Welcome to OTE's State of the B1G 2012, where we will be examining the B1G conference from as many angles as the twisted minds of our crack staff of writers can muster up.
One of the most discussed topics over the last year and a half or so has been college football expansion. Remember, this all started because B1G Commissioner Big Jim Delany said he thought the B1G might be considering, at some point in the future, possibly, maybe, expanding to a 12th team.
All Hell ensued, at the maelstrom is still continuing to this day.
The Big XII conference appeared to be going the way of the USFL, the SEC was looking at 4 to 6 teams, depending on which rumors you chose to believe, and the B1G and PAC-10 were rumored to be wooing Texas and triggering, along with the SEC, the college football equivalent of Armageddon--16 team super-conferences that would envelop and swallow the Big XII and Big East whole, muahahahaha.
All because Jim Delany farted the word 'expansion'.
So where are we in terms of conference expansion, where are other conferences, and what teams should...or what teams must..the B1G go after to stay at the forefront of this rapidly changing landscape?
First things first about expansion--I'm not getting into what other conferences are doing or are rumored to be doing, because honestly I can't keep up with it, with a couple exceptions. I do know the SEC expanded to 14 teams, adding Texas A and M and that bastion of Confederacy in Missouri. The Big XII is still around, and should be back at twelve teams soon...at least I think so. The ACC is adding teams that are geographically closer to most teams, which is better than the Big East, which has a conference footprint that literally will go from coast to coast when it's all said and done.
And the Mountain West and Conference USA might merge. Yikes.
So when you look at conference expansion through that prism, and then look what the B1G has done in adding 'just' Nebraska (sorry, Northwestern fans), at first glance it seems like Delany took his shot and missed his target.
But actually, just the opposite has taken place. Delany and the B1G are in the driver's seat, and they probably won't even add another team.
There's no need to.
See, once again Jim Delany has been playing chess while the rest of the conference commissioners have been playing checkers, even the SEC. Texas A and M and Missouri are nice additions to the SEC, but they're not earth shattering, and they didn't really move the needle in terms of upping the ante. The SEC paced college football by expanding to twelve teams and developing a conference championship game back in the early '90's, but Missouri and A and M was uninspired. You add Texas and Oklahoma you've got my attention, but Missouri and Aggie? Meh.
Delany and the B1G have been setting the pace since he announced that the conference was looking at expansion, and he's just about lapped everybody else. First it was developing a conference network. No one thought it would work, especially ESPN. But now ESPN thinks it's such a good idea, they even went one step further and developed a TV network for just one school...which has been a colossal bust up until this point. They aren't carried by any of the major cable providers in or out of Texas, nor are they on Dish or DirecTV, but you can find the BTN just about anywhere in America, from Key West to Seattle, and the conference is almost to the point of being able to print their own money in terms of profit.
Then it was the addition of Nebraska, throwing the Big XII in to a tailspin it really has yet to recover from. The financial windfall that Big Ten schools will see by the addition of Nebraska caused Texas to grab as much money as it could in the aforementioned Longhorn Network, and it placed the Big XII in a situation more tenuous than the Al Swearengen-Seth Bullock alliance on Deadwood. The SEC reacted by adding two middling programs that really do nothing for either football or basketball (well, Mizzou has a pretty good basketball team, but does anyone outside of Kentucky care about SEC basketball?), and Jim Delany was already three moves ahead of everyone else.
And once the expansion and realignment started to settle down (and you can make an argument that it really hasn't), Delany launched another bomb, which is really not fully appreciated yet--he virtually stopped any more expansion in its tracks, just as quickly as he started it.
There can be no super-conferences without the B1G and PAC-12 particiaption, and this agreement assures there won't be, because there's no need for it now, at least from the perspective of Larry Scott and Jim Delany. And if those two conferences aren't going to the 16 team Armageddon, why would guys like Mike Slive keep adding teams, making it more difficult for them to get to some once and future mythical playoff or BCS National Championship.
With the PAC-12/B1G partnership, Delany now has the best of both worlds--marquee games across multiple sports, better TV revenue for his network because of those games, yet no conference expansion with teams that really don't fit into the geography or culture of the B1G and dilute the product of the conference.
When all of this began a couple of years ago, I have to admit I was kind of fired up about a 14 or 16 team B1G conference, but after looking at the way other conferences are starting to form and change, 12 teams is about as big as a conference can get before it starts to lose its identity. The one thing I really admired about the SEC is the quality of football it plays within such a generally confined geographical footprint--heck, that's what made the B1G King for the just about the entire 20th century and up until the early 2000's.
With the addition of Missouri and Texas A and M, I think the SEC is going to lose a little bit of their identity. Will it be enough of a schism to drive the SEC towards what the Big XII is currently undergoing? No, of course not. They'll be making a lot of money with their TV contracts, and as long as they keep fielding great, competitive football, they'll still be at or near the top. Even at 14 teams, the SEC should be fine.
But look at the ACC, the Big East, and so on. When you look at the variety of teams that will be in these conferences and the geographic footprint they'll have once the dust settles, what you're left with isn't a conference. It's a bunch of disparate schools joining arms in the ocean to keep from drowning.
Eventually, these hybrid-conferences will collapse under their own weight, with not enough money to go around, and I suspect this realignment of mid-major and major wannabe's will continue for the next several years, maybe even into the next decade.
So where does that leave Notre Dame? Frankly, who cares? Delany has set up things up that Notre Dame would be a nice addition, but not a necessity. Once again, Delany dances to no ones tune--they dance to his, and that holds true here. With a 12 team conference fit into a nice, geographic footprint, the B1G doesn't NEED any team to thrive as a league, but with all the realignment yet to come, Notre Dame might need a safe port in the storm. And there will be no safer port than the B1G in three or four years.
And if that happens, then--and only then--will Delany offer membership. On his terms, in his time.
So as we but a bow on this, the B1G sits positioned stronger than any other conference--their own highly profitable network, 12 stable teams, and a multi sport partnership with a conference every bit as stable and ascending as the B1G.
No expansion necessary.
Consider them rolled, America. Consider them rolled.