Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

02 Nov 2010

Big East Seeks Expansion

Let's get the next round of conference musical chairs underway. The presidents of the Big East Conference have officially agreed to pursue an increase in the number of football-playing members from eight to ten. There are currently 16 total member schools in the Big East including eight non-FBS-football-playing members.

Rumors abound regarding potential candidates, including Temple, Villanova (elevated from FCS in football, currently a non-football Big East member), TCU, Central Florida and more.

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 02 Nov 2010

28 comments, Last at 03 Nov 2010, 11:27pm by zlionsfan


by Eddo :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 4:00pm

If they brought in TCU, they'd have to change the name of the conference, right? That seems even more ridiculous that the Big Ten and Pac-10 each having twelve teams, but at least those conferences have had static membership(*) and a history of tradition.

(*) By static, I mean that no one has left in 50+ years, not that they haven't added. The Big East had a major overhaul in the last decade.

by Dean :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 4:05pm

The Big East has only existed for 20 years. And even then, the only time they were relevant was when Miami was a member.

I do have to laugh at the idea of bringing Temple back. How'd that work the first time, guys?

by D :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 4:32pm

Seriously, bringing back Temple would be the stupidest thing the Beast could do.

by CuseFanInSoCal :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 7:06pm

So West Virginia wasn't the front-runner for the BCS title game in 2007 until they had a fluke loss to Pitt (and then went on to win the Fiesta Bowl)? The Big East didn't have 3 top-10 teams for most of 2006? Cinci wasn't going to play in the BCS title game last year if Nebraska had held on for one more second? WVU didn't knock off the SEC champ in the 2005 Sugar Bowl?

I mean, my Orange haven't been relevant since Miami was a member (well, we're almost relevant now, which still amazes me), but the Big East certainly has.

WRT Temple, though -- I can only see bringing in Temple in the event of a split off from the non-football members where 'Nova does not move up to FBS; the Philly market is a big deal to any hypothetical Big East Network.

Last time Temple was a football-only member and they were really terrible (they would not have been kicked out if they were a full member). But Temple is a decent MAC team these days. They could do okay. Besides, we'd need a sixth northeastern team to have reasonable divisions in the event of a split and expansion to 12 teams.

by zlionsfan :: Wed, 11/03/2010 - 11:27pm

no no no. They're not going to do okay. They're going to bomb. Temple is in the middle of its second decent season in the MAC; those were preceded by two poor seasons (and of course the two interim seasons of crap as an independent). It isn't like they've established dominance in the conference and are ready to step back up.

Besides, there's a precedent, and it's not good. Marshall pwned the MAC for several seasons, slipped a bit at the end, but managed to sneak into Conference USA, where it's been Just Another Team pretty much every season since. Marshall had a longer and better run of success than Temple did, and even this year, the Big East is a tougher conference than C-USA.

by Marko :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 4:15pm

Not necessarily. If the WAC can include Louisiana Tech, then why couldn't the Big East keep it's name despite adding TCU?

And a nitpick: The Pac-10 is changing its name to the Pac-12, just like it changed from the Pac-8 to the Pac-10 when it added the Arizona schools. As for the Big Ten having eleven teams (soon to be 12) without changing its name, that obviously is ridiculous.

by verifiable (not verified) :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 4:38pm

No it's not ridiculous, it's a riddle. Which one of the 11 is not "Big"?

by Eddo :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 4:39pm

Northwestern is a small school by Big Ten standards.

(I know, you were joking.)

by CuseFanInSoCal :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 6:57pm

The Pac 10 is becoming the Pac 12 when Colorado and Utah officially join; unlike some other 'Big' conferences, they can count. However, with four schools in states that don't touch the Pacific, geography is another matter...

And TCU in the Big East is still less strange than LA Tech in the WAC.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 4:21pm

TCU is the obvious target, and I'd hate to see it happen, because it would greatly hurt the Mountain West. I really would like to see the Conference Champs of enough conferences to cover nearly all 48 contiguous states have a good shot at the national championship, and taking TCU away from the Montain West makes that goal farther away, I think. I don't see how TCU can turn down an invitation, however.

Will this spur Delaney and Co. to get agressive again, or are they going to stick to a "Get the Irish Next" strategy, no matter how long it takes, or how remote the chances? Really, are Missouri and Kansas so unenticing? Who in the Big 12 is thrilled with notion of being the Longhorns' bobo for eternity? Could Delaney have the pick of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State, and then try to round out eventually with Notre Dame or Texas, if one of them sees some benefit of being an equal partner in the old Big Ten. Or maybe some combination with an eastern team?

Furthermore, why call a conference "Big Ten"? Why not "The McDonalds Conference", or "The Coca Cola"(perhaps better suited for the SEC), "The Ford Motors", or "The Target Conference"? What would those naming rights be worth?

I think we are going to see some crazy changes.

by Eddo :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 4:39pm

If I was the AD (or whoever makes these decisions) at TCU, I'd hire some guys to crunch some numbers to find out if the Moutain West will have had enough recent success to become an automatic BCS qualifier. Losing Utah hurts, of course, but adding Boise State offsets that (and if TCU beats Utah and Boise State also wins out, it probably trumps losing Utah). To my knowledge, TCU doesn't really compete in basketball in the Mountain West, so I don't see the incentive to move to the Big East if their current conference can become an auto-qualifier.

by D :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 4:44pm

Oklahoma has no reason to leave the Big XII. Their power is second only to Texas and if you believe the $20 million estimate that the conference promised them they don't have any financial incentive to leave. Plus OU and OSU don't meet the Big 10's academic requirements.
As for Mizzou and Kansas? Well they would actually reduce the average Big 10 payout which means adding them would cost the current Big Ten members millions of dollars a year. (KU's athletic department being under federal investigation doesn't help).

by Will Allen :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 5:09pm

Does Nebraska meet the Big 10s academic requirements? I am not being rhetorical; I'm just unfamiliar with the Big 12 schools. I think each Big 10 school gets 22 million, which isn't a huge bump, but it's something. Also, if the revenue streams continue to go up, which I think likely, the Big 10 media markets may mean the disparity grows.

I'm kinda surprised that getting the Big 10 network on the first cable tier in St. Louis and Kansas City would not deliver more revenue.

by D :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 5:43pm

Nebraska is an AAU (Association of American Universities) member which is the Big Ten's unofficial academic requirement (it is the only conference besides the Ivy Leagues to have universal membership). That said, once it joins Nebraska will be the weakest academic institution in the league especially in terms of research. (On the other hand since joining the Big 10 (and it's academic wing the CIC) 20 years ago Penn State's research budget has basically double in size so it's likely that NU will catch up with the other schools in time).

With regards to Kansas and Missouri I suggest you read this article or, for a more concise version, point 3 of this post. The cliff notes version is that

A)The Big Ten makes much more money off it's ESPN contract than it does from the Big Ten Network. And since the ESPN contract stays the same regardless of how many teams the conference has it means less money for the current schools every time they expand... unless of course the new school brings in a lot of money via the Big Ten network.

B)But most of the Big Ten Network's profits (about 60%) come from ad revenues not subscriber fees. As such, schools with large hysterical fanbases (like Nebraska) are preferable to schools that have larger markets but less loyal fans.

by Anonymous2 (not verified) :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 9:16pm

The Big Ten is actually the only conference to have universal membership in the AAU. Dartmouth of the Ivy League is not a member.

by D :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 11:36pm

Good catch, I always forget about Dartmouth.

by zlionsfan :: Wed, 11/03/2010 - 11:18pm

It makes more money from the ESPN contract at this point, not much more, though, at least according to this article in the Trib; a similar article on Husker Extra estimates that BTN revenue was almost half of the total TV revenue Illinois received for the 2009-10 season.

Subscriber fees are significantly higher within the conference's footprint, so that did provide an incentive to talk with schools outside the footprint (Nebraska, Missouri) as opposed to schools inside it (Notre Dame, Pittsburgh).

The BTN part of the deal is also beneficial because of the stake that the schools have in it (51%; Fox owns the other 49%).

I think expansion means more because of the BTN than Frank suggests that it does ... after all, if more profits come from ad revenues, then expanding means more schools, which means more events, which means more opportunities to sell ads (and/or to increase ad prices).

by Eddo :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 5:52pm

The biggest requirement the Big Ten has is membership in the AAU(?), which has something to do with research. Last I heard, this is a complicating factor for Notre Dame ever joining.

Otherwise, academically, US News has the current rankings:

12: Northwestern
29: Michigan
45(t): Wisconsin
47(t): Penn State
47(t): Illinois
56(t): Ohio State
56(t): Purdue
64(t): Minnesota
72(t): Iowa
75(t): Indiana
79(t): Michigan State

45(t): Texas
63: Texas A&M
79(t): Baylor
86(t): Colorado
94(t): Iowa State
94(t): Missouri
104(t): Kansas
104(t): Nebraska
111(t): Oklahoma
132(t): Kansas State
132(t): Oklahoma State
159(t): Texas Tech

So, when you combine geography (the Big Ten's official position is to only expand to states that are adjacent to its footprint at the time of expansion), willingness to leave the Big XII, and geography, you're left with three options: Iowa State, Missouri, and Nebraska. Iowa State has nowhere near the cachet of the other two, and my understanding is that Nebraska was willing to commit first.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 6:45pm

So once you pick up Missouri, then the Oklahoma schools become geographically acceptable? It seems to me the academic argument went out the window with Nebraska, but I can see how Missouri, without any plum school to come along, does not look financially attractive.

by D :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 7:25pm

Oklahoma and Texas formed an unofficial pact not to go anywhere without each other and Oklahoma State isn't valuable enough even with T. Boone footing the bill.

As for the academics, you need to keep in mind that the AAU thing really is a killer. While the undergraduate programs are comparable between OU and NU, Nebraska has a much better research department and has a research budget more 2.6 times that of Norman ($216 million to $81 million). NU even ended up ranked as a top 50 research institute in a couple of major rankings. (See Here.

I don't mean to harp on this issue I just know a lot about it. (I went to Illinois but was born and mostly raised in Oklahoma and both my parents went to Oklahoma State)

by Eddo :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 7:25pm

According to the Big Ten's "official" stance, that's correct; were Missouri to join, then Oklahoma would available.

Of course, I'm sure that if Texas had told the Big Ten, "Hey, I'll join," the conference would have happily ignored their own self-imposed rule.

by mm (not verified) :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 8:43pm

1)I've read several times the Big Ten has no geographic requirements.

2)As D implied, when they say 'academics', the Big Ten mostly concerned about research. They have a consortium that pools research and allows for greater cooperation between faculties. Nebraska will be last, but it will be much better than the Oklahoma schools.

3)The Big 10's network contracts are going to be renegotiated in a few years, so the fact that they won't change in the next 2 years is no big deal.

4)However, if the Big 10 can get (guessing) $25 million a year per school from its new network contracts + Big 10 network profits, then it needs each new school to increase the value of those contracts by more than $25 million. Thus Kansas + Missouri would have to make the conference more attractive by $50 million. Unlikely, even if Kansas can leave Kansas State. Perhaps Missouri will get in paired with a school from the East.

5)I think Baylor would be thrilled with notion of being the Longhorns' bobo for eternity. In fact, Baylor will return last week's win if UT will sign an eternal contract.

by zlionsfan :: Wed, 11/03/2010 - 11:23pm

You are correct. It does not have geographic requirements. In the past, they have looked first to schools in adjacent states, but I believe they mentioned on several occasions (in case Texas was listening) that they weren't bound by geography when it came to expansion.

Also, to support the point you and D make, Nebraska is not a poor academic fit for the Big Ten. (I don't put much stock in rankings of most sorts, certainly not academic ones ... too much of it comes down to "Well I think school X is such-and-such.")

I don't think the Big Ten has any interest in expanding unless it includes (sigh) Notre Dame ... and honestly I think the time to add them has long passed. The next time ND negotiates its contract with NBC, they may be dismayed. I suspect the current generation of desirable viewers doesn't have nearly as much interest in watching a .500 team as their parents did in watching a team with a storied history ...

by Alex51 :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 6:23pm

I don't see how TCU can turn down an invitation, however.

I'm not so sure. I mean, in the last few years, the Mountain West has been at least roughly as good as the Big East, if not significantly better. And they obviously fit better geographically in the Mountain West. The only real big appeal of the Big East is the automatic bid to the BCS, but I'm not sure that'll even be an issue, given that the Mountain West has a decent shot at getting an automatic bid anyway. I could see TCU turning down an offer.

by D :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 6:36pm

The only real big appeal of the Big East is the automatic bid to the BCS

The fact that average payout is significantly higher than the Mountain West's is probably pretty appealing.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 6:46pm

Yeah, the cash is hard to ignore.

by mm (not verified) :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 8:45pm


by mm (not verified) :: Tue, 11/02/2010 - 8:28pm

"And they obviously fit better geographically in the Mountain West"


TCU is distant from everyone in the MWC. They will be distant from everyone in the Big East. However, the Big East has a lots of big airports, so they will likely save money traveling.