Jul. 25—Is it safe to come out of our shelters?
Or is the Big Ten getting ready to fire back?
With the college football landscape still quaking from the bombshell news that the SEC is set to welcome aboard Oklahoma and Texas, it's the question we're all wondering, right?
In the zero-sum game of realignment, will the Big Ten — the only conference richer than the SEC (for now) — be compelled to launch a counterattack? Should it be? And, if so, what are its options? (Besides hopping in Doc Brown's DeLorean and convincing Oklahoma and Texas to join the conference instead of Maryland and Rutgers.)
Let's take a look at the schools the Big Ten could pursue:
—Notre Dame: The Irish remain the white whale that makes all the sense in the world.
A perfect fit in every way, Notre Dame — with its iconic football program and national following — would add big-time prestige and value to the Big Ten.
The Irish would benefit, too.
There's a misconception that because Notre Dame has its own network deal with NBC, it must rake in the TV money. In truth, Illinois and Purdue see bigger windfalls. Every school in the Big Ten does.
Consider: The Big Ten is in the middle of a six-year, $2.64 billion deal with ESPN, Fox, and CBS, and that's before counting the mounds of profits from its own network. By the end of the decade, each school is expected to receive $70 million per year in media rights revenue. Notre Dame — which receives $15 million per year from NBC and has a handful of secondary media tie-ins — might collect half that. (We don't know the exact numbers, because Notre Dame is private. But here's the big picture: Ohio State earned $225.5 million in revenue last year, according to federal records. Notre Dame collected $165.6 million.)
"Traditional network deals [view] a collectively competitive group to be more valuable than a single valuable entity," an analyst at a leading sports marketing firm told me. "Texas experimented with this a little bit when they teamed up with ESPN to make the Longhorn Network, but ESPN really got burned on that deal and would never do anything similar again."
So, yes, trading its bachelor life for the Big Ten would be a financial boon for Notre Dame.
But let's not hold our breath.
If the Big Ten wanted Notre Dame, it should have let the Irish in when Knute Rockne kept banging on its door early in the 20th century. Instead, the Big Ten turned up its nose each time and the Irish's history of football independence became the core of their identity. I don't see that changing.
—The Big 12 scraps: It only makes sense for the Big Ten to circle like buzzards and scrape the remaining meat off the Big 12 bone, right?
Yeah, not really.
I've seen it suggested the Big Ten should go after Kansas and Iowa State, given that both are in the Association of American Universities — the collection of leading research universities that Big Ten presidents love to talk about at their dinner parties — and geographic fits. Oh, and how 'bout Kansas basketball? And Iowa State's top-10 football team?
On second thought, this isn't such a bad idea. It's a terrible one, expansion for the sake of expansion.
No disrespect intended, but if the Big Ten countered the SEC adding Texas and Oklahoma by adding Kansas and Iowa State, that would be like answering a nuclear strike with a water balloon.
Expansion is all about money and power, with football driving the train (sorry, Kansas). While I disagreed with the Big Ten's grab of Maryland and Rutgers, its foray into the massive East Coast media markets at least checked off the money box.
What would you be adding here? Entry into the ... Topeka market? (And Kansas City.) The Big Ten wouldn't be creating near enough value to its TV deal to offset the two extra mouths to feed.
—The other top-10 school in Ohio: Sure, over Ohio State's dead body.
Like Iowa State, Cincinnati is a program of the moment. But is there long-term value there? Not really. And, again, the Buckeyes would sooner change their colors to scarlet and blue than allow another team from Ohio into the Big Ten.
—The Hollywood (Once) Elite: Hey, if a school from Tornado Alley can join a league named after the southeast, there's no reason the Big Ten can't set off on a gold rush of its own and add the top two brands in California: USC and UCLA.
Adding Southern California — the bluest of blue bloods in the country's second-biggest city — would be the counter of all counters.
It would also be crazy. But at a time when money talks and tradition walks — and with the Pac-12 on unsteady ground of its own — file the thought in the category of never say never.
—Oklahoma and Texas: Wait, what!?
Call this option the bombshell sabotage.
Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC may be the past the point of no return, and Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren has shown us nothing to suggest he has the capital or savvy to get them to reconsider.
But, in the zero-sum game of realignment, the Big Ten absolutely should try, selling the rivals on the prospect of even greater riches. Oh, and it could offer to take on Oklahoma State, the kid brother that is politically difficult for the Sooners to leave behind.
It's the perfect plan! And, if it somehow fails, the Big Ten will just have to settle for USC, Notre Dame, and the Chicago Bears.
[End Daydream Sequence]
Alas, back in Realityville, the possibilities are few and (very literally) far between. For now, barring the unforeseen, the Big Ten's only sensible move appears no move.