College sports aren't the biggest thing going in New York City, yet the metro area is able to support two franchises from the nation's absolute-richest sports league. It's been the holy grail of expansion, yet no one has really be able to say for sure if it's realistically attainable.
Big Ten expansion turned fully to the west this past week—perhaps where it's been all along—and it makes you wonder if the league has given up on New York altogether. Nebraska is by some accounts preparing their application papers.
[Update: Although still in the "unnamed source" stage—the headline of the original source still contains a question mark, remember—the Omaha World-Herald is saying Nebraska is days away from formally applying for membership in the Big Ten.]
Missouri, who has been mentioned during this whole process despite not bringing anything more than a partial share of Kansas City, is also mentioned in just about every expansion story as a front-runner.
Speaking of Missouri and Kansas City, defenders of the east will remind you that New York City's population is almost ten times bigger in population than the asset that is carrying Missouri along, a multiple reflected in the TV Households number:
Put another way: peanuts. Which makes you wonder: is New York City worth more consideration than it's getting? Can Penn State and Paterno's old friends deliver enough of the market to at least match a city Missouri has perhaps half of?
Well it depends on that group's ability to clear the Sports Package-to-Basic hurdle that makes the move successful. In many ways it's the most important question in the entire expansion process-you get the BTN into the major TV market and you blow all the other options out of the water*.
*Including, although it's hard to say for sure, the Texas deal: the only realistic option—which in adding at the very least Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and maybe even Baylor-makes the whole Texas expansion thing way less attractive, and perhaps even not worth the trouble. Texas would be a major net increase, and perhaps A&M could carry their weight with the help of games against some of the Big Ten's biggest players. However, taking that net gain and sharing it with two more schools likely negates the effect.
So who's still in play? Well Nebraska as a 12th member makes a lot of sense and probably takes up a spot when it's all said and done; they fit the geography, have some natural rivals, are a national brand, and besides aren't that happy in the Big XII. However that means less room for everyone else.
With less spots available, you have to rank the schools that fit academically by just one other criteria: their ability to help deliver New York City.
Pitt's Problem. So while eastern expansion has likely taken a back seat to moves out west, especially if Notre Dame stays on the sidelines, then no school is as expendable from the short list at Pitt.
While they have the location and academics to cut it, the east has to either deliver New York City or forget the Big Ten altogether. Pitt's ability to help achieve that goal is minimal at best—perhaps even ranking below a school like Nebraska—and that makes it hard to imagine them being included.
Getting New York City. Once again, this all hinges on Notre Dame. Penn State is your #1 result when searching for alumni associations in NYC, and the "Subway Alumni" are also a significant force. Add in the rest of the Big Ten's national brands, and do you even need an eastern school to carry the Big Apple? If the answer is "yes," will one do?
The Big Ten can afford to be patient, which is convenient. You take Nebraska, sit at 12 and get the benefits of a CCG for the time being, then one of three things happens:
- The Big XII becomes unstable and the six schools mentioned to be headed to the Pac-16 make that happen. Notre Dame gets nervous about being left out of a "rapidly changing" landscaped and joins the Big Ten. The conference now has added two national brands and has room for one more to make a serious run at New York City with four absolute national brands and one local one (likely Rutgers, perhaps Syracuse).
- The Pac-16 doesn't materialize, but no better option for the Big XII can be found. Texas and A&M are allowed to move to the Big Ten without a "Tech Problem" because no other league is willing to take
- Something else, to paraphrase Will Ferrell, that we don't even know about. A scatter-plot centered around Texas? A merger of the Mountain West's top teams and the rest of the Big XII? Unpredictable, really.
[Another Update: Reader Cario has a very well-done "Defending The West" post in the fanposts that serves as a great counterpoint to my argument for New York City.]