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Big Ten Expansion?

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It's been almost a decade since the Big Ten made a push to persuade Notre Dame to join the conference. With the new Big Ten Channel about to launch, Jim Delany is back to thinking about expansion again to get his new network on television in some new markets. This time it sounds serious.

The creation of the Big Ten Network means conference officials likely will discuss expansion again, Commissioner Jim Delany said Wednesday.
"I think we need to look at it in the next year," he said during a wide-ranging interview with Register reporters.

Adding a 12th team likely will be revisited because of the network, which is scheduled to launch Aug. 30, Delany said. An additional big-name university in a large television market means more exposure for the network and its sponsors.

"It changes to some extent how you think about it," Delany said of expansion. "The broader (the network) is distributed, the more value (expansion) has.

"We have eight states. With expansion, you could have nine."

Then in a statement that wreaks of an off-the-record suggestion, the Des Moines Register drops the bombshell that will fuel the speculation.

Rutgers and Syracuse could be universities at whom the Big Ten looks.

These aren't terrible choices. I mean, they're better than Temple or Akron, but they wouldn't be my first choices. For the record, here are my choices in order.

1. Notre Dame - The Big Ten needs to make another push to bring the Fighting Irish into the conference. It's a no brainer for the Big Ten. Bringing in a high profile team like the Irish would instantly elevate the entire conference to a whole new level. And their acedemics, which is a very big deal in the Big Ten, would fit in perfectly.

Now before you Notre Dame fans scoff and click the back button consider a few things. The deal with NBC runs out in 2010 and there is no guarantee the network television cash cow will be around forever. NBC runs a business and they are all about making money. With NFL, NBA, and NASCAR television contracts going up Notre Dame is one budget cut away from losing their position as the Haliburton of college football. If NBC has to choose between keeping the NFL and NBA or keeping Notre Dame, I would not feel comfortable about that if I were the Irish.

Currently Notre Dame gets $9 million per year from NBC for the rights to broadcast their home football games. I've seen projections that the Big Ten Network will bring in $5-$7 Million for each school's athletic department. Adding Notre Dame would bring in the type of national exposure the Network needs to convince Comcast to put it on the basic cable plan. This would mean the projected revenue would be closer to the $7 million or higher. Add to this the security of the bowl game revenue sharing and it makes sense financially for Notre Dame to join the conference. Losing the NBC deal and failure to make a BCS bowl will certainly mean disaster for their entire athletic program.

The Big Ten should approach Notre Dame first and Notre Dame would be wise to consider it. It may be now or never for the Irish. If the Big Ten adds another school they will most likely not come around asking again.

2. Pitt - This isn't the smartest choice for the Big Ten, but then this is my wish list. For all the crap I give Pitt around here, I want to see this rivalry played every year. Everyone does. Adding Pitt makes that happen.

But this doesn't jive with Delany's wish to expand the market for his new network. If it's true he has an eye on the New York market, Pitt isn't going to work.

3. Rutgers - If we can't get Pitt, the Scarlet Knights would provide instant rival material for the Nittany Lions. It could be a pretty one sided rival, especially if Greg Schiano left the program for another job and they went back to their losing ways. But geographically it would be a natural fit for Penn State. The big advantage for the conference adding Rutgers would be expansion into the New Jersey and New York markets, which I'm not so sure about. New York is a professional town. Not a college town. While New Jersey would be a great recruiting ground for the conference, New York and New England are traditionally not high on talent.

4. Syracuse - Would basically serve the same purpose as Rutgers from the Penn State point of view. While Syracuse has a much better tradition than Rutgers, they aren't the sexy pick right now. Rutgers is an up and coming program while Syracuse has struggled in recent years. Plus the Carrier Dome is just antiquated and boring.

Longshots - West Virginia and Louisville. Each would help branch the Big Ten into a new state, and West Virginia would serve as a decent PSU rival. But the markets there are small and not exactly what Delany is looking for with his new network.

Should be fun to follow and debate over the next year.