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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Where the BCS Has Brought Us: The Future of NCAA Football

Disclaimer: If you don't care about sports, in particular college football, you may want to skip this entry and come back for the next one. No hard feelings.

Now that Duke won and the NCAA Basketball season is over and nobody cares about the College World Series, let's talk college football. Specifically, what would happen if some of the ten team BCS conferences expanded to twelve.

A few months ago, the Big Ten (Eleven) conference announced they would be seeking to add another team. The only reason for this is to have a football championship game. A few weeks later, the Pac 10 responded by saying they were looking to add two teams to their conference for the same reason. Assuming that both of these conferences follow through and add the necessary teams, and the other major conferences stay the way they are, that means the strong conferences just got a lot stronger.

Let's take a look at these moves individually and see where they could lead.

Big Ten

The Big Ten needs to only add one school to reach the championship game threshold. Championships bring in huge dollars for the conference and national exposure thanks to the ABC, CBS, and ESPN broadcasting them. Currently, the Big Ten, Pac 10, and Big East don't have championship games. So, who could, and who should, the Big Ten court for this position?

Notre Dame : This is the smartest choice for both parties. The Big Ten adds the marquee school they need to attract a large national audience and create a buzz. Notre Dame finally joins a BCS conference and quits getting special treatment. Notre Dame's AD has even said that joining a conference may be an eventuality. The only reason that the Big Ten wouldn't make this move is because it doesn't expand their TV market. (Indiana University is already a member.) That's where the next few schools come in.

Rutgers or Syracuse: These are both private schools that, historically, haven't been football powerhouses. However, the motivation for adding these schools is clear: New York City. By adding either school, you can hope to take the college football market for NYC and make them Big Ten fans. Plus, the Big Ten Network also has a foothold into the nation's largest market. This would be purely a cash grab and everybody would know it. However, isn't the addition of a twelfth team a cash grab anyway? Why be sneaky about it.

Texas, Nebraska, or Missouri: All three of these Big 12 teams have been brought up and mentioned as possible additions to the Big Ten. If the Big Ten can't get the New York market, they'd be smart to push for Texas. Not only because they could get the large TV markets of Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, but the Big Ten schools could raid the nation's most fertile recruiting ground. If Texas did leave, they would be leaving lots of great history and rivalry. Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor, and most importantly, Oklahoma, would be left in the dust. Texas would be doing a huge disservice to its heritage by jumping ship.

Nebraska and Missouri are the dark horses and I think the most likely to jump conferences. Both schools are in the Midwest, where the Big Ten makes its home; both have mentioned they would listen to any offers (meaning they'll go if asked); and both seem unhappy with their sitting in the Big 12. Both are members of the Big 12 North, which unlike the South, has been weak since the conference formed in 1994. However, both schools are founding members of the Big 12, as well as the previous incarnation the Big 8. It seems hard to believe that one of these schools would jump ship after such a long time, but the money that would come from the Big Ten Network, its TV deal with CBS or ABC/ESPN, and a national buzz, it is also hard to think that one of these schools wouldn't jump.

Who Will Go: Look for Notre Dame to join. As I stated above, this is the smartest move for both parties. However, if for some reason the Big Ten decides not to offer membership to Notre Dame (having been spurned in 1999) or Notre Dame decides not to join, look for Nebraska or Missouri to be the next on the list. Both schools would be a huge get for the Big Ten and a huge hole to fill for the Big 12. (More on the possible destruction of the Big 12 further below.)

Pac 10

A football championship game is the main reason that the Pac 10 wants to expand. It has a bit more work than the Big Ten, because it has to add two school as oppose to one. What schools are the Pac 10 likely to be looking at?

Colorado: Since the Pac 10 announced expansion, it has almost been assumed that the University of Colorado would join. The Pac 10's criteria for joining is a bit more stringent than other conferences. They want decent athletics and storied sports programs. Colorado kind of fits these requirements and has the Denver TV market which would prove valuable. If you do bring Colorado, the next question is who is going to be their rival? All the other schools are paired up with natural rivals (Cal/Stanford, USC/UCLA, OU/OSU, UW/WSU, and Arizona/ASU). The natural choice would be to bring their Big 12 rival, Nebraska.

Nebraska or Texas: There has been less buzz about Nebraska joining the Pac 10 than the Big Ten, but don't be surprised if they make the jump here. As mentioned above, they would make a good pairing with Colorado. Bringing them in though, would shatter some of their Big 12 rivalries (Texas, Oklahoma, and recently Missouri.) This would also be quite the geographical stretch. Nebraska has much more in common with the Big Ten schools than the Pac 10. Though it could happen, I don't see it playing out this way.

Texas has also been mentioned. They do meet the academic requirements and they have a huge following and TV market. For many of the same reasons as mentioned above, I don't seem them jumping to the Pac 10. Texas has too much going for it in the Big 12. No need to fix what isn't broken.

Utah or Brigham Young: Utah is generally mentioned in the same breath as Colorado as the front runner to the Pac 10. They would jump at the chance if given the offer. They would also bring the SLC TV market with them, which isn't too shabby. If they were to go with Colorado, the two schools could make a rivalry work, even though the schools have no real history. The only reason they don't join the conference is if the Pac 10 can get one of the bigger schools mentioned above.

BYU is a bit of a dark horse. They have the academic and sports requirements. However, they would be the only religious school in the conference. While that won't discount them from a spot in the new Pac 10, it could make the current school a bit nervous. If joined, they would do well as a rival for any of the above schools. And if for some reason, Utah and BYU were both tapped to join the Pac 10 their rivalry would mimic the rest of the schools in the league (close and in-state). BYU probably only joins if one of the Big 12 schools balks.

Boise State or San Diego State: Speaking of dark horses, it would be these two schools. The only reason that I am even mentioning either one is because they already have affiliations with the Pac 10 (SDSU for men's soccer and BSU for men's wrestling). However, they are both long shots to become full members. There are better schools academically and sports-wise that are more likely to join. While I think it would be great to see how BSU could preform in a BCS conference I don't think the Pac 10 is the place for it. If one of these schools gets chosen, a lot probably went wrong with the Pac 10's proposal to other schools.

Who Will Go: Look for Colorado and Utah to join. Everybody has a lot to gain from these schools joining and it appears to be what the Pac 10 would like for not only sports and academic reasons, but also geographic reasons. Colorado thought about going to the Pac 10 a few years ago, but ultimately balked. I think they still may hold and stay with the Big 12. If one of the Big 12 schools goes to the Big Ten, Colorado will be much more likely to jump. If Colorado doesn't go, look for BYU to fill their spot.

Big 12

If one of the Big 12 schools is picked off for joining either the Big Ten or Pac 10, the Big 12 will have to scramble to fill that void. Depending on what happens, as many as three spots could need to be filled. Who could make the jump and who would the Big 12 want?

Utah or Brigham Young: If one or both of these schools don't jump the Pac 10 and there are one or two spots open in the Big 12, both of these schools will merit large consideration. For the reasons mentioned in the Pac 10 section, they would make great choices for the Big 12. Helping BYU's cause is that the Big 12 already has a religious school as a part of its brethren (Baylor). While they would be good choices, they probably only come if one of the Big 12 North schools go.

Texas Christian: Since 1996, TCU has been a member of the WAC, Conference USA, and Mountain West. Joining a new conference wouldn't be unprecedented for them. On top of that, they do have a nice size TV market (Dallas/Fort Worth). They likely only jump if Texas bolts to the Big Ten or Pac 10, the Big 12 would be looking to fill a void in their South division. For that reason, I see them as a long shot to join the Big 12. Because Texas isn't likely to go anywhere, neither is TCU.

Boise State:  Another dark horse. This situation seems more likely, but still requires a bit to go BSU's way. At least two teams would have to leave the conference and either Utah or BYU would have to join the Pac 10. Boise State would fit into the Big 12 better than the Pac 10 and give the the Big 12 a reach into the Pacific Northwest. (Admittedly, Boise isn't much of a TV market and the Big 12 would probably be looking to extend itself beyond just Idaho viewers.) If Boise State does end up joining, it probably means a lot went wrong for the Big 12.

Colorado State or Air Force: Grabbing one or both of these schools would be the Big 12's attempt to hang on to the Colorado/Denver TV Market. Bringing in the AFA is unlikely, but Colorado State is a possibility. Colorado leaving isn't the only scenario that brings CSU in either. If Nebraska, Missouri, or even Texas, leave CSU could be brought in. They already have a bit of a rivalry with Colorado. Along with Utah and BYU, CSU would probably get the a lot of attention from the Big 12 if they need another school. However, the likelihood of them joining the Big 12 depends on how many schools are needed and what those two Utah schools do. However, don't be surprised if you end up seeing Colorado State as a Big 12 member.

Who Will Go: I think it is very likely that at least one Big 12 school leaves opening up a spot for one of the above schools. If there is only one spot, it probably goes to BYU or CSU. Both schools fit the criteria that the Big 12 could be looking for. If there are three spots to fill, it means Utah isn't in the Pac 10. In that case, add them and TCU to the mix to fill the open spots. It's hard to say who goes to the Big 12, because I don't know who is leaving. Still those four schools will get heavy consideration no matter how many teams leave. How many join, simply depends on how many of the current members leave.

Mountain West and WAC

If one, two, or even three schools are cherry-picked from these conferences, they will have to consider merging together again. (The WAC split in 1999 with some of the schools forming the Mountain West.) The merger could work out well for both conferences and could lead to an invite to join the BCS sooner than later. Currently the conferences boast Boise State, Hawai'i, Utah, and Texas Christian who have made a combined seven BCS bowl games going 5-2. (Though TCU's loss should have an asterisk because they played a non-BCS team for their 2010 Fiesta Bowl.) However, if one or two of these schools are asked to join the Big Ten, Pac 10, or Big 12 that could hurt any sort of BCS invite for the conference(s). What happens here is the biggest question mark, because it depends on so many other things. I can't even begin to break this down other than say, a reunification is the best idea for the conferences even if they don't have any teams poached.

So, that's just about every plausible scenario I could think of for the coming chaos of college football conference realignment. Did I miss a school? Miss an angle? Let me know in the comments section.

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