Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Expanding Big Ten -- What's In It For IU?

So here comes E-Day, Expansion-Day, with Nebraska and Missouri poised to join the Big Ten by Friday if you believe the reports, unless Notre Dame beats them to it, and all heck will break loose in college athletics.

That leads to one big, over-riding Cream ‘n Crimson question -- What’s in it for Indiana?

First, it’s interesting how the Big Ten and commissioner Jim Delany lost the hammer they held over the college landscape. Seems like it was just yesterday they were talking about an 18-month timetable to decide on expansion. They were dictating the terms and everybody else cowered over their move.

Cowering ended when the Pac-10 jumped into expansion mode and offered to take half the Big 12, with Texas and its money-making machine the crown jewel. That leads to a second question –- what’s wrong with Kansas? Nobody seems to be talking about the Jayhawks, one of the nation’s basketball super powers with a decent enough football program and ...

Sorry. We got sidetracked. If Nebraska and Missouri join the Big Ten that will give the league 13 teams. Only witches, warlocks and BP officials are into those kind of things, which is why three more teams are likely to join. The Big Ten would love one of those to be Notre Dame. The Irish have huffed and puffed about wanting to preserve their football independence, but that’s becoming out-of-touch with reality in these times-they-are-a-changing days. They don’t want to be left out in a world of 16-team super conferences and for a lot of reasons, heck, for every reason, the Big Ten makes the most sense.

But then comes word that Notre Dame and the Big Ten are in super secret negotiations and that if the Irish join, the Big Ten will lock in at 12 teams and be done with expansion talk forever.

So let’s get back to Indiana. A bigger Big Ten, no matter who joins, will have tremendous football power. It won’t be a place for mediocre programs. The Hoosiers will have to ratchet up the talent level to stay competitive.

From a money standpoint, expansion will boost IU and every Big Ten school, impressive considering they’re already raking in $20 million each thanks to the Big Ten Network.

From a football success standout, the Hoosiers will be in trouble. It’s already difficult for them to consistently compete in an 11-team Big Ten. It will be even more challenging after expansion brings in some more powerhouses. Not impossible, but very, very difficult. IU will almost have to become national in its recruiting.

Coach Bill Lynch and his staff are competitive guys. They’ll embrace the challenge if it happens.

Embracing is one thing. Thriving with a schedule that could include Ohio State, Penn State, Notre Dame and, well, you get the picture.

Nothing is etched in stone, of course. Nebraska and Missouri could stay in the Big 12. The Pac-10 could pass on expansion. Notre Dame could stay football independent forever. The Big Ten could stick with 11 teams.

Yeah, right. We don’t buy that, either.

So what’s in it for Indiana besides money? Mr. T once said, in reference to his second fight with Rocky, "Pain!" A cynic would say, be afraid. An optimist would say, bring it on. For now we’ll stick with, let’s wait and see. By the end of the summer, we’ll know.

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