Just two days after The New York Times published a report on the ripple effects of Big Ten expansion on the college football landscape, cannon-ball sized speculation is abounding all over the internet that the University of Pittsburgh will become the conference's twelfth member. According to the Kansas City Star (relying on Bleacherreport.com) "Pittsburgh athletic department officials held closed door meetings with all of the University's student athletes last week about the potential move."
Several Pitt student athletes allegedly let the cat out of the bag on Twitter, then recanted -- deleting the bread crumbs almost immediately after posting.
So what are we to make of all this?
Well first, there's the extreme unlikelihood that the Big Ten Council of Presidents would act so quickly, little more than a month into an evaluation process tabbed to take a year to a year and a half. Still, it is possible that COP had Pittsburgh -- and its complimentary academic pedigree -- in mind from the start. With its top tier national rank (56th) and Association of American Universities affiliation, Pitt is a fair congener on paper. Additionally, some commentators have suggested that a quick-strike could be designed to meet scheduling deadlines to get a Big Ten Championship Game in place by 2012.
Still, for a conference that has only added three members in the past century, an impulse buy is more than out of character. Plus, it's not clear how the addition of Pitt by itself furthers conference exposure. (Penn State already brings Pittsburgh -- the 23rd largest television audience in the United States -- to the table).
The nail in the coffin of this rumor for me, is that the Big East appears totally in the dark. The Big Ten made it more than clear when it announced plans to explore expansion that it would contact a prospective target's conference before approaching an individual school. Even if the Big East is playing it cool, it seems far fetched that the Big Ten would have had the time to work through what OSU President Gordon Gee calls a "quiet kabuki dance" with a number of suitors at the gate.
I'll go so far as to say that if Pittsburgh has -- however improbably -- gotten the nod, it's a clear signal that the conference doesn't plan to limit expansion to a single program. Rather, if Pittsburgh does join, I think it's the beginning of a push for fourteen teams, or what one special commentator called "The Big Tent Conference."
Stay tuned for more details.