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Conference Realignment And Big Ten Expansion: What It Means To Purdue

After a nice three mile run this afternoon I am writing this with my feet on the table and The Shawshank Redemption spinning in my Playstation. Today was an easy day of work hanging out with UAW retirees for a few hours before coming home, working out, and propping my feet up. It's a slow week with Purdue on a bye, and that means the blog can turn its attention to other things.

I can imagine Jim Delaney in a similar pose today. Around him, college conferences are swapping partners like its Woodstock all over again and everyone wants free love. Texas A&M whored itself to the SEC. Syracuse and Pitt cheated on their long-time wife with the ACC. Texas wanted to be the head madam of the Big 12 brothel, then independent, and now they are willing to jump into the bed with the highest bidder, be it the SEC, Pac-12, or ACC. Hell, Texas & Oklahoma would go to the MEAC for the right price. Oklahoma State is clinging to Oklahoma's leg like a little brother. The rest of the Big 12 and Big East are trying to merge like Power Rangers or something. The rumors change every day. I am surprised we haven't seen Alaska-Anchorage to the SEC with the promise of starting a football program and dumping all the Alaska oil money into the SEC coffers. There are even reports of a 22-team megaconference as a possibility.

Then there is the Big Ten, which has been strangely quiet since adding Nebraska. The funny thing is that we started this mess about 18 months ago just by mentioning we were thinking of adding a member. Once Delaney said, "Yeah, we might add someone," every conference in the country collectively lost its shit. Before Nebraska jumped on board the Big Ten was rumored to be going after Notre Dame, then ND, Texas, and Nebraska, then five teams. Rutgers, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse were bandied about. Missouri practically laid on its back and offered up anything to be able to join.

In the end it was a relatively minor shuffle with the Big 10 getting Nebraska, the Pac-10 getting Utah and Colorado, and everything calming down until Texas A&M started round two. Now all the wild rumors are flying again, including the Big East merging with the Big 12 and adding the Universities of Toronto, Zimbabwe, and Pyongyang. Frankly, I think it is getting a little ridiculous at this point, but I am thankful for the stance the Big Ten has taken. Namely, they have been silent and said they are pursuing no one.

As Adam Rittenberg of ESPN mentioned yesterday, the Big Ten could be the big winner here because it is standing pat. We're not actively going after anyone. Notre Dame is likely still the prize, but unlike the past 20 years, the Big Ten is now in the position of strength in negotiations. We already have 12 members and our conference title game. We're not going to add just one team, and if things get really crazy ND may need the Big Ten more than the Big Ten needs them.

If there is one conference that can stay at 12 and be perfectly happy it is the Big Ten. Of our current membership, We have the top three largest fanbases in college football and 11 of the top 50. We also tend to value tradition and academics more than other conferences. The Big Ten has long been an academics-first coalition ever since the man with the mustache from Purdue came up with the idea in 1895. Most of our teams have been crashing into each other for over 110 years, and even Penn State is just now gaining acceptance 20 years after their own entry. The fanbases are all loyal, passionate, large, and very similar to each other. I don't see our conference expanding just for the sake of expanding.

The best part about all this is that Purdue's future is secure in college athletics. I know that is what most of you who stop by this site care about. Our friends over at Crimson Quarry had an excellent post yesterday on the IU perspective, and their spot is very similar to Purdue's. Both schools currently have basketball higher in terms of national recognition than football, but football is what pays the bills. Football is what is driving this latest round of expansion and realignment, and some traditionally strong basketball schools (Kansas, UConn, and the rest of the Big East to name a few) are pretty much helpless bystanders because they don't have strong football programs.

For us, the Big Ten is not going anywhere. The once mocked Big Ten Network is now the model that everyone once and our conference comes off as a visionary because we thought of the idea first. In a way, the conference is bound together a little more than John thinks. In the NCAA Tournament many Purdue fans support Michigan State because we respect Tom Izzo and the way his teams play. In bowl season everyone gets behind everyone else. There is a small movement growing right now behind Wisconsin as the league's best hope to unseat the SEC and their run of National Titles.

I've even seen it at both Purdue and in other venues I have traveled to. There is an exception for the big rivalries which will always have hate, but for the most part your average benign Big Ten matchup (like Purdue-Penn State or Minnesota-Illinois) has fans getting along on gamedays and commiserating about the love of Big Ten football. Each group of fans has many similar traits. Even our new Most Hated Rival in Iowa has enough similarities with us that we've already developed playful banter about our rivalry. Whenever the SEC blog trash us we come together as a force 12 strong to strike back. Nebraska feels like one of us already.

Purdue, even in the best of years, doesn't have a huge following. Our fans are incredibly loyal, but we don't have the numbers of the other schools even in our own conference. That said, we're a founding member and were set for life as long as the conference itself remains strong. We can sit back with our feet up and reap the benefits of that for as long as possible. We're not going to be kicked out (the Big Ten doesn't do that) and we're not a big enough brand to be courted elsewhere. Hell, it was our President that came up with the idea of the Big Ten for crying out loud!

This is a major reason why I haven't written about conference expansion. I think most of it is unnecessary and frankly, it is not going to affect my fanship one bit unless the Big Ten adds schools. It doesn't look like that is going to happen, at least as of 4pm on September 20, 2011.

What if the Big Ten Does Expand?

Off Tackle Empire proposed  the 64-team, four super conference idea yesterday with the SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten, and ACC being the four winners. In their model, the Big Ten added four teams to move to 16. The biggest point they make is step 2 in their plan:

2. Step Two - Sort Into Quads.

Here's the problem with two 8 team divisions. You essentially dissolve into two eight team conferences. By having seven opponents that remain on your schedule every year, it makes it almost impossible to have any meaningful interaction with the other half of the league. But, if you're in a four team division, or quad, you only take up three games for division opponents. The rest of the games can be rotated. That keeps more connections among conference mates. That's a good thing. 

Now, I'm going to label these quads geographically. Knowing the B1G minds in Chicago, they'll probably call them Legends, Leaders, Heroes, and Hopes. Regardless, you'll get the idea.

B1G West: Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska

B1G North: Connecticut, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin

B1G East: Indiana, Notre Dame, Penn State, Purdue

B1G South: Illinois, Missouri, Northwestern, Ohio State

If you're looking at competitive balance, these are historically pretty good. Swapping Wisconsin and Missouri might make it better, but I'm willing to let the balance be off just that little bit for the simplicity. Let's not get too hung up on it.

In a way, doesn't this help Purdue win a conference title rather than hurt them? Isn't it easier to win a four team division, especially if you can time your upswing with a Penn State and ND downswing, than our current setup where we have to bang heads with Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State ever year? Personally, if we add teams I hope one of them is not Notre Dame and I don't think it will be the Fighting Irish because they have said no too many time before, but OTE's basic idea is groundbreaking. It is what I expect from the first major college athletic conference.

Honestly, I am quite happy with the way things are right now in the Big Ten. It still feels like a conference, unlike the Big East with 16 basketball schools and most teams only play once. Everyone feels like they are on board with an equal share in what the conference does. You still have your rivalries, and there is a reason to care across the board. It's a shame that it is football driving this while other sports suffer, but the Big Ten still seems above that.

So rest easy, Boiler fans. Enjoy your bye week because our future is already set with the most stable conference out there.