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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ramzy of bucknuts.com: This Column Is Not About Big Ten Expansion

Ramzy: This Column Is Not About Big Ten Expansion

By Ramzy
ramzy@bucknuts.com
Posted May 11, 2010

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Ramzy visits the most popular topic of the college football offseason and discusses the contenders to join the Big Ten party.

College football is played between September and January and men’s college basketball is played between November and April. So including the overlap, these two sports are responsible for 98.4% of the total interest devoted to all college sports, and they are live for almost eight months. If you’re wondering about the remaining 1.6% of fan interest in college sports, it’s spilt among women’s sports, skeet shooting and bunch of other activities that are sometimes interesting but bleed athletic departments of money in buckets.

The Big Ten Network, which makes a hell of a lot more money than you ever imagined it would, is helping make sports like these easier for athletic departments to support. Sadly for those sports, they’re not interesting enough to enter into the offseason discussion circuit, which plays out over those four sports-less months. Over time the offseason has developed into a period primarily used for superfluous timewasters, like arguing over which school has the most intimidating stadium, which team has the best-looking helmet and which campus has the finest gameday atmosphere.

As these arguments predictably digress from historical discussions and subjective rationale into name-calling and trash talk, it’s almost automatic that academic phallus-waving will also enter the fray. It’s an unscientific shot across the bow that is impossible to disprove. Academic phallus-waving is actually both a major and a varsity sport at Notre Dame; a classic fall-back when the Irish aren’t doing well, sort of like fan Prozac in a 16-year extended release formulation. Even when they’re not, they’re better than you are.

For obvious reasons, academics and “academic compatibility” are among the components under scrutiny in the current obsession over Big Ten conference expansion, which has become the 2010 offseason’s discussion circuit queen. As university administrators, there are a whole slew of variables that understandably need to be considered when evaluating candidate schools to invite Jim Delany’s money orgy. One point that has been brought up repeatedly is the fact that every current Big Ten school is a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, a claim that no other major conference can claim.

The issue of academics in conference expansion is audacious. Personally, I get why academics are important to the discussion; I just don’t care. I’m infinitely more concerned about what expansion would mean for conference football and basketball schedules. This isn’t because I’m ignorant to the importance of congruence among member institutions, aggregate academic reputation and the negative implications of hasty expansion for the sake growing the Big Ten Network’s distribution footprint – not at all. It’s because I’m shallow. Okay, the title is a lie. This column is about Big Ten expansion. But not about the boring technical stuff, just the things that matter to people like me. You know, shallow people.

Here’s what matters to me: Football and/or men’s basketball strength, and preferably both, if possible. Also, being located somewhere that’s a fun weekend to visit every couple of years when the Buckeyes would play there, because we definitely don’t need another West Lafayette, which is located in a part of the country that can best be described as Chicago’s septic tank. Purdue’s campus always features a post-game caravan of out-of-state plates heading away from campus, down I-65 toward Broad Ripple on Butler’s campus in Indianapolis (except for Iowa and Minnesota fans, who head ups to Chicago). No more Purdues. Engineering, schmengineering – that place flat-out sucks.

That’s pretty much my list as a shallow fan: 1) Football, 2) basketball, 3) be somewhere fun. Here’s how the much-discussed candidates fit my expansion candidate profile and where they measure against more uppity, self-important requirements:

Connecticut

How’s their football? UConn has only been in what is now the FBS since 2000. The Huskies have three times as many bowl game victories as Notre Dame in that time period (ah, hilarious!) and they’ve also beaten an SEC team in a postseason game (um, envious.)

How’s their basketball? Three Final Fours over the past 11 seasons. Compare this to Michigan, which has one NCAA tournament appearance over that span. UConn won the 1999 and 2004 national titles and currently has more players in the NBA than any other school. Their women’s team almost makes their men’s team look like Michigan’s men’s team.

Where is it? Storrs, Connecticut, not far from ESPN, which is part of the reason UConn is so well-covered by the Worldwide Leader. It’s in the middle of Connecticut, too far from either NYC and Boston.

And how is that? It’s a big state school and a land grant university. Those tend to be a lot of fun. Yay, fun!

Are they in the AAU? No. And for the people actually making this decision, that’s worse than having herpes…ON YOUR FACE.

Will inclusion expand the Big Ten Network footprint and make money? You probably don’t want to know what Delany fantasizes about, but without going into lurid detail it includes regular Big Ten Network programming in ESPN’s backyard.

Iowa State

How’s their football? The Cyclones have been playing football since 1892 and they’ve won all of three bowl games. The first Iowa State coach to leave with a winning record was Pop Warner. The last coach to do so was Earle Bruce. Iowa State has twice as many bowl wins this century as Notre Dame.

How’s their basketball? Last Sweet Sixteen was in 2000. This is a school that would benefit from expanding the NCAA tournament to 98 teams, if and when that ever happens.

Where is it? Ames, Iowa. North of Des Moines. Sort of like if Iowa City had a “making of” documentary and all of the deleted scenes on the DVD that weren’t good enough for the final cut were cobbled together. That’s Ames.

And how is that? Another big state school and land grant university, with the added bonus of being in Iowa. They know how to have fun there. They have to.

Are they in the AAU? Yes.

Will inclusion expand the Big Ten Network footprint and make money? Not in the slightest. Delany wouldn’t buy Iowa State a drink if it was the only school left at the bar at 3am.

Kansas

How’s their football? Middling. Kansas would jockey for December bowl positioning in the current Big Ten bowl hierarchy.

How’s their basketball? Third in all-time wins and winning percentage, sixth in NCAA titles, fourth in Final Four appearances, seventh in tournament winning percentage, fifth in weeks ranked first in the AP Poll…so, basically Indiana if you expunge the last seven years from existence.

Where is it? Lawrence, Kansas. It’s more than double the drive to Champaign. You’d fly to Kansas City and make a weekend out of it, you’d have an awesome time (the Buckeyes would win) and you’d go back again. It’s the same reason you always suck it up and drive to Champaign.

And how is that? A great campus located just west of one of the best cities in America, with the unfortunate downside that you’ll gain slightly under two pounds for every 24 hours you spend there.

Are they in the AAU? Yes.

Will inclusion expand the Big Ten Network footprint and make money? Yes, but only enough to make Delany smirk condescendingly.

Missouri

How’s their football? Missouri is the Minnesota of the Big XII. Nice history, all-time record over .500, 15 conference titles but no crowns since 1969. Missouri has three times as many bowl wins this century as Notre Dame, including two over SEC schools.

How’s their basketball? Understandably still trying to figure out life after Norm Stewart’s 32 year run as head coach, a similar turbulence to what’s happened at Indiana but without all of the crippling probation or multiple national titles.

Where is it? Columbia, Missouri, which is a four-hour drive from Iowa City and right in-between St. Louis and Kansas City.

And how is that? Another Big State U. You’ll fit right in, sweetheart.

Are they in the AAU? Yes.

Will inclusion expand the Big Ten Network footprint and make money? It’s very likely that Mizzou is already being booked as future income.

Nebraska

How’s their football? One of the great football traditions, with a Big Ten-friendly giant stadium to go with it. Despite suffering through its worst coaching hire since the 1920s with Bill Callahan, Nebraska has five times as many bowl wins this century as Notre Dame.

How’s their basketball? Oh, they have basketball too? Bonus!

Where is it? Lincoln, Nebraska. It is south of Wahoo, north of Beatrice and east of Seward, which is right where you want to be every other year for an awesome football weekend.

And how is that? With the exception of Penn State, the Big Ten is one of those extremely drivable road game conferences for most of the schools within the footprint. Lincoln is close to the Omaha airport. You can drive to Lincoln from the rental car parking lot. Nebraska on the Big Ten football schedule would be legitimately epic in a world where “epic” is grossly overused. Nebraska on the Big Ten basketball schedule would get several bubble teams closer to that 20-win threshold. Again, bonus!

Are they in the AAU? Yes.

Will inclusion expand the Big Ten Network footprint and make money? In terms of contracts and subscribers, UNL would bring in less than Missouri but more than Kansas. In terms of football prestige, it’s the big fish. At least it’s the big fish that isn’t stubbornly clinging to the 1920s.

Notre Dame

How’s their football? It’s been better. It’s about to be much better.

How’s their basketball? The Irish currently play in the Big East, which they’ve never won, and they’ve been to one Sweet Sixteen in the past 25 years; however, Notre Dame excels in a whole slew of sports you’re not interested in that would gain ample coverage on the Big Ten Network.

Where is it? South Bend, Indiana. Geographically close to much of the Big Ten except when you drive there it feels like it is taking forever.

And how is that? It’s a beautiful campus, an amazing game day atmosphere and a surprisingly decent nightlife. Try to avoid going into town or interacting with any of the local flavor.

Are they in the AAU? No. That’s both part of the panache of being independent and not having the sufficient research cache to be granted the AAU’s secret handshake. The latter is not uncommon among Catholic universities.

Will inclusion expand the Big Ten Network footprint and make money? It definitely would, and Notre Dame’s cut of the Big Ten Network gravy would dwarf what NBC is currently paying while giving the university and its secondary sports greater exposure. But, but, but, 1913!

Pittsburgh

How’s their football? Pitt claims eight national titles prior to the 1940s (Michigan is not impressed) and won it again in 1976. The Panthers are currently coached by Dave Wannstedt, a man capable of winning most games and losing all of them.

How’s their basketball? Recently became a program to be reckoned with, playing in half of Sweet Sixteens over the past decade.

Where is it? Pittsburgh, PA. You’ve already been there.

And how is that? The wedding was great the Reds played like crap the Browns lost again. It’s Pittsburgh – underrated, yet somehow still familiar even upon your first visit.

Are they in the AAU? Yes.

Will inclusion expand the Big Ten Network footprint and make money? Adding Pittsburgh would only occur for the sake of increasing the integer. Pittsburgh may be in the Big East, but with Penn State’s addition 20 years ago it’s already located within the Big Ten’s media reach, and Delany knows it.

Rutgers

How’s their football? Rutgers played in the first-ever football game in 1869, before Ohio State University was founded. The Scarlet Knights seemingly didn’t win another game until a few months ago, playing underwhelming football for decades. They have four times as many bowl wins as Notre Dame this century, but none in the last century.

How’s their basketball? It’s worse than you think. This is a school that would benefit from expanding the NCAA tournament to all of the teams, if and when that ever happens.

Where is it? Piscataway, NJ which is the home of Malcolm Jenkins. It’s a worthy town with a fun campus in its own right as well as very close to New York City.

And how is that? It’s fine, it’s great, but there are high school gyms in Indiana that put Rutgers’ basketball arena to shame, which is like dropping another Welsh-Ryan Arena into the conference but without the benefit of having thousands of Big Ten alumni living a el train ride away from Chicago to fill it up for every game. Rutgers helps lock up the Big Ten Network in the Northeast, which would be a boon to both the piggy bank and to basketball recruiting.

Are they in the AAU? Yes.

Will inclusion expand the Big Ten Network footprint and make money? She’s definitely got her flaws, but Delany knows a winner when he sees one.

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