Winning the Expansion Game in Three Steps

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Yesterday I summarized the evidence that suggests FBS expansion is imminent.  Today, I'd like to focus on a strategy of conquest.

In less than seven days it's widely thought that Nebraska will decide the future of college football.  That statement is hardly an exaggeration.  If the Cornhuskers choose to stay and fight to make the embattled marriage that is the Big 12 Conference work the league will likely be spared an untimely demise.  With committed anchors in the north and south and promising television re-negotiations on the horizon, the Big 12 will survive largely in tact.  At most, a less ambitious Pac 10 will snare Colorado, and Missouri -- the red headed stepchild turned commissioner's pariah -- will either jump for the Big Ten, or sink back into its role as an average contender in the Big 12 North Division.

If Nebraska stays, the Big Ten's expansion momentum will evaporate and Delaney's imperial opus will be reduced to a footnote in the ever changing tides of the sport.  Free from threat of duress the Fighting Irish will do what they've done a number of times before: yawn, thank the Commissioner for lunch, and politely excuse themselves from the table. 

With Nebraska, Notre Dame, and Texas off the market the Big Ten's wish list will become the equivalent of a Las Vegas All You Can Eat Buffet.  They'll be plenty of options, and none of them will taste very good.

Sure, it's been a hell of a ride, but in the immortal words of Blake in Glengarry Glen Ross, if "you can't close sh*t, you are sh*t."  Gordon Gee was right: we control our own destiny, but only for a short while, and the window of opportunity is closing fast.

So what should Jim Delaney do to seize the day? 

Step 1: Invite the University of Nebraska to become the twelfth member of the Big Ten Conference.  Now.

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The Cornhuskers are a perfect competitive and cultural fit.  With their addition the Big Ten would become home to three of the five most winningest programs in the history of the sport.  We'd gain the voice of a proud plains program with 5 championships, 3 Heisman Winners, and a feverish national following that fits our Midwestern mise en scene.

After Nebraska says yes, it's the Pac 10's move.

If the Pac 10 plays conservative -- grabbing Utah and Colorado -- the Big Ten should stay put at 12 teams, maintain the sport's status quo, create a conference championship game, and pat ourselves on the back.

If on the other hand the Pac 10 absconds with the majority of the Big 12 South and Colorado, they'll set in motion a chain reaction.  That's when Delaney should make his next move.

Step 2: Invite Notre Dame to become the thirteenth member of the Big Ten Conference

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By delaying Notre Dame's invitation the Big Ten can put as much pressure as possible on the Irish to seek shelter in the heart of the storm.  We can also leverage the addition by threatening to offer any combination of Pitt, Syracuse, and/or Rutgers -- critically weakening the Big East, Notre Dame's home for basketball and non-revenue sports.

If Notre Dame stubbornly rejects the conference's overtures, Delaney can survey the FBS landscape and choose whether to stay at 12 teams (bigger conference rosters are unproven, after all), or add two or four additional members.  At this time all of the usual suspects (Missouri, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Rutgers) will still be available.

Then again, if the Irish say yes...

Step 3: Invite Missouri to become the fourteenth member of the Big Ten Conference

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Big Ten expansion can -- and in my opinion should -- stop here, with a fourteen team roster.  Still, if Delaney is convinced the league needs an Eastern presence to feed the Big Ten Network's appetite, he could also invite Syracuse and Rutgers at this stage of the game.

This three step blueprint all but guarantees a positive expansion outcome for the Big Ten, and a competitive long-term coalition.  Not only does it maintain the character of the current Big Ten, but it enhances the league's profile in a natural and geographically functional manner

I'm convinced that Nebraska is our destiny.  What do you think?

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