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Tim Hyland

Could Big Ten Expansion Create the First College Football Playoff?

By April 30, 2010

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So maybe all of you college football playoff supporters are going to get your wish after all--courtesy of your friend and mine, the great Jim Delany, commissioner of the Big Ten, and the most powerful man in college sports.

On Thursday, Rivals.com/Yahoo college football writer Tom Dienhart posted via his Twitter account that the latest "buzz" about Big Ten expansion had the league expanding with five teams--Syracuse, Pitt, Rutgers, Missouri and Nebraska. That news was interesting in its own right (I mean, let's face it: grabbing Nebraska would be an absolute coup for the Big Ten). But then Dienhart added an even more interesting tibidt: That upon adding those five teams, the Big Ten would then split up not into two divisions (as the Big 12, SEC and ACC have) but rather four divisions.

Yes, four divisions.

Those divisions would break down as follows (the names are mine):

The Extremely Cold Division: Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota

The Division Ohio State Will Win Every Year: Ohio State, Purdue, Indiana, Illinois/Northwestern

The 'Hey, Remember the Big 8?' Division: Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois/Northwestern

The Big East: Penn State, Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse.

My reaction to this potential alignment?

Simple, folks.

I think this would be awesome. Almost incomprehensibly awesome. And you know what? I think it actually has a chance of happening.

We have been hearing for months now that, if and when Delany makes his move, he's going to make a big move. He hasn't come right out and said it, but you can tell, folks: With this expansion, Delany aims to not only make the Big Ten rich beyond all belief, but utterly change the entire college football landscape as well. A 16-team, four-division behemoth would certainly accomplish both of those goals.

Let's start with the obvious benefits of this plan. Yes, adding five teams--two to the West, three to the East--would dramatically expand the Big Ten's footprint and, by extension, provide millions upon millions of new viewers for the ultra-lucrative Big Ten network. Yes, poaching a traditional power such as Nebraska would enhance the league's football reputation. And yes, becoming college football's first super-conference would instantly make the Big Ten the most talked about, most marketable and most important league in the nation.

But there's more, folks. A lot more. Like ... the playoff issue.

Take a look at that four-division format. I mean, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that such an alignment would not lend itself to SEC/ACC/Big 12 championship game format.

But do you know what it does lend itself to?

A four-team playoff.

Yes, that's right, folks. The Big Ten just might be on the cusp of creating the first-ever and long-awaited college football playoff system. It's just nobody else but Big Ten teams will be invited.

Every discussion about Big Ten expansion, of course, begins and ends with the subject of money. Money is why the Big Ten wants to expand. Money is why the Big Ten can expand. Money is what the Big Ten wants when it finally does expand. And let's face it, a four-team Big Ten playoff in December would make a ton of money.

Think, for a moment, about college basketball's conference tournaments. Think, specifically, about the bonanza that is the Big East Tournament up in New York City. In many ways, that tournament is meaningless--certainly, Big East teams want to win the league tourney, but at the end of the day, the national championship is the real prize--and yet even still, it is an absolute joy to watch, each and every year. Teams play their hearts out. Fans tune in on ESPN and pack Madison Square Garden. It has become one of the signature events of the sports calendar.

But the thing is, the Big East Tournament didn't always exist. In fact, it's only been around since 1980. College basketball was around before the Big East tournament, and college basketball was good before the Big East Tournament. But now college basketball has the Big East Tournament, and college basketball is better for it.

Now, back to football.

College football, of course, has never had a 16-team super-conference. College football has never had a playoff of any kind. And college football has certainly never had anything like the Big East hoops tournament.

But maybe that's about to change--and maybe, as a result, college football is about to become so much better than we ever could have imagined.

Photo: Missouri and Nebraska to the Big Ten? Sure, why not? They've certainly got Big Ten weather. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Follow me on Twitter: @timhyland.


April 30, 2010 at 2:39 pm
(1) Sick of this bunk says:

Who’s in? Who’s out? It changes every week! And it’s getting to be almost as annoying as politics.

So how would this “playoff” work? Shorten the season by 2 weeks? Kill the 12th game and extend it a week? I can’t see the presidents of these prestigious academic institutions getting behind any shift that lengthens the regular season.

And what kind of “conference” do you have when your team only plays the other guys every 5 years? Assuming they still play a couple out-of-conference games each year, assuming they play their division rivals every year, and they have to play home-away back to back with the other division teams, it could be 5 years in between conference match-ups. Hardly a good strategy for building rivalries and tradition.

And perhaps the most glaring problem with this plan: Michigan and Ohio State are in separate divisions. Would a special exception need to be made so they play each other every year? Those schools would play Nebraska and Penn State, etc. even less often in that scenario. Would they also get assigned an other-division annual “rivalry” game? Land Grant Trophy, Act II – exciting.

Bottom line – this is a bunch of bunk. And frankly, I don’t see how adding Rutgers, Syracuse and Pitt will make the Big 10 any more competitive against the superconference that is the SEC. You keep adding teams; we’ll keep winning national championships.

April 30, 2010 at 5:25 pm
(2) Domocato says:

I think it would be awesome. I don’t think it goes far enough I would add nine teams and have 4 five team divisions. We could add ND and and I’m sure we could find 4 others beside the mentioned teams. Maybe even steal a SEC team, Kentucky maybe. The Big Ten will rule college sports. ##@@$ the SEC!
Go Blue!

April 30, 2010 at 5:35 pm
(3) Griz says:

“College football, of course, has never had a 16-team super-conference.”

Yes, it has. That conference (the WAC) broke in two (WAC and MWC) and both are still alive today.

April 30, 2010 at 6:07 pm
(4) James says:

Griz, the WAC was no a super conference. It was like a bloated conference usa. He is talking about a conference with legitimate teams reaching 16 for football. I think this is a great idea. Let’s get this 16 team conference going.

May 1, 2010 at 6:18 am
(5) Xevi says:

The Big Ten is NOT worried about winning national championships. Each school in the SEC makes 17 MILLION each year and each school in the Big Ten makes 22 MILLION each year.

Winning the National Championship is something the teams worry about but not something the conference commissioners worry about.

The Big Ten’s last two national championships were Ohio State (football 2002) and Michigan State (basketball 2000).

However, there have been many runners-up in both sports during this time period.

Indiana, Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan State (2002, 2005, 2007, 2009 in basketball).

Ohio State (2007, 2008 in football). In 2007, Ohio State and Michigan played a “playoff” game for a spot in the championship game since both teams were 11-0 before kickoff.

Despite this “lack” of success the Big Ten conference has the power and wealth to send two conferences back to the STONE AGE (Big XII and Big East) should they so desire.

The Big Ten was the first conference to use instant replay (you’re welcome).

The SEC was the first conference to have a championship game (thank you).

In 1993, the Big Ten brought in INDEPENDENT Penn State.

Hmmmmm I wonder who the new team will be?

May 1, 2010 at 8:30 pm
(6) D-Coach says:

This is a great!! Notre Dame should join the big ten. However they couldn’t win year in and year out. Hell they cant do that now, and they have a weak schedule.The Big Ten sure is gonna be the talk of the off season.

May 2, 2010 at 2:45 pm
(7) Let's Go Pitt says:

Pitt was 10-3 last year and getting better. We beat Iowa the year previously. Don’t think we’re going to be a Big Ten door mat!

May 2, 2010 at 3:37 pm
(8) We Are Penn State says:

This just sounds way to far fetched. However, I certainly would love it. I recall as a kid going to the Pitt v PSU games and the atmosphere was unmatched. Also visiting the CF HOF and the Pitt v PSU was hailed as a top 10 all time rivalry. I think that we can get that back if Pitt were to join the Big Ten. Face it… we want OSU and Mich as rivals, but they have each other. And the Land Grant Trophy just doesn’t do it.

Also, I think it would prompt PSU to grow our basketball program. Home and Home matchups with Pitt and Syracuse would force the issue. PSU is content as a Football power, but bringing eastern rivalries back to basketball would demand that PSU step it up. The NCAA tournament is a great thing, but you would never know it around Happy Valley. I want PSU to be a part of it the way Pitt, Syracuse, MSU… are every year.

I say, bring this on… but… fat chance I’m sure.

May 8, 2010 at 4:48 am
(9) Husker2112 says:

I am really looking forward to the era of the superconference! As a lifelong fan of a Nebraska program that is on the rise I think that the Big Ten would be just what the doctor ordered for the University of Nebraska. Nebraska doesn’t have the big TV market but it certainly does have an enormous and far reaching fan-base. The school is a state run research university and would be poised to both contribute to research in the Big Ten and greatly benefit from membership academically, furthermore the university stands to make much more money and I love the idea of being able to see my Huskers on TV through the entire season.

That said, while I think 16 teams will happen and there will be 4 subdivisions, I’m thinking that it will be arranged a little differently then the way that was described. Check out the frankthetank blog for more details but in short the 4 subdivisions would combine to make 2 rotating divisions. It would be a six year cycle that would go something like this, north/east v. South/west for two years, North/West v. South/east for two years then North/South v. East/West for two years and on it would rotate. They would do an 8 game conference season, you would play every team in your “subdivision” every year then you play all the teams in the subdivision you are paired with that season then on top of it each team plays a cross divisional rival every year as well. If you are all ready scheduled to play the cross-divisional rival because you and your rivals subdivision are merged there will be an additional game scheduled with the other teams that would otherwise have a redudancy.
I think this system would be vastly superior to anything the current big conferences having going on any way, it’s pretty exciting if you ask me.

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