whole are a lot alike, but at least on the sports field, Texas to the Big 10 has never seemed like manifest destiny. For 100 years, it would have seemed entirely unforseeable. Could it happen now? Maybe, but I'm betting against it.

I think he nails this 100%. The institutions are very similar but athletically it makes very little sense.

Finally, the key question for all of these fine bloggers responding to my line of questioning.

Do you want to see your team join the Big Ten

No. Or more accurately: not yet. As I keep saying at Burnt Orange Nation, I want Texas to sit on its position of strength, gather information for 3-5 years, and then decide what is best for it going forward. That will depend on too many things to concisely list here, but I've mentioned many of the important ones already. I think technology, media consumption, subscription services, and advertising models all have a lot to say in this, and I think we're at a critical point in time where we're in the middle of something like a paradigm shift. Texas would be better off knowing more about what the future is going to look like with streaming video, portable viewing devices, and the like. I also think it matters what kind of playoff system we have in the future -- whether it's more BCS (a two-team playoff) or something bigger. I think it matters whether Texas can viably put together a Lone Start Network. And more. Ultimately, I think that if Texas to the Big 10 is the right move, it can't be known right now, and given that Texas doesn't need to decide now, if the Big 10 plows ahead nonetheless, Texas shouldn't go. Ask me again in 2014 and I might be saying 'yes'. There's no downside to Texas waiting.

He's right. Texas doesn't need the Big Ten. This one just feels like a reach that is too far out of our "footprint." If the only goal is to get BTN TV sets then why stop at Texas? Why not extend to USC or UCLA to get LA? Texas makes some sense but it is a stretch. Is this going to happen?

If this moves quickly, the answer is no. I don't think so. If this unfolds more slowly, and the Big 10 is talking to Texas in 2014 about this, it's possible. There are Texas fans who see it differently, but my own view is that it can't happen quickly.

Peter never touched on the likelihood that if Texas comes they would require A&M to come along too. I just don't see that happening. Texas would bring a LOT to the Big Ten. In fact they'd probably bring more of a total package than anybody else, including Notre Dame. But the distance is great for the non-rev teams and the incentive really isn't there for Texas.

I like the notion that conferences have very different personalities. This is largely due to their geography and the people that live within each league's footprint. This is not to say that Northwestern and Ohio State don't have their stark differences, but as a league the Big Ten and it's schools are different than the Big 12 and their schools. Not to say that one is better than the other but they have different fan bases and recruiting bases. Adding Texas doesn't fit in my humble opinion. Some of the east coast schools don't fit particularly well either, but Texas is a huge reach. Geography isn't the main concern here and I completely understand that Texas bring a lot of money and a premier athletic program. I just think they are best suited for the Big 12 or some variation that will ensue.

(photo via www.sportslogos.net)

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