Surprise schools might be Big Ten targets

May, 10, 2010
05/10/10
3:13
PM ET
Major conference meetings for athletic directors and coaches start this week and extend through the month.

The ACC meetings have begun. The Big Ten is on deck.

There may be no pressing decisions to be made, but there will be plenty of chatter on expansion -- how the NCAA tournament selection committee will handle a new 68-team tournament in 2011 and whether or not a tectonic shift will occur in college sports.

Everyone is still waiting to see what the Big Ten will do as it contemplates whether to expand by one team to get to 12, by three to get to 14 or by five for a mega 16-team league that is sure to be extremely disruptive to its brethren in college athletics.

There's no reason to pretend that this is a basketball decision. It's not. It's about football first, which means dollars more than anything else. Travel issues are a concern but academic compatibility for the Big Ten, maybe more so than any other major conference, is a primary issue.

After a number of conversations on the subject in the last 10 days, including with one source that has direct knowledge of what the Big Ten may do, there was this piece of advice for those of us who like to speculate: Think out of the box.

No one seems to dispute the obvious that if the Big Ten were to expand by one there is only one choice: Notre Dame. The Irish are the one school that can allow the league to feed a 12th mouth and not dip below $22 million for the other 11. Rutgers, Missouri, Nebraska, Pitt, Syracuse or Connecticut just can't do it on their own and none of them brings the national appeal and overall cachet of the Fighting Irish.

So if you think out of the box, as advised, then seriously look at three schools that will be meeting this week with their conference members and another that will be part of another conference meeting this month.

The Big Ten isn't restricted to inviting only schools from the 63-member Association of American Universities (of which every current league school is a member), but it would certainly help on the academic side. Prestige of universities is important. Location in a major, travel-accessible city helps as well.

That's why at least one source said Maryland and Georgia Tech from the ACC and Vanderbilt out of the SEC make sense. In terms of location, Nashville, Tenn., is less than 400 miles from Columbus, Ohio. Bloomington, Ind., is only four hours away from Nashville. Champaign, Ill., is five hours away.

Vanderbilt makes a lot of sense academically because it is similar in many regards to a school like Northwestern. Of course, leaving the SEC for any league is a possible reach because of the money the SEC produces. The natural rivalries for Maryland and Georgia Tech (the latter of which joined the AAU just last month) in the ACC might be too much to leave, but the money the Big Ten could offer may make this interesting.

Of course the Big Ten could decide to do nothing -- or like the NCAA going with the 68-team basketball tournament over the more-hyped 96, could go with a much tamer expansion, adding just one.

There may be some dominoes that have nothing to do with the Big Ten. The Mountain West has to decide if it will make a run at adding Boise State from the WAC regardless of what occurs. The MWC could be even more proactive and raid the WAC by grabbing Boise, Fresno State and Nevada. TCU is making a play for the Big 12 if the league were to lose Missouri or Nebraska to the Big Ten or Colorado to the Pac-10.

The Pac-10 has to consider Utah and Colorado as possible additions or the staid league could just stay put as it has done for decades. BYU could be the odd school out, not invited to join either the Pac-10 or the Big 12.

There are still plenty of chairs to move and the picture might not be any clearer after this month. But at least there will be plenty of chatter on the subject to make things more interesting in the dog days of summer.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer

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