BENNER: Conference commissioners' math skills need work

June 19, 2010

In all honesty, the expansion I have been most concerned about lately is my waistline.

In fact, after a sumptuous meal the other evening, I pushed away from the table thinking I just added Rhode Island.

But then there has been that other expansion, the one at the uppermost level of intercollegiate athletics that, as of this moment and apparently subject to change, has the Big Ten with 12 teams, the Big 12 with 10 teams and the Pac-10 with 11 teams.

When the world of academia is setting that kind of example, no wonder kids everywhere are failing math.

Anyway, the anticipated seismic shakeout that was going to result in 16-team super conferences that in turn would pave the way for a national championship playoff in football did not come to pass. That’s not to say it won’t, but when the University of Texas turned its back on the bid from the Pac-10 (11) and essentially saved the Big 12 (10) to play another day, the dominoes appeared to stop falling.

The Big Ten (12) got what it wanted, sort of, meaning a football power, but it was the University of Nebraska, not the University of Notre Dame. Nebraska makes sense geographically, giving the Big Ten (12) six teams in the Eastern time zone and six in the central, but had Notre Dame been available, geography wouldn’t have mattered.

If it goes as expected, that would leave Purdue and Indiana in the east, joining Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State. In other words, don’t look for the Boilermakers or Hoosiers to be showing up in a championship game anytime soon. But for those who think the Big Ten (12) should somehow legislate competitiveness into its divisional mix for the sake of IU and Purdue, I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Gene Keady:

Don’t get bitter. Get better.

Anyway, look for the Big Ten (12) to get that title game on the docket as quickly as possible for two reasons: money, and more money. Seventy-thousand customers paying a premium price for tickets, plus television revenue, will bring a flash-flood of cash.

And of course, we in Indianapolis should be the beneficiaries of said championship game at least on a rotating basis. That roof on Lucas Oil Stadium makes it an ideal site for an early December game. I find it difficult to believe the Big Ten (12) would go to an outdoor venue, leaving only Ford Field in Detroit and the Metrodome in Minneapolis as competition.

Add in Indy’s and Indiana Sports Corp.’s long-standing relationship with the Big Ten (12), the city’s geographic location within the conference, and our made-for-big-events downtown and it’s a no-brainer to bring it here unless—and it’s a big “unless”—corporate dollars would dictate otherwise.

Though I’ve long advocated for Indianapolis to host a bowl game, a Big Ten (12) championship game would be better.

Still, questions remain. How quickly can long-established schedules be dismantled to accommodate Nebraska? What will be the mix of division games? Five within the division and three out seems logical if the Big Ten (12) continues its pattern of eight conference games and four non-conference games.

And while Commissioner Jim Delany has declared the Big Ten (12) is done with expansion for now, how long is “for now” and what if Notre Dame would suddenly present itself? Or are the Irish, once and for all, off the table?

As for the other expansionists, there is unfinished business. The Pac-10 (11), having added the University of Colorado, still needs to become the Pac-10 (12) so it can have a lucrative championship game. Most reports say the University of Utah is the favored target and could be on board as soon as next year.

Meanwhile, the Big 12 (10) must deal with its diminished state and the loss of its championship game. Texas got what it wanted—the right to start its own network (All Texas All The Time?) and keep the money to itself. Could the Big 12 (10) get back to a dozen teams by luring former Southwest Conference partner Arkansas back from the Southeastern Conference, pluck the University of Houston from Conference USA, or even respond to an overture from a Memphis billionaire willing to buy the University of Memphis’ way into a power conference?

Food for thought. Maybe that’s how my waistline got this way.•


Benner is director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.


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