As the oldest Division I athletic conference in the country, the Big Ten has some pull. History and tradition are on our side. Our brand is attractive and respected.
More importantly than history, tradition, attractiveness and respect is money, which we also have on our side.
Even with the most important factor in our stable, and even with the bevy of other intangibles that we bring to the table when it comes to wooing teams to our conference, one small inconvenient fact yet remains: of the three, arguably, biggest expansion targets, two are feigning (Notre Dame & Texas) interest and the third (Nebraska) is, by all reports, wishy-washy at best.
The argument can certainly be made that adding any of those three targets to the mix, creating a 12 team league, and calling it a day would be a success.
But is adding a single team, even if that one team happens to be the Golden Domers or the Cashorns, enough? Is a 12-team league "super" enough? Is anything less than absolutely reshaping the landscape of college football sufficient?
"It has to start somewhere, it has to start somehow. What better place than here, what better time than now." - Rage Against the Machine
In December the Big Ten came out and said that they were going to take up to 18 months to explore and possibly execute a plan on expansion. 6 months later the speculation is rampant, but we really are no closer to having any definitive answers on who the Big Ten is definitely going to make offers to. While there has been movement, and while we have plenty of ideas, we just don't know a lot.
The attitude of the Big Ten in December was, and has remained, that we hold all of the cards.
Fast forward to last weekend.
The Pac-10 makes an announcement, that probably wasn't a surprise, that they would be seeking expansion as well. But Pac-10 commish Larry Scott hasn't been nearly as tight lipped as Jim Delany has been as reports have come out that Scott is seeking a 16-school mega-conference that will include the relevant Texas schools, the Oklahoma schools, and maybe Colorado (unless the TX legislature gets their way).
Big Ten: We'll go slowly and hold our cards close to the vest.
Pac -10: This is what we want, this is who want, and this is when we want them.
This is a brazen move, especially in the face of the Big Ten's "we hold all of the cards" attitude. Suddenly the Big Ten isn't the only senior stud looking to pluck a prom date from some less desirable suitor who secured his date months ago.
This is where the stodgy old Big Ten, drenched in tradition and history and money, looks silly. Like an aggressive, less-experienced poker player whose experience is mostly from online gambling sites, the more agile, California-minded, Pac-10 seems to be saying "you might hold the better cards, but we're raising the stakes and forcing the action."
To extend the poker analogy, the Big Ten only plays monster cards, which is why they added Penn State in the early 90's and have passively been courting the Irish ever since. And while the Big Ten would still prefer to play a monster, the landscape of the game is changing enough that they have to get a bit more aggressive with marginal hands.
Meanwhile, the Pac-10 is known to be a bit loose, but their new aggressiveness is throwing off even the most established conference.
You will find articles about how Nebraska holds the key to the expansion landscape, and you will find articles that Texas holds the key. The reality is that if either of those schools decides to unlock the door, college football is going to change drastically, and very quickly.
I love the Big Ten for all of the reasons that I have described above. We love to sit back and be the behemoth, almost as if to say "We're the Big Ten, who the F@*# areYOU?!?!?!"
But I have to say that I think the Big Ten is approaching this in the wrong manner. I can't say anything about their process, in and of itself, because we just don't know enough about it, but what I will say is that the Big Ten has not been nearly swift enough in executing it.
Whoever forces the expansion landscape will not only be judged as a conference from an overall strength standpoint on the teams in their stable, but also on how they executed in getting it done. In most conversations the Pac-10 is the 3rd or 4th strongest conference in college football, and rarely, if ever, enter the discussion for strongest conference.
But if they strike first and nail their wish list, they will instantly become part of the strongest conference discussion based on teams and the overall progressiveness of their brand. While getting Notre Dame is still the golden ticket in this game for the Big Ten, if the Pac-10 pulls off a major expansion before the Big Ten makes its mark, even if that mark does ultimately become Notre Dame, the Big Ten will be seen as a reactionary stalwart too slow and methodical to force the action.
By speeding up their process now, the Big Ten, while still a bit reactionary, will show a willingness and ability to adjust.
LawBuck laid out a 3 step strategy to expansion that made a lot of sense, and the reality is that if the Big Ten plucks Nebraska, the rest of the Big XII chips will also fall, and most of them will likely fall to the Pac-10.
For this reason, I say the Big Ten takes on the above attitude that I described ("We're the Big Ten, who the F@*# are YOU??!?!?!") and take back the discussion. I say they come right out and reveal the plan to create a 14-team conference and that formal invitations will be extended to Notre Dame, Nebraska and Missouri. Furthermore, I say that they publicly release a list of exactly what financial and non-financial benefits each of these schools will realize in comparison to their current situation. And lastly, give those 3 schools a deadline to make a decision.
I realize that Notre Dame has its own "we're... who the f@*# are you" thing going on, but let's face it, that brand doesn't have nearly the shine that it did two decades ago, and the Irish are eventually going to have to make a move. If the Big Ten and Pac-10 form mega-conferences without Notre Dame, there will be three absolute money making machines in college football, and there's zero chance NBC sits on the sidelines and doesn't put in a bid to get one of them. That's going to leave Notre Dame without a TV contract... and that's going to leave them at a HUGE disadvantage.
So what if Notre Dame does tell the Big Ten to take a flying leap? Who cares? Enjoy the continued freefall of your once-proud football tradition. We could give a damn. We've still got Pitt, Syracuse and Rutgers absolutely chomping at the bit to get in, all of whom provide some value to the conference. We will absolutely have our pick of who the 14th team is.
It's time for Jim Delany to make a move. It's summer in Big Ten country... we've been fully thawed out for months. Let's start acting like it.
What better place than here, what better time than now?