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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Super Conferences - The New Landscape 1

In the past I have speculated about reshaping the college football landscape. I planned on writing a blog series about it, but never got around to it. Now that the Big 10 and Pac 10 are making noise about expanding to 16 teams each* and making the first "Super Conferences," I figured I would briefly address what those conferences will look like.
Current Members: Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State
Targets: Notre Dame, Nebraska, Missouri, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Syracuse
Overview: The Big Ten has wanted Notre Dame since time began. The Irish have fought to remain a football independent, but those days are nearly finished. ND is a member of the Big East in every sport but football (including lax). Make no mistake, this is the ultimate prize. The Irish bring a national following, geographic sense, and established rivalries. A membership acceptance could stop all of the expansion talk around the country and create a 12-member conference - enough for the coveted championship game.
Missouri and Nebraska are likely a package deal. Each brings something different to the table - Missouri brings the St Louis and Kansas City TV markets and Nebraska brings another strong football program. Both would create new and strong rivalries with Iowa; the Hawkeyes essentially replace the Cyclones with those teams, but are much more formidable.
Rutgers and Syracuse both have the potential to bring the coveted New York television market, which increases the value of the Big Ten Network. At the end of the day, the expansion talks seem to be about increasing cash flow and the BTN has proved to be a money-making machine.
Pittsburgh brings another strong football program and a natural rivalry with Penn State. It also shores up the local TV market.
Result: The "Big Teen" Conference ends up super sized with 16 teams, the new standard in college football. Of the expansion candidates, ND finally decides the time is right and Syracuse is left in the cold. The end result sees two geographically based divisions.
-East: Rutgers, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Indiana
-West: Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Northwestern, Illinois, Wisconsin, Purdue
Effects: The first Super Conference will redefine the college sports landscape. Aside from the obvious BCS implications, the Big Teen will essentially be two powerful conferences competing under a single banner for a championship and automatic berth in several sports. This could also result in the addition of at least two new sports in the conference - lacrosse and ice hockey - for both men and women.
The ACC has demonstrated that the NCAA will allow a conference to field a sport with as few as four teams. Penn State and Ohio State already have NCAA lax teams. With Notre Dame and Rutgers in the fold, the conference will have four teams. From there it is not difficult to see additional growth - Michigan has long been rumored to make the jump from MCLA to NCAA. Michigan State previously fielded a team and Northwestern currently fields one of the most successful women's teams in the nation. The remaining members currently field programs of varying strength in the MCLA.
While the realignment only brings in one new ice hockey program (ND), the BTN provides the incentive to make this the first BCS conference to sponsor the sport. Taking Minnesota and Wisconsin from the WCHA and combining them with CCHA members Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Notre Dame creates a six team conference with an exclusive network already available. The potential financial benefits of Big Teen hockey on the BTN could inspire other programs - particularly Penn State, and Pitt - to add the sport. While this would significantly damage the WCHA and CCHA, the Big Teen could set a precedent for integrating ice hockey with the traditional sports conferences.
All the while the BTN gains strength through new markets and the national audience for Notre Dame. Already handing out hefty revenue checks, the BTN's value will skyrocket.


*If you know nothing about this, I suggest you move from under your rock. This news is everywhere. Do a quick Google search and catch up.

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