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Daily Conference Expansion Rumor: Big Ten Looks West, Not East

Take this report with a grain of salt, just as you would any of the spurious internet rumors regarding Big Ten expansion (Pittsburgh to the Big Ten a done deal! Rutgers to the Big Ten a done deal! no ... Missouri is a done deal!). According to a Kansas City sports radio station, the Big Ten will extend membership offers to Nebraska, Missouri, Notre Dame and Rutgers.

It's unclear whether the Big Ten will stop at 14 teams or expand to 16 teams. If Notre Dame chooses to remain independent, Rutgers would be added as the 14th team and the league would reevaluate whether they wanted to further expand to 16. If Notre Dame chooses to join, the league would send an invite to one other school (Syracuse?) to round up the total number of teams to 16.

Personally, I don't understand this move. If the great white whale of Big Ten's manifest destiny plans truly is Notre Dame, wouldn't you look east and poach Syracuse, Rutgers and Connecticut to effectively put an end to the Big East as a football conference?

The only carrot the Big Ten really has to ree l in Notre Dame is to threaten the Big East conference's extinction, which is to say threaten the conference home of the Irish for all sports except football and ice hockey. Poaching only one team from the Big East (Rutgers) doesn't seem to do the job. There seem to be any number of viable candidates to replace Rutgers in the Big East (ECU? Central Florida?) to serve as a middle of the road football program and basketball doormat.

If this report is true - and again, take with a huge grain of salt - it's unclear what effect, if any, it will have on the ACC. The good news, at least, is that if the dominoes begin to fall, ACC commissioner John Swofford and the conference won't be caught with their head in the sand:

"I would expect that we’re very solid as 12. That’s the message that I’m receiving from our schools and the commitment that they made to each other not too long ago - seven years ago. But at the same time - and we’re not an aggressor in this, I think we’re very happy where we are as 12 and very happy with the 12 that we have – but at the same time, I don’t think any conference would be doing its due diligence if you stuck your head in the sand, so to speak. And we will not do that. We will be very aware and conscious of what’s going on around us and what the potentialities may be in terms of changes. And [we’ll] see what transpires over the next six months or so."

I would be comfortable if the ACC stayed at 12 teams, but the conference might ultimately not have a say in the matter. If this rumor is true, the Big 12 would be in the market to replace 2 teams (Missouri and Nebraska). One of those replacement teams could be TCU, the conference's old Southwestern Conference dancing partner. However, it remains unclear if the BCS conference dominoes begin to fall, how the "haves" (i.e. the 6 BCS conference programs) will treat the "have nots" (everyone else). Another target could be Arkansas, but the Razorbacks don't seem to be incentivized enough to renew old Southwestern Conference rivalries over walking away from the SEC's monster TV payday.   

If by some strange set of circumstances Arkansas does go running back into the arms of the Big 12, the SEC would likely go after one of the ACC's southern programs (Georgia Tech? Florida State? Miami? Clemson?) to get back to a 12 team league. This scenario, or a whole scale SEC raid of the ACC to match the Big Ten at 14 or 16 teams, seem to be the only ways the dominoes might fall and dramatically impact BC and the rest of the conference.

UPDATE: Nebraska denies the report, Notre Dame others have no comment.

H/T The Rivalry, Esq.

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