With all the talk of college conference reformations and super powers, it’s time for the Big Ten to do two things.
First, change its name.
The Big Ten is a symbol of where the conference has been, not where it is going. And we all know in due time it is going to become a 16-team conference right alongside the Southeastern Conference and the Pac-12 (soon to be 16).
If the Big Ten wants to compete in the two most important revenue sports—men’s basketball and football—and grow its lucrative Big Ten Network along the way, conference officials know they must grow the league.
In this ultra-competitive landscape for recruits, sponsors, donors and broadcast partners, the Big Ten can’t afford to stand pat. That means they need to grow beyond its current 12-school roster. And in the midst of all this change, keeping the Big Ten moniker just looks silly.
It’s time to lose the name, and while they’re at it, they need to lose all references to the number of schools in the conference, since that will likely be changing in the near-term. And at this point, who really knows what’s going to happen in the long-term.
If the Big Ten doesn’t take some deft action, it is going to find itself far behind in the arms race that is college athletics.
Which brings me to the next thing the Big Ten needs to do. Put the squeeze on Notre Dame.
If the Big Ten is going to be one of the true super conferences, it needs one more power in football and basketball. Throw in its academic prowess national draw, and Notre Dame quickly becomes the school the Big Ten has to have.
Just how to lure Notre Dame to the Big Ten is another matter. That’s where squeezing comes into play.
There are two financial points worth making here. First, people love to bring up Notre Dame’s TV contract—it’s too lucrative for ND’s football program not to be independent, and they’ll never share that NBC TV contract.
Rubbish. Most if not all the Big Ten schools will make more in the long run through the Big Ten Network than ND will make through its NBC contract. I chronicled those numbers in a previous blog post.
And the Big Ten Network would become a lot fatter cash cow if ND were in the barn with the rest of the Big Ten stock. Obviously ND’s non-football programs would be much better off in the Big Ten than the Big East.
In the short-term, the Big Ten should allow ND to keep its NBC money. Then when that contract expires, some kind of split should be worked out if NBC still wants to air Irish football games.
Here’s where the squeeze comes in. Notre Dame needs Big Ten as bad as the Big Ten needs Notre Dame. The only reason the Irish can exist as an independent is because the likes of Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue keep scheduling high-profile out-of-conference football games against them.
Stop it. The Big Ten needs to flat out boycott all Notre Dame sports, especially football. The Big Ten—and all of its schools—need to take a stand; either you’re with us or you’re against us.
Because here’s the deal. Football is the biggest money maker of all. And if these super conferences spurn the NCAA and start their own playoff system, the potential revenue from that line becomes even greater.
In that scenario, it’s important for the Big Ten to be able to stand toe-to-toe with any rival conference. Right now, the conference is chasing the SEC. For those numbers, stay tuned to a near future print issue of IBJ. The Pac-12 is poised to move up the food chain.
Texas A&M will soon make the leap to the SEC, fortifying their already substantial ranks. The Pac-12 is eyeing Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech.
The serious courtship is underway. And for all the talk about the Big Ten adding Missouri, Rutgers and who knows who else, there’s only one partner the conference can’t afford not to land.
It's time the Big Ten uses a little tough love to invite Notre Dame into the family. If that doesn't work, a squeeze may be more appropriate.