With all of the super-conference talk swirling around the SEC and Pac-12/14/16, the B1G has been quiet. And why shouldn't we be? We're the ones that kicked off the current round of expansion frenzy by opening up discussions about doing so, and ultimately adding Nebraska, a school that fits the culture of the B1G in every way, shape and form.
Everyone assumed that the B1G pulling Nebraska from the Big 12 would create a domino effect, and it is beginning to appear like that is indeed the case. A&M to the SEC, Oklahoma to the PAC-whatever, Baylor is suing, what about OK State... it's a bit crazy right now. But what we care about around here is what is going to happen to the B1G and exploring how moves made by other conferences affects us.
What I want to explore in this piece is if it's possible that while other conferences turn into so called "super-conferences," is it possible that the B1G could actually become a stronger brand by staying at 12 teams?
Please note, this piece is not about money. I realize that college football is all about the green, but what I'm specifically interested in here is how the creation of super-conferences outside of the B1G affects the brand that is the B1G.
Additionally, I don't propose to know the answer, but I think posing the question is interesting. Jim Delany continually seems willing to ignore what other conferences seem to think is important at the time, and do what is important for the B1G (see: tackling expansion a full year before the current chaos).
While the B1G is spread from Nebraska to Pennsylvania, the fact is that the B1G is a distinctly Midwestern conference. We are built on the backs of corn-fed, cold weather climate communities that are fiercely loyal to their team. We are a conference that shares the experience of living with Midwestern values, and we are a conference of fans that cheer for the success of the conference as a whole because of that shared community.
No other major conference can claim the regional identity that the B1G can. Texas (A&M) isn't exactly the southeast, Colorado isn't exactly Pacific, and Louisville isn't quite East Coast.
Expanding to Oklahoma and Texas, or other parts South, leads to a loss of regional identity for the B1G. It makes us a conglomerate of schools competing against each other, instead of a collection of teams vying for regional bragging rights.
What the B1G has that no other conference can boast (speaking specifically of football) is a group of universities, teams, communities and styles that truly reflect the fan bases that they represent. At the end of the day people in Nebraska and Pennsylvania are still pretty similar.
In his interview with Dave Revsine last week, Ted learned a lot from the studio host about what makes BTN successful. I was shocked to find out that BTN has more subscribers outside of the B1G footprint than inside of it. What that tells us is that while the B1G is a distinctly regional brand, its reach far exceeds the region where it resides.
I would venture to guess that most people who read this blog, and the average football fan in the B1G, would watch a football game featuring another B1G team over watching an SEC or Pac-whatever game. It's because we feel that affinity within our conference due to the common bonds that we share even beyond football.
How many times do you think a Texas fan or an Oklahoma fan, or even a Notre Dame fan, for that matter, whose school is actually in the backyard of other B1G conference schools, is going to pay attention to a game featuring a team that isn't their own on a Saturday when their squad has a bye, simply because that team is in their same conference? My guess is not often.
Again, my argument isn't about money. Whether it's Texas or Notre Dame or Oklahoma or whoever might join the B1G, fans of those teams are going to subscribe to BTN, and that means more $$ for the conference. Does that mean more money for each individual school, I'm sure there are arguments that it could go either way, but that's not what this is about.
A fanbase that is apathetic to its conference does not make said conference stronger.
Is it possible that a conference that is smaller, but rich in tradition, and with a clear identity could be theoretically stronger than the super-conferences?
I would argue that a super-conference simply cannot have a real regional identity. The fan bases will be too geographically spread out to have a true shared experience. People in Gainesville and people in south central Texas probably don't share a lot of cultural similarities.
On the TV exposure side of the equation, while number of subscribers to BTN would certainly rise, the footprint of BTN probably would not change significantly since we already know there's a larger subscriber base outside of the footprint of the B1G than within it.
The regional flavor of the B1G brand is one of its greatest strengths. Expanding beyond the current footprint would certainly lead to a loss of that regional identity. Expanding within the current footprint with schools that might be vacating the BigXII probably isn't ideal as many believe it would water down the level of competition.
While in many respects I think that continued conference expansion, including for the B1G, is inevitable, and that there are probably many advantages that I haven't discussed here, the thought of losing our Midwestern identity, specifically as a conference of football teams, makes me hope that the B1G decides to buck the current trend and hold tight with 12 strong members.