Big Ten Expansion - the case for Nebraska

U0h7outv9q33soxfv5dqgg2hi_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?

Continuing with the Big 12 we move to the program that is the perfect balance of football power and realistically plausible. Notre Dame and Texas would bring a LOT of clout but very few believe that either is a realistic possibility. Nebraska on the other hand is a traditional power with a rich football history and many believe they are a one of the strongest candidates to become the next member of the Big X. What does Corn Nation think about just how realistic this academic and athletic union is? I asked Corn Nation and fortunately two my esteemed colleagues were kind enough to respond.

So...on a scale of 1-10 what are the chances the Huskers make the move to the Big X?

HuskerMike: The only way it doesn't happen is if (a) this was just a big game of chicken with Notre Dame or (b) somehow someone figures out a way to make the Big XII more viable in an era of megaconferences.

JonJohnston: It’s 50/50 with a 75/25 percent chance moving to 90/10 if Missouri makes the move. Seriously - because of the fact that the Big 12 doesn’t share it’s revenues evenly, I believe it’s doomed to die. Nebraska actually benefits more than the rest of it’s Big 12 North counterparts, but the lion’s share goes to Texas, a school that already has more resources than anyone else in the nation. It’s a case of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer and over the long term, that never works out. I’d put the chances at about 6.5.

HM sounds a bit more optimistic than JJ, but both seem to think it is more likely than not. The reality is that the Texas schools (+Oklahoma) dominate the Big 12 when it comes to decision making and $$. Nebraska has some pull since they are the class of the football Big 12 North (historically anyway), but they are still marginalized even if it isn't as much as some of the other northern B12 schools.

So can the Big X help ease those concerns?

HM: I think the biggest positive is long-term stability and finances. We know the Big Ten's television contracts pay more than the Big XII's, and it simply makes for a more stable situation. The Big XII seems to be hanging on the whims of Texas, Missouri, and to some extent Colorado for survival. The biggest negative is the loss of traditional rivals, such as Kansas and Iowa State. Even Oklahoma, though it's a "part-time rivalry" now. Also increased travel is a concern as we trade three schools within a 3-4 hour drive for schools that may be twice as far away, let alone schools on the east coast.

JJ: The biggest positive is that I’d have a much larger bunch of people I could annoy and I’d probably have a better chance of traveling to Nebraska’s Big 10 games than I have the Big 12 away games. The biggest positive is academic. Nebraska’s reputation would rise being a part of the Big 10, although part of me is convinced that no matter how good the school becomes we’ll still be seen by most as "hicks" (which amazes because Iowa isn’t all that much different than us and they’re not seen as hicks. What’s up with that?), so it’s both a positive and a negative.

What else can you do for me? You could invite me to a Gopher game and get me a ticket. Ha!

Sorry, JJ. I would have taken you to a game before this post that I took far too personally. :)

That's what we can do for you, but really this comes down to what you can do for us.

HM: Nobody that the Big Ten is considering brings the modern football resume like the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Yes, Notre Dame has tradition as well, but most college football fans older than 30 years old remember that 60-3 run in the mid-90's. And while Nebraska isn't a population center, the "Husker Nation" is truly nationwide. Husker fans will travel to our new conference foes. As for other sports, Nebraska has been perennially strong in volleyball and baseball.

JJ: What we bring is an incredibly devoted fan base. Just about every time I attend a Gopher event wearing Husker gear, a vendor will make a comment to me asking when Nebraska is coming back because they want the fans to show up and spend money.

Everyone is familiar with Nebraska football, but we provide a full compliment of 22 sports. Nebraska is a volleyball sport and would immediately expand rivalries with Minnesota and Penn State. Baseball has been bad this season and last, but we’ve been good for a number of years at that, so the addition of Nebraska would increase the conference’s baseball standing. The wrestling team is always ranked and our women’s basketball team just completed their best season in school history.

To be honest, outside of football the Nebraska resume isn't all that strong. They have a big and faithful fanbase, but that doesn't turn into significant dollars for the conference like adding a major TV market does. Sure Minnesota would be a gracious host for the throng of Husker fans (like we are for Iowa and Wisconsin) but we are not talking big time money here. Several thousand fans will travel to away football games but this merger is about big time dollars.

The Big Ten has been rather successful with the Big Ten Network and the current 11 members have seen some financial benefits from the BTN. And most of the targeted schools are targeted because they will bring something financially to the table. It is what we'd call a win-win (maybe). What doesNebraska bring to the table that would financially benefit the Big Ten?

HM: While BTN has been financially successful, it's been less successful getting into homes outside the core Big Ten region, with only 40 million homes in the United States. Bringing the Nebraska Cornhuskers into the Big Ten boosts the resume of the BTN and makes it more difficult for cable systems outside the Big Ten region to not carry BTN. Adding four or five Nebraska football games to the BTN schedule automatically increases the value of BTN to any cable system, and adding annual games between the Huskers and Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State is compelling programming for ABC/ESPN.

JJ: You notice how Mike does such a good job at answering these that he leaves me almost no room for an answer? Nebraska is one of the very few athletic departments that’s entirely self-sustained, i.e, the athletic department receives no money from the university nor the state. That is key because the bottom line is Nebraskans will do whatever it takes to make sure the athletic department stays successful. If that means paying for a buy-in, so be it. We’ll never be a liability.

Again, the lure of Husker Nation sounds nice but cable companies and television markets outside of Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri are not going to be begging the BTN to put them on the basic package because we added Nebraska. It's not like we are the WAC and adding the skurs; Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State bring some serious clout to the BTN. Wisconsin and Iowa also have a huge fan following. Nebraska certainly adds to that but I wonder how that actually translates into cable subscriptions and that is where the money is going to be generated.

I love the fact that the athletic department is financially self-sustaining. And their non-revenue sports are attractive, especially volleyball, baseball and wrestling. They'll win the Big Ten in baseball on a regular basis, hopefully raising the conference baseball profile. And in volleyball the Big Ten becomes the new Pac 10 when you add another dominant program to Penn State and a usually very good Minnesota team. Unfortunately they are terrible in basketball and will add nothing to the conference in that respect.

This comes down to football where adding Nebraska is a GREAT addition, but I'm not sure Nebraska bring as much to the table financially as Pittsburgh or even possibly Missouri. I'm certain MANY will disagree with me, especially Husker Nation, but from what I've been able to gather television markets carries a lot more water than a huge fan base spread throughout the country. It absolutely is a large fan base that is very passionate. Though many of them are already spread into Big Ten markets like Chicago, Minneapolis, Des Moines and Milwaukee.

Let's keep moving on, I'll get to more wrap-up at the end. Nebraska is interesting because of the rivalry factor. They already had a great rivalry with Oklahoma ripped up when the Big 12 expanded and split. The Big Ten may actually provide some opportunities for renewed or new rivalries equal to what they currently have with their Big 12 North brethren. They can't replace the 115 games they've played against Kansas, but there is always room for one BCS level non-conference game.

HM: Nebraska already lost it's main rivalry when the Nebraska/Oklahoma football game isn't played two out of every four years. We'll miss games against Kansas, we've played each other 115 times and it's the longest continuous series in 1-A football. It sounds like Missouri is also coming along to the Big Ten, so that rivalry will remain. We don't really consider Colorado and Kansas State rivals; it's just that they've occasionally had decent teams.

Who would we look forward to? Well, the Big Ten has it's own traditional powers in Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State. I figure that it's likely that Nebraska will play at least one of those teams each season.

JJ: Hey, I’d get to the Minnesota - Nebraska game every two years, so that’s a bonus! Plus, I’ve always wanted to see a game at Camp Randall, and at the Big House in Michigan. Of course, then there’s Happy Valley. Ohio State - hey, who wouldn’t like to abuse that fan base?

I would miss us playing our traditional line up. Hell, I’d even miss us playing Texas, even though we haven’t beaten them a lot. The Nebraska -Texas match ups have provided some epic battles, and not just in football. Sadly, I’m not sure what would happen to Kansas, Kansas State, and Iowa State. It’s going to be damned hard for those schools to put themselves in position to compete against the massive amount of dollars it seems to take these days.

Personally I would really look forward to Nebraska / Minnesota games. Forget the current state of the programs, these programs have played each other 51 times. There is some history there. In fact we have played Nebraska more than we've played Ohio State, Michigan State and obviously Penn State.

From a football tradition standpoint, adding Nebraska is a fantastic move. Nebraska vs. Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa etc are all great match ups and the profile of Big Ten football would certainly rise significantly. The rivalries, the tradition and the football excellence of the Huskers are very attractive.

So is it going to happen?

HM: Yes - the Big Ten has taken a backseat to the SEC in football in recent years, and I think they are going to try to jump back to the forefront. One way to do that is to expand, and when you expand, you bring in a traditional power to get the attention of college football nationwide.

JJ: *Something* is going to happen. The only reason it won’t happen is if the Big 12 comes up with a change that makes it more viable for everyone to stay. I don’t see that happening because I believe the conference leadership is convinced they’re doing a good job. The other reason it won’t happen is if the federal government steps in and stops the megaconferences from forming because their formation will immediately cause a huge rift between the haves and have nots.

And does Husker Nation want it to happen?

HM: Yes - mostly because I'm afraid of what could happen if Nebraska turns down a Big Ten invitation. If the Big Ten expands to 16 teams, the SEC and Pac-Ten will also expand, and I just don't see how the Big XII stays viable after this expansion.

JJ: What Mike said. See, there he is again, taking all the good answers.

Despite what I was saying before I absolutely would love to see Nebraska added to the Big Ten. I think the argument that in spite of not having a major television market attached to Nebraska they'll bring significant revenue to the BTN is a specious argument at best. And they add absolutely nothing on the hardwood, which is disappointing.

But this is an elite football program, a financially stable athletic department and the Big Ten would certainly be stronger as a whole with the addition of Nebraska. I'm not 100% convinced that it will happen as I think the Big 12 will make some changes to keep their league together. But if the Texas schools are not willing to give up some of their power, you will see Nebraska in the new and improved Big X.

(photo via www.sportslogos.net)

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