Leading up the National Championship Game (which Texas sadly lost despite about as good of an effort that you could’ve expected from redshirt freshman quarterback Garrett Gilbert having to replace injured starter Colt McCoy in the first quarter), the original Big Ten Expansion Index post and its first follow-up somehow exploded over message boards and blogs over the past few days. So, I’d like to address a few overarching issues that particular fan bases have brought up and, most importantly, what Texas alums and fans actually think about this (and if those Longhorns supporters are indicative of what that school’s fan base overall believes, then fans of other Big 12 schools are VERY far off on how Texas is approaching this expansion cycle and they better hope their schools are engaging in some CYA of their own). Obviously, you can only take so much from blogs and message boards since you’ll get a lot of extreme comments, but it’s been fascinating to review the general views and themes that I’ve been seeing from various fan bases. Once again, I’ll need to put off the additional analysis of other expansion candidates since there’s a whole lot to chew on already.
There’s one issue that I wanted to clear up immediately – a lot of people have questioned my statement that there isn’t any rule that all Big Ten states must be contiguous. Here is confirmation from an official Big Ten spokesman that there is absolutely no such geographic rule and he also confirms that AAU membership isn’t an outright requirement. While I believe as a practical matter that the lack of AAU membership is really geared toward allowing an exception for the non-AAU member of Notre Dame (and no one else), I really hope that it gets hammered home that there is no rule whatsoever in the Big Ten charter about geography and conference states having to touch each other. As I originally stated, that rule is purely an Internet urban legend. Now that we’ve put that to bed, let’s get to my observations on how the sports message board community is responding to the Big Ten Expansion Index:
1. Big Ten fans love it – I haven’t come across a single overall fan base that wouldn’t be absolutely ecstatic to see Texas in the conference. The geographic issues seem to be irrelevant when it comes to a school of the stature of Texas. In particular, Penn State fans have generally been extremely supportive of the prospect of the move (see Blue White Illustrated, Penn Live and Penn State Hoops as some examples) which was the main fan base that I was interested in feedback from since there has long been the perception that they want an Eastern travel partner like Syracuse or Rutgers. That perception has turned out the be erroneous – while they might wonder what a school like Missouri would do for them, they are extremely knowledgeable about what Texas would bring to the Big Ten and would be gung-ho about it. Please also see thoughts from Ohio State (edit: lots of Buckeye fans have jumped on this – here’s another example that includes conversations with Texas alums), Iowa, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Michigan fans. Simply put, the Big Ten fan bases generally have little concern about where Texas is located. Of course, there is healthy skepticism as to whether it could ever be pulled off.
2. Rutgers fans don’t like it and think that I overrated Syracuse – This Rutgers message board was really the one that started the avalanche of visitors. I started to engage a number of the posters on that board, yet with all of the new comments on my blog post itself coming through, I had to stop the discussion on my end. The main thrust of the Rutgers supporter argument is that Syracuse doesn’t really deliver the New York City market and even if Rutgers can’t deliver the entire New York DMA, it can at least provide the New Jersey portion, which is valuable in and of itself. That’s a compelling argument, yet I’m still skeptical that Rutgers can deliver even just New Jersey, much less the entire Tri-State area. I might be wrong on this and I’m sure this is an issue that the Big Ten will examine closely over the next 12-18 months. Regardless, I believe my skepticism is valid and it’s why I gave Rutgers a relatively low TV Market Value score despite its great location on paper. Until there is proof that Rutgers can truly deliver its home market (and not just be located in it), that school is an open question mark.
4. Missouri fans don’t like it and think that I overrated Nebraska – The general public has long talked about Missouri as one of the front-runners to join the Big Ten, so they certainly didn’t like being ranked below two of their conference-mates, especially Nebraska. Mizzou fans have a valid point that Nebraska may not meet the academic qualifications, which is something that I acknowledged when I stated in the original post that I was giving the Cornhuskers “the benefit of the doubt” on that front. I would not be surprised at all if Nebraska got nixed automatically by the Big Ten on academic grounds, yet it’s arguable that the school’s AAU membership will still carry some weight. The Missouri fans also expressed something in common among Big 12 fans outside of Longhorns fans…
5. Non-Texas Big 12 fans are convinced that Texas won’t ever want to leave the Big 12 – Please see the message boards from Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado and, of course, Texas A&M virtually all expressing the same strain of thought. To them, Texas wouldn’t want to (a) go “play in the snow” in Big Ten country, (b) leave their rivals of Texas A&M and Oklahoma, (c) incur massive backlash from the Longhorns fan base and major donors, (d) deal with the political heat in the state of Texas if they were to leave, and, most importantly and by far the biggest reason, (e) ever give up the “control” of the Big 12 that they now have. As we’ll see from the general feedback from Longhorns fans, only one of the thoughts has really crossed their minds at all on this issue, but we’ll get to that in a moment,
6. Other fans think that I’ve been ingesting some strong peyote for even suggesting this – Taking a look at boards from LSU, Virginia, the Rivals national college football site and, as we’ll always have to deal with regarding Big Ten expansion, Notre Dame, the thought of Texas going to the Big Ten is so foreign and ridiculous that no financial and academic reasons could rationally support it. From their perspective, I should’ve just thrown out that the Big Ten should invite USC and Florida, too, with such a low likelihood. To be fair, the original posters on these threads typically enjoyed my blog post or at least acknowledged that it was an interesting take, where it was then shot down by others like Sonny Corleone at a toll booth.
So, let’s take a look at the people that actually matter in this discussion, which are the Texas alums and fans…
7. Texas fans are more open to this than I could’ve ever possibly imagined – When I wrote the original Big Ten Expansion Index post, I had a feeling that it would appeal to the financially and academically-minded people that understood the massive differences in revenue between the Big Ten and Big 12, the inherent instability within the Big 12 and the academic benefits of the CIC. What I didn’t know, however, was how the “average sports fan” at Texas that I referred to so much in that post would take this suggestion. I could list out all of the financial and academic advantages to Notre Dame fans, yet I was certain they would be steadfast in having an immediate rejection of any thought of joining the Big Ten. Would Texas fans be the same way?
Well, the feedback that I’ve received from Texas alums and fans has been absolutely astounding, especially when so many have taken the time to review my blog posts when what I would’ve been doing if I was in their position was to look at national championship game stories for days on end. Please take a look at the following Texas message boards discussing my blog posts at HornsFans and OrangeBloods (subscription required), the comments from my previous two posts, and as these two Barking Carnival posts here and here about the prospect of Texas switching conferences that were written before I had created the Big Ten Expansion Index (so those were organically and separately discussed by Texas fans without my index being a catalyst). As you’ll see, there was certainly a good number of people opposed to the idea. There were concerns about the effect on non-revenue sports, particularly baseball, where Texas has a power program. Some people expressed a preference for going to the Pac-10 or even becoming an independent like Notre Dame. Recruiting could possibly a factor if there are more road games played outside of Texas. Finally, there was the important topic about whether it would be politically feasible in the state of Texas for the school to make the move to the Big Ten.
However, the overarching message was very clear to me: Texas fans have virtually no emotional attachment whatsoever to the Big 12 and the alumni are more than willing to seriously listen to the Big Ten. There was nary a mention about supposed Texas control of the Big 12 nor was there much of a concern of having to play their rivals of Texas A&M and Oklahoma in the non-conference schedule. Having been through the Southwestern Conference implosion of the 1990s, they are very aware that there are inherent problems in the Big 12, such as the poor TV contract, that will be almost impossible to rectify because of the small TV markets that conference has outside of Texas and they are determined not to be in that situation again. In fact, it is almost the antithesis of the Notre Dame situation. Whereas the general public seems to think Notre Dame should join a conference, the Notre Dame alums reflexively reject that notion. In contrast, the general public appears convinced that Texas would never leave the Big 12, yet a strong contingent of Texas alums have stated upfront that they have no qualms about leaving that conference.
Note that these views didn’t come from a SharePoint-hosted discussion forum from the McCombs MBA program. These are comments from sports fans on general purpose and widely read Texas Longhorns message boards who you would think would be the very first ones to say, “NFW R WE GONNA LEAVE THE BIG XII CUZ BIG TELEVEN FOOTBALL IS SLOOOW AND SUX AZZ!!!” So, if fans like these who are more likely to make comments based on emotion are willing to consider moving to the Big Ten, then you cannot discount the accountants in the athletic department that know that they would receive nearly twice the TV money in the worst case scenario, the faculty that would relish access to CIC research funding, and the administrators at the university that need to balance the financial budget and the interests between sports and academics being extremely interested in a conference move, as well.
The intertwined issues of Texas state politics and what happens to Texas A&M were cited as the single greatest obstacles for Texas in joining the Big Ten. It would be interesting if what Longhorn Lawyer noted in his comment on my initial index post about making sure that “Texas A&M is taken” care of would mean that, perhaps, the Aggies could head over to the Pac-10 along with that conference’s long-time rumored target of Colorado and turn the West Coast league into its own extremely strong 12-school offering. I’ll have to amend my 99.99999% probability figure that the Big Ten would not go past 12 schools down to about 95% to allow for the possibility that even if the conference’s revenue needs to be split among 14 schools, getting Texas might be so valuable that if it means that the conference also needs to take A&M (which is a pretty valuable school in and of itself), then it’s more than worth it (as Trashtalk Superstar noted in his own comment). Add on, say, Syracuse to the Big Ten to kick it up to 14 schools and now you’ve added both the states of Texas and New York to the Big Ten footprint and pretty much as close to a national conference as you can get. I still think that the Big Ten would much prefer simply adding Texas to keep the conference tight-knit at 12 schools (since most of the gains in that 14-team conference could be achieved by adding only Texas only), so that’s really only a very last resort.
Regardless, here are the real takeaways that I want you to have from these discussions are the following:
A. Remember the Methodology – The way I assigned values to various schools can be endlessly debated, which is more than understandable. However, the use of the methodology itself is really what I’m aiming for people to internalize. When you talk about Big Ten expansion, remember to think like a university president and not like a sports fan, 11 + 1 = 13, and put academics, new TV markets and football brand value at the very top of the list in terms of criteria.
B. Texas is Legitimately Willing to Leave the Big 12 – Maybe the whole Texas to the Big Ten scenario isn’t likely and political obstacles will get in the way. However, this whole discussion has proven to me that, at the very least, Texas is definitely willing to leave the Big 12 and, as such, would consider a Big Ten invitation extremely seriously. This means that I’m not setting forth a completely pie-in-the-sky dream scenario for the Big Ten, as a whole lot of people that aren’t associated with Texas have suggested. Instead, this is a potential move that is certainly a possibility that would radically alter the college sports landscape. As a result, it behoove the Big Ten to put effectively all of its efforts into luring the people in Austin (meaning both the university officials and, more importantly, the people in the state capitol). Maybe Texas can take a whole lot more trips to Pasadena in the future.
(Image from USA Today)