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Big East mailbag: More on Big Ten expansion chatter

5/5/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Joe Paterno's comments about swiping a Big East team so the Big Ten can expand to 12 got some of you pretty worked up. Let's talk:

Chris from Tampa writes: Paterno's comments about the Big 10 needing to expand to 12 teams has me both upset and thinking. He's suggesting stealing Pitt, Syracuse, and Rutgers from the Big East to fill out a conference that already has more teams than the Big East. As a USF fan I'm upset with the way the Big East is put together. With only eight teams we have our own problems; inequality with home versus away conference games every year is a disadvantage, no conference championship, etc. Are there any plans in the works to expand the Big East or is it going to be picked apart by the others like history tells us it will?

Brian Bennett: First of all, let's take a deep breath. As colleague Adam Rittenberg wrote today, the Big Ten has no expansion plans on the horizon, and commissioner Jim Delany doesn't appear to have anyone, much less Big East schools, on his radar.

"There's not an obvious move," Delany said. "There might be to some coaches, including coach Paterno, but it's not as obvious to the university presidents and to the athletic directors.

"There are a lot [of schools] that could take a lot away, but there aren't a lot that could bring so much to make the choice an easy one. You have to have a lot to make something go like this, and it's broader than really a championship game or a basketball tournament."

I think Delany may be slighting what some Big East schools could bring to the table, but that's another discussion. As for your question, Chris, we've been over this many, many times in the blog: There just isn't an obvious team out there for the Big East to add right now, unless a school would want to defect from a current BCS league. And though the nonconference scheduling is a major issue, I don't think having eight is a problem otherwise. It lets the league have a round-robin schedule, and a conference title game is not needed. Look how poorly the league title game concept has worked for the ACC; the Big East would probably have an even harder time selling tickets to such an event.


Andrew from Middletown, Conn., writes: Any response to your hypothetical question regarding a school leaving for the Big Ten is going to be sufficiently complicated. Before answering this query, we have to ponder is: will this team leave for just football or are we talking other sports as well (most notable basketball)? If the team leaving is just bolting for football, Syracuse would be least damaging. They are in a pretty bad ditch now and without a solid recruiting territory (which no Northeast schools really have for football) I don't see them improving too drastically too soon. Also their TV market is probably smaller than Rutgers or Pitt.

The most damaging in this scenario is probably West Virginia (assuming USF is not in the equation due to their location). Obviously West Virginia has led this conference and kept its head afloat throughout the last few years following the ACC raid. They are almost always in the Top 25 and draw strong recruits annually. Now, if the team leaving is going to be leaving for other sports (a.k.a basketball), the most damaging teams to lose would probably be UConn, Louisville, or Pitt ... I can't imagine UConn, Pitt or the 'Cuse leaving the Big East in Basketball. These three teams have all enjoyed great rivalries with one another and unlike the ACC, Big Ten basketball is not impressive whatsoever. These teams would lose a large TV market, prestige and higher profile recruits.

The least damaging would have to be Rutgers. While they have been somewhat competitive in recent years with football, they are a Big East doormat in basketball. Realistically I think they are the most likely to move to the Big Ten as well. Now here's a question for you: If the Big East could get a ninth team from the Big Ten, what school would be the best fit (football and basketball)?

Brian Bennett: If -- and we're just speaking hypothetically here (it is May, after all) -- a team were to leave the Big East for the Big Ten, you can bet it would be for all sports and not just football. Wouldn't make sense otherwise. And Louisville, South Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut are not reasonable fits with the Big Ten for a variety of reasons (location, academics, tradition, etc.). I agree that losing West Virginia might be the most damaging in football, simply because the Mountaineers have in many ways been the face of the league since the 2005 upheaval. The image hit alone would be huge.

I'm not so sure that losing Rutgers would be the least damaging, because of the New York City market. Right now, the Big East is in really good shape to take advantage of that with the Scarlet Knights on the rise. And don't think that Syracuse leaving would be such a huge shock; remember that the Orange were in serious discussions with the ACC when that league originally came calling for new members.

What current Big Ten team would be the best Big East fit? That one's pretty easy. It's got to be Penn State, just based on geography, lack of a real historical connection to the Big Ten and the built-in rivalries that the Nittany Lions would bring to the Big East.


Doug from Pittsburgh writes: With the recent talk by Joe Paterno about expanding the Big Ten with one of the Big East schoools, wouldn't it make sense for the Big East to force the issue with Notre Dame about joining in all sports? If Notre Dame balks and joins the Big Ten, then that relieves the fear about the Big East losing a school, and if not the Big East adds a solid ninth school and secures better bowl tie-ins and everything that Notre Dame would bring. It seems that all of the positive momentum from after the 2007 season has disappeared with Louisville taking a step back, WVU and Rutgers being somewhat shaky in rebuilding seasons, and Pitt and Syracuse still failing to take the next step up.

Brian Bennett: And how exactly would the Big East force the issue with Notre Dame? By telling the Irish they couldn't belong to the league in all non-football sports? That still wouldn't convince Notre Dame to join a football league. This comes up all the time, so let me reiterate yet again: Notre Dame is never going to join a football conference as long as NBC pays its bills and it gets to keep all the revenue it generates, including any BCS money it can get. There's simply no financial incentive for the Irish to give up their independence. They could find another league to take them on in the other sports, whether that be the Big Ten or Atlantic 10 or whatever. If Notre Dame shows no interest at all in joining the Big Ten in football, where it would be the best fit and where it already plays several league schools every year, why in the world would it want to become a full Big East partner instead?