Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Conference Expansion: Why Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany is an Evil Genius

Tim Bielik—Featured Contributor

Throughout the process of expansion in college sports, it's pretty clear who has been pulling all of the strings and beginning the wildest shift in decades.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany began the process of evaluating expansion shortly after the 2009 regular season, stating that there would be a 12-18 month timetable.

But six months later, we stand on the precipice of the greatest shift in college football and the Big Ten has been the catalyst.

The Big Ten has been the biggest player mostly because they have the biggest weapon in the expansion wars: the Big Ten Network.

Perceived as a failure in the early stages, the Big Ten Network provides all the member schools with tremendous revenue as it broadcasts all sports from all member schools.

The package of high revenues combined with national exposure was what convinced the biggest domino of expansion, Nebraska, to jump ship from the Big 12 to join the Big Ten beginning in 2011.

While the Big Ten has been very calculated and making this into a process, the conference in turn has forced the hand of other conferences like the Pac-10 and turned a suddenly fragile Big 12 into a land-grab that threatened to destroy the conference.

But as time goes on, it seems more and more likely that the Big 12 will survive, which would be a huge loss for the Pac-10, which acquired Colorado beginning in 2012.

As for the Big Ten, the process worked in a very efficient manner, allowing the conference to make the smart decisions and make sure that what they are doing is for the benefit of the conference.

And those benefits could be sky-high

1. Greater viewership thanks to the loyal following Nebraska has.

2. Keeping the famous rivalries (OSU-Michigan) intact, while adding potentially great ones (Nebraska-Iowa).

3. And most importantly, a conference championship game that can be held at sites such as Indianapolis, Chicago, Detroit, or Cleveland.

The fact that the Big Ten is so far the winner of the expansion talks comes as a surprise to those who consider it an outdated conference.

For example, the conference schedule used to end two weeks before the end of the season, and there are no November games that kickoff before 3:30 p.m.

But the conference made sure the season extended a week further beginning in 2010, and adding that 12th team in Nebraska helped to try to take the Big Ten into the 21st century.

Now all of a sudden, when people have criticized the Big Ten as weak and unworthy of an automatic BCS bid, when it comes to expansion, the conference has emerged the biggest player.

And although Delany has said the Big Ten will pause the expansion process, they may get the last laugh in expansion.

While the Big Ten may not look like the best conference on paper, they are no doubt a much better conference for having a quality growing program like Nebraska in the fold.

And if Nebraska and Michigan return to their old selves from the 1990s, the Big Ten could give the SEC a run for its money.

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