This post will be the first in a two-part series discussing the ramifications of the recent talk that Missouri could move to the Big 10 in the not-too-distant future.
As you've no doubt heard, the Big 10 has announced that it will explore the possibility of adding a twelfth school in the next 12 to 18 months. For a conference that clings to the past like dress pants to your leg on a dry winter day, this was big news. For the rest of the college sports world, this is also big news, because Big 10 expansion would likely lead to a chain reaction with far-reaching effects.
If Notre Dame is interested this time after turning down the Big 10 in 1999, and if the Big 10 is over that little rejection, then it stands to reason that the Fighting Irish would be the most likely addition. The Big 10 wanted ND before, and I doubt enough has changed that they wouldn't want them now. We'll discuss the situation surrounding Notre Dame in Part II.
It's big news to the Big 12, too, because it has long been known that Missouri has more than a passing interest in the Big 10. After it became known this week that the Big 10 was looking to expand, Mizzou officials released a statement saying they hadn't been contacted, but would consider the situation if they were. It wasn't just Missouri officials who were discussing the possibility. Several of SB Nation's Big 10 blogs hypothesized on who would be added, with most concluding that Missouri was most likely a candidate, and some others concluding that the Tigers make the most sense.
Given that Big 10 expansion could be the first domino to fall in a long chain, this raises a lot of questions for Missouri and the rest of the Big 12. This post will be dedicated to discussing and trying to answer those questions. For the sake of keeping these posts to manageable length, we're going to assume that the Big 10 is only going to add one school. Also, we're going to limit the discussion as much as possible to the more measurable factors, like money and academic prestige, rather than amorphous concepts like "ties" and "nostalgia" and "fan sentiment."
And for those of you who are a little more uninformed about that conference that hugs the Great Lakes, the title "Big 10" is a misnomer, as the conference actually contains 11 teams; thus, adding one would get them to the magical 12 that would make divisional play and a cash-grab conference championship game possible.
1. Why would Missouri jump to the Big 10?
When I've discussed this issue with others this week -- and it has been a frequent topic of conversation for me -- this is always the first question I am asked. The truth is that Missouri would have a lot of good reasons to move to the Big 10.
First, Big 10 athletics are much more lucrative than Big 12 athletics for the conference's member institutions. It's hard to know exactly how much money the Big 10 distributes to its member institutions each year because it doesn't release official figures, but we can at least get an estimate. This article from the Sports Business Journal shows that in 2006-07, the Big 10 distributed $154 million to its schools, or $14 million per school, because the Big 10 shares all athletic revenue equally. Obviously, that was two years ago, and did not include revenue from the Big 10 Network, which this article indicates was $6.1 million this year. As such, it doesn't seem like a stretch to believe Stewart Mandel when he estimates that the conference will distribute more than $22 million per school next season. Adjusting those numbers for the addition of a twelfth school, the conference would have distributed almost $12 million per school in 2006-07, and would distribute a little more than $20 million this year.
Now, compare that to Missouri and the Big 12. Last year, the Big 12 distributed $103 million to its schools, which would be $8.6 million per school if all revenue was shared equally. However, half of the Big 12's TV money is split based on number of TV appearances -- the more often you're on TV, the more money you get -- so Texas received $10.2 million, while Missouri took home $8.4 million. It's projected that the Big 12 will distribute $130 million to its schools for 2008-09, which would be $10.8 million per school if it was all distributed evenly. Specific school breakdowns were not available for this year's projected income, but if we keep the percentages the same, we can roughly estimate that Texas would receive $12.9 million, while Missouri would receive $10.6 million.
As you can see, Missouri would have at least 10 million reasons per year to leave the Big 12, and that's just if we're talking about revenue. However, there's more. The Big 10 is as much an academic conference as it is an athletic one. The academic arm of the Big 10, also known as the Committee on Institutional Cooperation ("CIC"), includes all of the athletic Big 10 schools, plus the University of Chicago, one of the most highly respected academic institutions in the country. From what I can tell, the CIC basically coordinates the activities of its member institutions. As I read the Big 10 blogs this week, it seemed to me that the CIC helps with coordinating research and providing unique academic opportunities to students at its member institutions, among other things. Make no mistake, for a school that is serious about "prestigious" academics, the CIC is a big deal. Missouri is just such an institution.
With that, I think we have provided enough information on why a school like Missouri, if offered membership in the Big 10, would give it more than passing consideration.
2. Does the Big 10 really want Missouri?
Obviously, I can't really answer this. Other than the Big 10 presidents, athletic directors, and conference commissioner Jim Delany, nobody has any idea at this point whether the Big 10 wants Missouri. As mentioned above, if the past is any indication, Notre Dame is probably the first target. It's not like there aren't other options, as schools such as Pitt, Syracuse, Rutgers, Maryland, and even other Big 12 schools such as Iowa State and Nebraska, have been mentioned. I'm not focusing on NU and ISU because a) I don't think they're particularly likely to be invited, and b) I don't think their loss would hurt the Big 12 as much as Missouri's would. More on that later.
SB Nation's blogs are managed by regular fans of each school who follow that school closely. Usually, they have a pretty good knowledge of what is going on in their school and conference. As such, I think it's illustrative that every Big 10 blog on SB Nation that I have seen discussing this issue considers Missouri a potential target. Some even consider them the obvious target. While the Big 10 has never expressed formal interest in MU, nor extended them an official invitation, there has been a long-standing belief among some Tigers that the Big 10 was the way to go, if an invitation ever materialized.
Taking everything into account, and being mindful that I have zero inside information, it would seem like Missouri would be near the top of any list of schools targeted for expansion.
3. What would happen to the Big 12 if Missouri did leave?
Among some fanbases in the conference, the answer seems to be "Who cares? We'll get someone else." Because Missouri has never been a dominant school in any sport, it's understandable that some take that approach. However, there's a lot more to this equation than prowess on the gridiron or hardcourt.
I bet every Big 12 fan can instantly name the largest state in this conference by population. Obviously, it's Texas and its 24 million residents. But I bet a lot of people would have to take a moment to answer the question "What is the second most-populous state in the Big 12?" The answer is Missouri and its six million inhabitants. The Show-Me State also contains the conference's best TV markets after Houston, Dallas and Denver, with St. Louis (No. 21 nationally) and Kansas City (No. 31).
In other words, if we lost Missouri, we would be out a state of six million people and a top-25 media market. St. Louis would cease to have any Big 12 identity, and Kansas City's identity as a Big 8/Big 12 town would be weakened, though KU commands a larger presence in KC than Mizzou.
Now, all that discussion of population and TV ignores the fact that, if the Big 12 desired to continue on, it would need to fill Mizzou's void with another school. Again, for the sake of brevity (yeah, right), we're going to assume that Mizzou's departure would not cause Texas to go independent, Colorado to jump to the Pac-10, and any of a million other scenarios that could happen.
The list of replacements for Missouri is not particularly enticing. In this area, I think we need to look primarily at schools that currently reside in conferences that do not receive an automatic BCS berth, as schools in other automatic-qualifier conferences are unlikely to jump to the Big 12 due to money and/or geography. Here's the list of possible replacements, along with a few pros and cons to each:
TCU: On the plus side, they've had a very good football program the last few years. But that's about all they have going for them. Texas Christian is a school of only 8,000 students in Fort Worth that couldn't even sell out its 40,000 seat stadium this year as its team made a run to the Fiesta Bowl. The basketball programs would be afterthoughts in the Big 12. Most importantly, it delivers nothing new in the way of a TV market. The Dallas/Fort Worth market is already owned by the Big 12, between Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor, and assorted alumni of other Big 12 schools.
Houston: Similar to TCU, the Coogs are on an upswing in football currently. While the men's basketball team is no powerhouse, they would be competent in the Big 12, and by "competent" I mean "they wouldn't lose by 25 in every game." Also, UH is a public university that's looking to reach Tier 1 status and might actually give us a little more penetration in the Houston TV market, a market that is divided between the Big 12 and the SEC, although I'm guessing we already have a pretty good hold on this market between UT and TAMU. However, Robertson Stadium at UH holds only 30,000, which would be by far the smallest stadium in the Big 12. Fan support at UH hasn't been great the last few years, even as the team improved. Also, I've heard that, as long as Tom Penders is the basketball coach at UH, Texas will adamantly oppose adding Houston to the Big 12.
Colorado State: With due respect to my good friend JSchwarz, absolutely not. The Rams are a middling MWC team in football and generally finish toward the bottom in basketball. As long as Colorado is in the conference, we have a solid footing in the Denver TV market, so CSU brings little TV attraction. Fort Collins is a nice town, but even that's not enough to make me interested in Colorado State.
Arkansas: I'll break my own rule that we won't discuss other automatic-qualifier-conference schools to acknowledge that there is a rampant Internet rumor that Arkansas is fed up with the SEC and might be interested in moving to the Big 12. Monetarily, it wouldn't make much sense, as the SEC distributed $135 million last year to its schools, meaning the average payout was $11.25 million. I have a hard time believing the Razorbacks would rank any higher than Missouri in the Big 12's distribution chain, meaning they'd be taking a $3 million paycut per year just based on last year's numbers. With the SEC's new TV deal, the league distribution is sure to increase going forward at a higher rate than the Big 12. The money difference isn't as big as it would be for Missouri, though, so maybe the pull of old rivalries with Texas and Texas A&M could pull the Hogs to the Big 12.
Now, would Arkansas adequately replace Missouri? Not really. The best TV market Arkansas delivers is Little Rock-Pine Bluff, which is only 56th nationally. In terms of overall population, Arkansas ranks just ahead of Kansas with 2.9 million residents. I like Fayetteville, and would enjoy road trips there, but Arkansas would be a downgrade for this conference compared to Missouri.
Utah: Now, we're getting to the schools that bring something to the table with respect to TV markets. Salt Lake City would be a comparable market to Kansas City. In overall population, Utah would again rank right there with Kansas, with about 2.8 million citizens. The Utes won a BCS bowl game last year and field a basketball team that would be competent in the Big 12. Now, that all ignores the giant elephant in the corner: geography. We already kind of consider Colorado "out there" in the Big 12, so I'm not sure what we'd think of Utah. It would be a real drain on travel costs to send the volleyball, women's basketball, baseball, and other non-revenue-generating sports out there. Again, the overriding point is that we would be better served to just keep Missouri rather than consider whether we could make Utah work.
BYU: See Utah.
Memphis: Like Utah/BYU, this would be a new TV market to the Big 12, although not quite as attractive as Salt Lake City, because Memphis is the No. 48 market in the country. Memphis isn't very good at football, and we don't know how they'll fare in basketball without John Calipari, but the basketball team already boasts somewhat of a national following. Again, the geography isn't great, bringing up the same concerns discussed with respect to Utah, but if we were to lose Missouri, it would be worth taking a look at these Tigers.
New Mexico: I'm sure some are laughing, but this would actually make as much sense as anyone else on this list. Geographically, it's a better fit than Utah/BYU. It brings in a top-50 TV market in Albuquerque-Santa Fe (No. 44). Athletically, the Lobos are nothing special, but they wouldn't be any worse than Baylor.
4. Could the Big 10 be interested in other Big 12 schools?
Sure. Nebraska and Iowa State probably technically fit the Big 10's academic profile, as both are members of the AAU and are fairly large state schools. It's not too far out in left field to think that the Big 10 may be interested in Texas, as just about any conference would welcome the TV sets the Longhorns control. However, I'm not going to discuss these at any length, because there are glaring reasons why the Big 10 may not be interested in these schools. First, Nebraska and Iowa State bring nothing to the table in terms of TV markets. Des Moines (No. 71) is the best TV market in Iowa, and I'm sure the Hawkeyes already deliver that one pretty well. Omaha ranks slightly lower at No. 76, and Nebraska is the smallest state in the Big 12 by population with about 1.8 million residents. I know the Huskers have somewhat of a national following, but those fans aren't sufficiently concentrated anywhere to deliver another TV market.
With respect to Texas, geography concerns and regional pride really get in the way. Austin is pretty far south in Texas, and in case you had forgotten, Texas is really big. It's a long way from Austin to all those other "Not Texas" states, especially Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. Even with a mammoth budget, that's still a drain on travel costs for the non-revenue sports. Again, I wouldn't rule out Texas, but this would be such a leap for such a conservative conference that I'll wait to discuss this at greater length until I hear more concrete talk that the Big 10 is interested in the Longhorns.
Thus concludes Part I. Stay tuned for Part II, where we'll discuss Notre Dame, what the Big 12 can and should do to try and keep Missouri, whether this is a conspiracy by the Big 10, the amorphous concepts like "ties" and "nostalgia" and "fan sentiment," and what this could mean for K-State.