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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Get them before they get you

The Big Ten has recently announced its renewed efforts to seriously consider expansion. There's fear in the Big East that it could lead to a raid of the conference, much as the ACC did a few years back, as Rutgers, Syracuse, Pitt, and WVU have all been mentioned as potential candidates. Such a raid could be fatal to the Big East as a football conference, and certainly as one with an BCS automatic bid, unless a plan is put together to keep the coffers full.

I'll first state that if I were the Big Ten, none of the schools mentioned would be my first choice. To me, being a Midwestern conference is a crucial part of the Big Ten's identity. Penn State is the one outlier, and some would argue that their piece of Pennsylvania has quite a bit in common with the Midwest anyway. So while they may want to reach further east--particularly if Syracuse or Rutgers can give them some headway into the New York media market--it would dilute one of things that defines them.

To me, Mizzou is the obvious choice for expansion. They have an identity similar to many other Big Ten institutions as a flagship, land grant institution in the Midwest. Their university, team, and band would fit right in. And the conference rivalry they'd lose with Kansas on their western border would be replaced by Illinois to the east.

Still, while the possibility looms that the Big East could be raided, perhaps we should be proactive, not reactive. It is tough because the Big East has more to consider than just football. Fielding an unwieldy mega-conference in basketball makes it hard to think about adding a 9th member for football, knowing that we'd balloon to 17 in basketball. But awaiting a raid and reacting would leave us in the same 8 team predicament we currently have, and there's no guarantee that whoever we add would add value to the conference, particularly if a heavy hitter like West Virginia should be taken.

My thought? Send a care package down to Fort Worth and invite TCU. Granted, it leads to a loose interpretation of the word "East" in Big East, but then again, the Big "Ten" hasn't let mere definitions stand in the way of expanding to 11 and possibly 12. For that matter, TCU's Dallas-Fort Worth neighbors the Dallas Cowboys play in the NFC East, so there's precedent. TCU brings a proven winner in football who would only get stronger in a BCS auto-qualifying conference. They bring fertile recruiting ground in the state of Texas. And they bring the DFW media market, which is the fourth largest metro area in the United States, giving the Big East presence--between football and basketball--in four of the top five metro areas in the US.

Granted, there are challenges. In addition to the struggles of a 17-team basketball league, there's also travel to consider, and TCU would certainly be an outlier. Still, the increased stability for the Big East and the BCS autobid and legitimate shot at a national championship that TCU has lacked makes this a potentially strong move. Let's be proactive, not reactive.
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