“If you’re going to struggle in the Big 12, you might as well struggle in the SEC.” While Steve Spurrier’s words following the news of Texas torpedoing the Big 12 are hilariously true, the end result of the Longhorns and Sooners departures leaves fans of the so-called Remaining Eight wondering, “what next?”
While the Remaining Eight institutions are publicly saying that the Big 12 will stick together and forge a path onward, Kansas fans - and hopefully the University’s leadership - are (rightfully) eyeing the Big 10. And while you can make all the KU football jokes you want, you cannot tell me with a straight face that Maryland and Rutgers gave the Big 10 anything in either football or men’s basketball when they joined in 2014. (That expansion decision still puzzles me.)
The Big 10 currently sits at 14 members. It would likely add schools in pairs if it is going to expand again. If KU were to go, who would come in with the Jayhawks? Iowa State or West Virginia both make logical, geographic sense. Both bring solid football and consistent basketball programs.
The problem is, the Big 10 clearly puts a premium on its academic prestige; this helps explain the addition of Rutgers and Maryland. In fact, all of the conference members except Nebraska are current AAU members, although anyone will tell you that Nebraska had that accreditation when they were admitted back in 2011.
Kansas is an AAU school. So is Iowa State. West Virginia, however, is not.
But in the end, this all boils down to money, does it not? The rage these days is the “16-team superconference.” However, once again, I’m here to tell the people making all these big-money decisions - you aren’t thinking big enough.
Back in 1998, the BCS, essentially a 2-team playoff, was conceived and implemented by people not thinking big enough. It was finally expanded to four teams for the 2014 season. And now just two months ago, the College Football Playoff board recommended another expansion to 12 teams. That’s better, but come on guys. 16 or 24 teams, like FCS or D2, is where you need to go. It would have much more of a March Madness feel, and the money would be off the charts.
But I digress. That’s another discussion for another day.
Back to realignment. I’m thinking 18 teams, for a very simple reason - it evens out football scheduling. An 18-team conference, split into two 9-team divisions, gives you four home conference games, four away conference games, and four nonconference games. Then it’s easy to have a conference championship game, and the best part is, you’re guaranteed it’s not a rematch. It’s just always bugged me that Kansas (and all Big 12 teams) have always alternated years with an odd number of home conference games versus road conference games.
For basketball, it’s not so bad either. In fact, I would argue the schedule gets better and even more compelling, as you’d be playing more conference games. In 2019-20, KU played 18 conference basketball games and 13 nonconference games, for 31 total regular season matchups. It was the same for the 2018-19 season. In an 18-team league, if you played your division opponents home and away, and played the 9 teams on the other side once, that gives you 25 conference games. (Although you do have the odd number of home/away games alternating every year, that’s not as big of a deal in basketball.)
Anyway, that leaves you six noncon games. You can still have your conference challenge, or your Maui Invitational, or your Champions Classic, or whatever. It’s just a matter of thinking bigger, for both football and basketball.
So, just spitballing here, what might an 18-team Big 10 look like?
West: KU, KSU, ISU, Iowa, Neb, Minn, Wisc, NW, Illinois
East: IU, Purdue, Mich, MSU, OSU, PSU, Mary, Rut, WV
Sign me up!
To me, this (or even a 16-team Big 10) is the best spot for KU to be in four years from now. I’m not interested in merging with the Pac-Whatever, and I’m definitely not interested in going to the AAC or the MWC. I don’t think the ACC is a viable option; Kansas would be a fish out of water there much like West Virginia is in the Big 12. After all, the nearest schools are what, Louisville and Georgia Tech (Atlanta)?
As for the Big 12 expanding, I am not interested in adding schools like Houston, Cincinnati, Memphis, Colorado State, SMU, etc. The only additions for the Big 12 that I would be interested in are schools like Arkansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Arizona, Arizona State, or even that one school 164 miles to our east. Obviously, this is the most highly unlikely scenario.
So whaddya say, Big 10? Let’s dance!