It seems funny to think about it now, but it wasn't that long ago that college football threatened to completely flip upside down. Texas, along with Oklahoma and several of their in-state brethren, appeared ready to bolt from the Big 12 and head to the Pac-12, creating a Pac-16 superconference. The Big 12 looked ready to dissolve, and the ACC seemed shaky as well. Would the Big Ten become a 14 team conference? 16? 20? More? The possibilities seemed endless, and each breathless rumor from West Virginia bloggers seemed just crazy enough to work.
Of course, that didn't happen, and while we had massive conference realignment, it wasn't quite as earth shattering as it could have been. SB Nation's Bill Connelly took a trip down the rabbit hole to see what everything would have looked like if Texas had pushed the proverbial red button though, and it would have resulted in a very different Big Ten. Would it have been a better one?
Here's what Bill thought the Big Ten would have looked like after the dust settled:
Incoming: Georgia Tech, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Rutgers
Divisions: East (Georgia Tech, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers), West (Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin)
Top 5 teams in 2014: No. 1 Ohio State (E), No. 8 Georgia Tech (E), No. 11 Michigan State (E), No. 20 Missouri (W), No. 25 Wisconsin (W)
In this scenario, the B1G grabs Missouri instead of Maryland (who ends up going to the SEC), and adds two other rumored potential targets, UNC and Georgia Tech, to build a conference that spans the Midwest and the Mid-Atlantic, solidifying their presence in Atlanta, St.Louis and the Research Triangle, while leaving Washington D.C to the SEC and the rebuilt ACC (even though the B1G would still have a huge alumni presence there).
What would be worse about this scenario?
If you live in Washington D.C, you're not going to see Big Ten events anymore. It would stand to reason that the league wouldn't have their 2017 Men's Basketball Tournament there, and would instead probably move it to Atlanta, St.Louis, or Kansas City. If you're the sort of person who cares about "presence" in cities, this could arguably be a worse move, since even with Georgia Tech in hand, it would be hard to pry "Atlanta" from the SEC, given the huge alumni concentration in that metro, and I'm not sure that dominating the Research Triangle is a conference priority. Besides, NC State and Duke would also be in different conferences.
In a 16-team league with 9 league games, Ohio State would only face West division teams twice a year, which means fewer games against more traditional teams like Wisconsin and Iowa (or less traditional Nebraska), and more games against Rutgers, UNC and Georgia Tech. In years where the Eastern newcomers struggle, that's both an SOS loss and a historical one.
Maryland may not be a great prize for football in the short term, but they have exceeded expectations in basketball, and could be the #1 team in the country next season (of course, so could UNC). The Terps won a national title in Women's Lacrosse, and have a better Director's Cup standing than Missouri or Georgia Tech. Is Big Ten lacrosse as much of a thing without Maryland?
It's also worth noting that while North Carolina is an elite athletic program top to bottom, the Big Ten would be grabbing them right as their major academic scandal broke, and the full NCAA repercussions aren't yet known. Is a Tar Heel program that might be crippled in the short term, plus the barrage of negative headlines, as valuable?
Finally, in this scenario, Rutgers is still here. New York's college team, y'all.
What's better about this scenario?
In the short-medium term, it's pretty clearly a big football upgrade. Missouri adds real depth to a Big Ten West that's been lagging in firepower, and could potentially win that division right away. Georgia Tech was outstanding last season, and provides a matchup nightmare that makes them dangerous for any team they play, and UNC and Rutgers combine for the biggest "sleeping giants" in all of college football. The further dilution of traditional rivalries may irk some, but this would create a better football product for most weeks.
Plus, academic business aside, North Carolina is excellent at nearly every sport. They're #2 in the Director's Cup, they add a big boost for basketball, baseball, soccer, and virtually every Olympic sport. North Carolina is also becoming a more important recruiting area, along with Georgia, which could help the western B1G schools get access to talent.
Missouri helps cement the Big Ten's wrestling bonafides as well. Nobody here plays hockey, but just about every other sport would get some sort of boost.
All of that being said, I'm not unhappy things didn't turn out this way, even though sharing a conference with UNC would have been pretty great, midwesternness be damned. Further dilution from the other half of the conference would have been a big drag, and while Georgia Tech and Missouri are fine institutions and athletic programs, I'm not sure it's a 100% slam dunk that they'd be better, individually, than Maryland. The massive changes in every other conference could have been a net negative for the sport as well.
Here's hoping that conference realignment is dead for the foreseeable future. But if it rears its head once again, I suspect Delany hasn't lost UNC's phone number.