With one simple statement the college football landscape is now on notice. The Big Ten Conference sent out a memo that the league is going to explore options regarding expansion of membership from 11 to 12 teams.
The conference last added a team (Penn State) in 1990. It explored expansion in 1993, 1998 and in 2003. Notre Dame officially turned down an invite in 1999.
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said the research regarding expansion will happen over the next 12 to 18 months. It won’t take long. He knows it and the members of the conference know it. The Big Ten is expanding. There is no way Delany would have sent out a release for no reason. It is more a position of not saying “we are about to raid another conference if Notre Dame turns us down again.”
So what does a bowl game between UCF and Rutgers have to do with the possibility of the Big Ten expanding? Good question.
For starters, who might the candidates be for a 12th team in the Big Ten? No Knight fans it’s not UCF. The list starts with Notre Dame, and who knows if the Irish might finally say yes, but the guess is they will stay independent in football and keep their network television deal. Who then comes after Notre Dame? Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights have heard the whispers for years that if the Big Ten was ready to expand they would be an ideal candidate. Why? For starters, Rutgers would deliver a huge presence in the New York area, the nation’s top media market in a conference made up of mostly Midwest schools.
Another reason Rutgers makes sense, and no disrespect to the Big East, is that other candidates would have a huge ripple effect on their conferences. Missouri makes sense geographically because of its proximity to Illinois. But it’s hard to imagine Mizzou bolting the Big 12.
In fact, you could argue, outside of Missouri and Notre Dame, the only other realistic candidates would come from… the Big East.
Aside from Rutgers, a case can be made for Pitt and Syracuse. Pitt is a natural rival for Penn State. Syracuse would deliver the upstate portion of New York.
The exploration of expansion by one of the BCS leagues will naturally lead to speculation about how it impacts everyone else. And let’s not kid ourselves, the Big East will be paying close attention to what the Big Ten has in mind. The league has already heard from its football coaches about the challenge of scheduling games in an eight team league. Even before the Big Ten’s announcement, the Big East has at least thought about their own version of expansion.
And so the rumor mill will begin to stir. Rutgers has been a solid Big East team in football since the last conference realignment took place. It might be more difficult for schools like Syracuse and Pitt to think about a move because of their basketball success in the Big East. But while the Big Ten explores, the Big East prepares, as does Conference USA, who may have a team or two that could be in position to be wanted.
Throw all that into a pot and perhaps Saturday’s game becomes a showcase for more than just a bowl trophy and a ninth win. Who knows who will be watching and who knows the long term effect of the outcome.
Source: Marc Daniels’ From the Press Box runs several times per month on UCFAthletics.com. Listen to Marc during UCF football, men’s basketball and baseball radio broadcasts on the UCF-ISP Sports Network. Each weekday, Marc hosts “The Beat of Sports” on ESPN 1080 in Orlando from 9-11 a.m.