TERRE HAUTE —
The following scenario may or may not currently be playing out on a Big Ten campus as the conference considers expansion to 12 or perhaps 16 teams. Your mileage may vary:
Big Ten assistant athletic director: Sir, you have charged me with coming off with a coherent plan for you to take to the Big Ten brass in Chicago regarding Big Ten expansion. I think I’ve made the prudent choices.
Big Ten athletic director: Prudent? That’s not the pr-word I’m looking for. I’m thinking more along the lines of a pr-word that ends with -ofitable. But I’ll keep an open mind.
Assistant: OK, here goes. I say we go bold. Let’s add 16! But let’s do it sensibly. I’ve seen pundits suggest Rutgers, Syracuse, Texas … that’s just silly. How do they remotely fit with our tradition?
My choices? Notre Dame, Missouri, Nebraska, Pitt and West Virginia. All schools are within our geographic footprint. All have rabid fan bases. All of them, save Missouri, have football tradition. All of them, save Nebraska, have had their moments in basketball. It’s win-win!
(The athletic director grimaces and takes a moment to collect himself)
AD: You really haven’t thought this through have you? I’ll give you points for Notre Dame, but may God have mercy on your soul for the rest of those choices.
Assistant: Excuse me? I think it makes a lot of sense. We’ve got the right geographic and competitive balance …
AD: And the wrong markets! You know what I don’t see in Nebraska? A huge untapped cable television market.
You know what I do see in Pittsburgh? Homes that already have Big Ten Network. We’ve already got Pennsylvania locked up!
And, by God, if John Denver sang about it, I don’t want the Big Ten in it. Country roads might take you home in West Virginia, but they sure don’t take you to many cable TV subscribers.
Assistant: Cable TV?
AD: Do I need to spell this out for you? The Big Ten is expanding for two reasons: money to burn from a football championship game, but most importantly, market penetration for Big Ten Network. We can add any old team to get the football money, but to make the BIG money, we’ve got to get Big Ten Network into more homes.
I was worried about this, I was worried about your inability to think out of the box. Looks like I’ll have to propose my ideas instead.
Assistant (chastened): What would they be?
AD: Notre Dame? Of course. A program with a national following. The Fighting Irish will pry open some hesitant markets.
Then we grab Texas. Can you say Dallas and Houston TV markets?
Now get this. Yeah, Syracuse, Rutgers and even Connecticut have been brought up as expansion candidates, presumably to get in the New York market. That’s not good enough, so I’ll go one better.
St. John’s! Imagine the possibilities!
Assistant: Uh sir, St. John’s does not have football.
AD: So we’ll CREATE it for them. New York City doesn’t have college football. We need the New York market. We can make this happen! Once NYC gets a taste of Gerry DiNardo breaking down pigskin on Big Ten Network they won’t know what hit them. Red Storm football will be bigger than Alex Rodriguez.
Assistant: So you’re stopping at 14?
AD: Not on your life! If we’re going to start one football program, why not start three? And why let an ocean stop us? We can get the biggest rivalry in the world! Next to Ohio State-Michigan, of course.
Assistant: Which is?
AD: Cambridge and Oxford! There’s a ton of TVs in Europe, think of the untapped millions! All they watch is soccer, but what is Manchester United-Arsenal in the face of Cambridge-Oxford basketball? Or Northwestern-St. John’s football? New York vs. Chicago … on Big Ten Network! We’ll rule the world!
Assistant: Don’t you think this unbridled ambition is kind of absurd?
AD: Did you say something? I was busy counting the 73 million homes Big Ten Network has penetrated … so far.
Assistant: What about the practicalities? What about missed class time? What about our research arm? What about the burden it would place on non-revenue sports?
Assistant: Non-revenue sports. It makes no sense to send the Indiana track team to … ugh … Oxford … for a conference meet. It’s a waste of money at a time when university budgets are being slashed.
AD: Now you’re just being fatuous. Get this straight. Non-revenue sports exist for two reasons: Title IX compliance and network programming. Hey, those 5 a.m. Big Ten Network time slots don’t fill themselves. We can only replay Top 10 Fumble Recoveries Of The 1996 Fighting Illini so many times.
The non-revenue teams will go where we tell them to go. Plus, we can make ourselves look good with those cool network house ads, the ones that make it look like we care about gymnastics, crew and academics. Soft lighting, high-minded platitudes about going to class. People eat that up.
Assistant: Sir, with all due respect, are we even running a conference anymore? It sounds like we’re running a television network. And that doesn’t seem very conducive to our student athletes, our fans and our tradition.
The Big Ten is a Midwestern conference, beloved by Midwestern fans. Are fans going to accept Purdue-Syracuse, Minnesota-Texas, or Wisconsin-Rutgers conference games? Don’t we risk diluting a good thing?
Without getting too high-minded, we are a sacred trust. Aren’t there principles that are mightier than the almighty dollar?
AD: You’re fired.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.