Tracee Hamilton - Sports Columnist

Big Ten expansion: Big dollars, little sense

By Tracee Hamilton
Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Jim Delany, I have just one thing to say to you: Take Missouri. Please.

Just kidding. I don't want the expansion-happy commissioner of the 11-team Big Ten (Motto: Come for the football, stay for the math) to take any of my beloved original Big Eight teams, even Missouri or Kansas State, my alma mater's bitterest rivals. Yes, I know the Big Eight no longer exists, but those eight teams are the ones for which I feel nostalgia and loyalty. The rest of the Big 12? Not so much, so go ahead, Delany, grab Texas. Come for the Shiner Bock, stay for the thrashings.

Of course, the Big 10-Eleven would love to have Texas, but Texas comes with a list of demands, which the Big 10-Eleven doesn't want as much. It's reportedly issued formal invitations to four schools, including Missouri and Nebraska of the Big 12 and Rutgers of the Big East. But the babe the Big 10-Eleven really wants to take to prom is Notre Dame. Not for the talent or the tradition or even the geography -- the heart of Big 10-Eleven country. No, the Big 10-Eleven wants Notre Dame's television market. (Apparently, having your own profitable TV network isn't enough.) The Irish appeal is not local or regional; it's national, and it's loyal, no matter how badly the team stinks. The Big 10-Eleven's message seems to be: Join us or perish. Cheery.

This is what college football has become: mergers and acquisitions. Just like Wall Street. And we know how that worked out. Rutgers is the biggest puzzle among the quartet, but Delany apparently believes it would give him the New York television market. Which seems absurd.

Missouri has the St. Louis TV market and is the biggest of the state's universities. It's also not terribly happy with the Big 12's finances. When the Big Eight either expanded to include four newcomers from Texas (the Big Eight version) or died, before the Big 12 was magically formed and the four Texas schools allowed its refugees to join them (the version the rest of the Big 12 tells), a rather complicated and unique revenue-sharing plan went into place. It basically boils down to this: Texas gets all the money.

Nebraska, which can remember the glory days when it was beating the snot out of everyone in the Big Eight before Texas began doing the same to the Big 12, has also been an unhappy camper for some time. The Huskers bring to the table a strong football tradition, a dreadful basketball program and the Nebraska television market. Every TV set in the state is turned to the Huskers on game day -- unless the set's owner has driven to the game.

Ah, yes, driving to the game. Regional proximity used to matter. In the Big Eight, when I was in school, you could drive to any other campus in the Big Eight in eight to nine hours, max. Most were much closer. And people did. Nebraska and Oklahoma fans in particular would load up their RVs and come to town early on game days. They'd drive through campus, past the dorms, the scholarship halls, the frats and sororities and dive apartments, blowing their horns, which happened to play their fight songs. Fun.

Who in his right mind would drive from Lincoln, Neb., to Piscataway, N.J.? Even the most crazed Huskers fans would think twice. And how are schools supposed to get their bands, cheerleaders and -- more important -- mascots to the far-away games? And yes, that matters. Those are the ingredients that go into a great college football experience.

But fans who'll drive all night to get to a game no longer matter. Schools want fans who'll pay more money to sit closer to the field or the court. They want corporations who'll buy suites. And they want the rest of you to watch on TV -- preferably on a network they've created, and from which they get all the profits.

The attraction for Missouri and Nebraska is obvious. The Big 12 schools get $7 million to $12 million each from the school's television contract; the Big 10-Eleven schools get $20 million to $22 million.

There is no price tag for the rivalries, of course. Kansas vs. Missouri is the oldest college football rivalry west of the Mississippi. Nebraska vs. Oklahoma used to be the second-best thing about Thanksgiving, right after Grandma's stuffing.

But to hell with that. Let's let Jim Delany decimate an entire conference and sell the parts, like a college football chop shop. Colorado may head to the Pac-10. I heard some talk on ESPN about Kansas and Kansas State going into the Pac-10 as well, to which I say, nuts to you. Texas . . . Texas can go wherever it wants. The SEC, perhaps. Or the Longhorns might start their own TV network. Conference affiliation? We don't need no stinking conference affiliation!

If we're going to tear it up, let's really tear it up. If old rivalries are no longer important, if regional play is no longer important, if the only thing that matters is television revenue, then let's just admit that and move on.

The six BCS conferences include 65 teams. Drop one. There's dead weight in every conference, so put those names in a "Big Ten Rules!" cap and draw one. That leaves 64 teams, or four super conferences of 16 teams. Drop the regional names -- Pacific 10, Southeastern Conference, Big East, Atlantic Coast -- because those don't mean so much in our new system. Heck, they don't mean so much now. Notre Dame is a Big East basketball team despite the fact that it's west of most teams in the league, and of half the country, for that matter.

Now start over, with a giant draft. First, each super conference gets to take a team from recruiting- and television-rich Florida. Then rank the remainders in tiers, according to their Q rating and general TV appeal. That seems fair. Hold the whole horror show in prime time and televise it on the Big 10-Eleven network, so that Delany can squeeze every last dollar out of the mess he's made of what used to be a great sport.

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