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A college sports blog from The Oakland Press, dedicated to covering Michigan and Michigan State athletics as well as former Oakland County athletes at other schools.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Radio report: Big Ten set to offer invites

Citing sources close to the negotiations, a Missouri radio station — WHB (810-AM) in St. Louis — reports that the Big Ten is on the verge of extending invitations to four schools: Nebraska, Missouri, Rutgers and Notre Dame.

The Big Ten's intention to expand has been one of the top ongoing stories of the year in college sports and, given the depth and breadth of speculation on the topic, none of the schools named by the report's author, Kevin Kietzman, are remotely shocking. The timing is slightly curious, however, since the Big Ten's plans can't be finalized until the league's presidents and chancellors meet at the start of June.

While both Big 12 schools issued immediate responses, the dismissal from Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman of the validity of the report ("None whatsoever," he told the Lincoln Journal Star.) was much stronger than the response from Missouri.

Rutgers issued a press release from AD Tim Pernetti, saying "We are a proud member of the Big East Conference. It is not our place to speculate on any reports on the expansion plans of any other conference."

As per usual, Notre Dame refused to comment at all.

Assuming Kietzman's sources are right, adding all four would put the Big Ten at 15 schools, well within the range set out as possible by commissioner Jim Delany. But it would still leave the conference with an odd number of schools, and likely seeking one more addition to even out the numbers.

Here have been my thoughts all along:

If indeed the expansion is driven by football only, it's likely that the additions won't include either Missouri or Rutgers, despite the fact that those two schools would give the conference a way into the TV markets in St. Louis and New York. Missouri has had a small taste of success under former Toledo coach Gary Pinkel, but nothing that's been sustained. It's the same for Rutgers under Greg Schiano, despite the life he's breathed into that moribund program in Piscataway. (Heck, it even got him an offer of the U-M job, which he turned down).

Nebraska makes sense, because the Cornhuskers are — well, Big Red. Every bit as tradition-laden as Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. Despite its recent crash (thank you, Greg Robinson), the Syracuse program has a ton of tradition of its own — from Jim Brown and Ernie Davis to Donovan McNabb and Dwight Freeney. Then there's the bonus of the rock-solid basketball program.

The other three I'd keep an eye on are Pitt, Cincinnati and West Virginia. All three are competitive in the toughest conference in basketball, the Big East — arguably every bit as accomplished as Syracuse since Carmelo Anthony pulled his one-and-done act — and have been light years better on the gridiron lately.

While some have argued the Big Ten's intention to try to break into the New York market (and I'm not sure how Syracuse or Rutgers would pull that off, to be honest), maybe a more realistic plan would be to consolidate the conference's hold on the recruiting-rich states of Pennsylvania and Ohio — the closest thing the North has to the fertile recruiting grounds of southern states like Florida, Texas and Louisiana.

The addition of Penn State in the 1990s gave the Big Ten a foothold in Pennsylvania, and Pitt would not only finally give the Nittany Lions a natural in-conference rival, but would also lock up the western half of the state.

Follow that same logic with Cincinnati, which would give the Big Ten the top two programs in the state of Ohio, and a stranglehold on the BCS-level programs in the state (no offense to the MAC schools).

Sitting between those two additions — and mere miles from the borders of both Pennsylvania and Ohio — is West Virginia, the addition of which would cement the inclusion of its archrival, Pitt.

With the four additions from the Big East forming half of a new eight-team division, you could easily slide Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State in alongside. That would leave a western division of Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana and Purdue.

None of the traditional rivalries (with the exception of the Little Brown Jug) would be severed, and there wouldn't be any weird geographic anomalies. It would also perfectly set up an east/west showdown in a conference title game (like that's not the ENTIRE reason behind expansion).

Those eight-team divisions could even be further subdivided, if you wanted to go with semifinal games, as well:
Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin
Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue, Indiana
Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Cincinnati
Penn State, Pitt, West Virginia, Syracuse.

Obviously nothing's set in stone until the powers that be in the Big Ten agree on a plan, but that's just my idea for what they should do.

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