Big 10 expansion and Nebraska

Hello Cornhusker nation!  Over at the Ohio State SB website We Will Always Have Tempe, we've got a pretty good discussion going on about Big 10 expansion, and a dark horse candidate I've mentioned is Nebraska.  I'm just wondering what you guys think of that idea.  I realize it's not even on the horizon, or a possibility, but just idle speculation and something to ruminate about while we await the beginning of the 2009 season.  So, with that in mind, please enjoy (or fume and rip me, lol):

I’ve enjoyed reading the possibilities of who might become the mythical 12th team if the Big 10 were to, you know, jump into the 21st century and all, so I want to make my case for Nebraska.  I talked about my vision for realignment in an earlier post, and although the consensus seems to be that Notre Dame would be the logical fit, that doesn’t necessarily make it so.  At face value, getting an independent team to join a conference would seem to be easier than luring a team to leave one BCS conference for another, but there are a few things that make Nebraska a prime target of opportunity, if the Big 10 thinks outside of the box.   


Benefits for the Conference:


It’s freaking Nebraska, one of the most storied programs in college football, with rich tradition and history.  I’m all about living in the now, but there’s nothing wrong with respecting the past and honoring tradition.  It’s one of the things that make college football so special.  And Nebraska, with the Blackshirts, Tom Osborne, four national championships, and a rabid fan base every bit as passionate as what you’ll find in Columbus, fits the bill perfectly.  As for living in the now, they went through their own ‘Rich Rodriguez era’ with Bill Callahan, and have gone through the fire and come out on the other side with Bo Pelini (OSU alum, BTW), who guided them to a 10-4 record and a New Year’s Day Gator Bowl win over Clemson.


And oh by the way, the wrestling program is top notch, and would add to the Big 10’s dominance in that sport.  As far as basketball goes, it’s a mid-level program that last made an NCAA tournament appearance in 1998, but is consistently competitive.  Those would be nice additions to the conference, but make no mistake that if this overture were made it would be to attract the football program.


Monetarily, it’s a boon for both the conference and the school.  You add Nebraska to the Big 10, and the Big 10 Network gets another look from cable companies currently fighting about where to place them in their lineup, and you add an entire swath of the Midwest to the coverage area.  It means conference championship game, it means playing later in the season, and all that adds up to is money.  Nebraska in the Big 10 means more games on ESPN and ABC, as opposed to the Fox Sports Network, which helps national exposure and recruiting for the school and the conference.  Quick, name the last time you saw Nebraska on TV, other than a bowl game?


Drawbacks for the conference:


I can see the criticism coming fast and furious from all corners of the sports world, except maybe Fox…and the Big XII.  I can see Herbie, Corso, and Fowler lamenting that the Big 10 looked backward, not forward, in looking towards a new conference member; that the conference looked at a team based on past accomplishments, and not future capabilities, and that’s been the problem with the Big 10 for the last 10 years or so.  But if they’re adding a 12th team for a conference championship, they are looking forward, are they not? 


Academically, they would rank last in the Big 10 in the US News and World Report list of top colleges.  The top school, Northwestern, is ranked 12th.  The lowest ranked school is Iowa, ranked 66.  Nebraska?  Um, well…89.  Granted, it’s not Ivy League, but if the Big 10 wanted a 12th team to dominate the NCAA Intramural Chess Championships, they’d call MIT.  Call me crazy, but I don’t think that draws as well as football.


Will it Happen?


It’s a longshot, but not out of the realm of possibility.


A great point was brought up when looking at Missouri that a move from the Big XII to the Big 10 would be a lateral one at best.  For Missouri, I agree.  They have their rivalry with Kansas, and that’s a rivalry as intense as OSU-UM and as old as Minnesota-Wisconsin.  We just don’t know or care about it because it’s a rivalry we didn’t grow up around to appreciate.  Missouri won’t leave the Big 12 for that reason alone.  Nebraska, on the other hand, really has no loyalties or ties to the Big XII, because their rivalry died with the Big 8.  You could make an argument for Nebraska-Missouri, but is it really a rivalry if one team has won only six times since 1975?  You want to jump up and down and say Nebraska-Oklahoma, but that rivalry became all but forgotten when the Big 8 and SWC merged and the new Big XII placed them in separate divisions.  But it was, arguably, the greatest rivalry in college football for a generation, right up there with the 10 Year War.  The winner of the Nebraska-Oklahoma game almost always won the Big 8, and was on the short list for national championship talk, much like the OSU-UM game.  When the Big XII was formed, the thinking at the time could have been to put them in separate divisions because they’ll play each other every year in the conference championship, but how has that worked out?  Well, Texas has eclipsed Nebraska as Oklahoma’s arch rival, and Nebraska’s is…no one.  (As an aside, I think this is the primary example of why Ohio State and Michigan MUST stay in the same division if the conference does expand).


If you add Nebraska and you split the conference geographically, I would put Nebraska in the Great Plains (west) division with Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Illinois.  At first glance, Iowa jumps out as a natural, geographic rival which could easily supplant Missouri, and Wisconsin, along with the Hawkeyes, seem like the teams they will perennially contend with for the division crown.  While I doubt that will rise to the level of the old Oklahoma-Nebraska rivalry, it's a start.  And if they do align them in a division with OSU and/or Michigan, boom!  Instant rivalry.


The last thing I want to look at is the dynamics of the Big XII as it stands today.  Remember, the Big XII merged the Big 8 (midwest/northern schools) with four Texas schools from the Southwest Conference, and it was more a marriage of convenience that allowed them to go toe to toe with the SEC.  Old SWC member Arkansas bolted in 1990 for the SEC, and shortly after the SEC began their conference championship game.  The peace has been kept in the Big XII by rotating the conference championship game between the midwest (KC and St Louis) and Texas.  When the conference was formed, the headquarters took the old Big 8 office buildings and stayed in Kansas City, because most of the teams are closer geographically to KC.  In the last several years, the conference has taken a decidedly southern tack, with the conference headquarters moving to Dallas, and now there is a move afoot to relocate the conference championship game in Jerry Jones’ new billion dollar playground…in Texas.  This does not sit well with the football fans in Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, or Colorado.  The olive branch compromise that’s being floated is that if the football championship moves to Texas permanently, the basketball championship will move to Kansas City permanently.  That might soothe Kansas and Missouri fans, but Nebraska fans?  Basketball is nice filler between the bowl game and spring practice in Lincoln, and football has been and always will be king, which makes this plan unpopular in Cornhusker land.  Nebraska carried the torch for the Big XII in the early days, and now they seem to be an afterthought to the Texas teams and to Oklahoma.


On the surface Nebraska is ‘gettable’, and outside of Notre Dame this would be the best solution for the Big 10’s 12th team conundrum.

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