We knew that back in the throes of the last wave of conference realignment, virtually no scenario was too outlandish, and no stone was unturned. The Big Ten added Nebraska, and eventually grabbed Maryland and Rutgers, but all sorts of other schools along the east coast, from Georgia Tech, to Virginia, to UConn to North Carolina, were floated around in some capacity, and didn't sound ridiculous, no matter how unmidwestern they were.
Apparently, the ACC footprint wasn't the only place the Big Ten kicked the tires. According to Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald, several other Big 12 schools at least looked at joining the Big Ten. And by several, I mean virtually half of the conference:
Big Ten football fans, see if the following slate of conference games would interest you:
Oklahoma vs. Wisconsin; Nebraska vs. Texas A&M; Iowa vs. Iowa State; Minnesota vs. Kansas.
Unfortunately, it's not happening. But there was a time when grouping those eight schools into one division of a 16-team Big Ten was discussed at high administrative levels by members of both leagues.
Was this a concrete proposal for realignment? No.
But it was much, much more than cocktail-napkin speculation.
Back in June 2010, with Texas thinking of potentially moving to the Pac-12, Barfknecht says that Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa State and Texas A&M reached out to the Big Ten about potentially joining en masse.
The Big Ten reception was positive, but concerns about revenue sharing eventually scuttled the deal. Nebraska would join the conference without the rest of the group later that month, A&M would post to the SEC, and you know the rest of the story.
That's an interesting rumor, but there are two teams conspicuous in their absence: Oklahoma State, and Missouri. It had been commonly assumed that Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were joined at the hip in conference realignment, it's partly why the Cowboys were included in the massive Pac-16 scenario. The idea that Oklahoma would potentially be willing to leave without Oklahoma State is interesting for the future, given that some think that Oklahoma president David Boren's public comments about Big 12 expansion could be seen as a sign that Oklahoma could be had by another conference if the Big 12 doesn't do what he wants.
Missouri, on the other hand, had been reportedly interested in the Big Ten themselves, and they sometimes weren't all the subtle about it. Given that Missouri's academic profile was arguably a better fit in the Big Ten than the Big 12, or for that matter, the SEC, (Missouri is in the AAU), their absence in this discussion is intriguing. Did the other schools not want to deal with them? Did the SEC get there first before anything had the chance to get serious with the Big Ten?
Now, what would have happened if this actually occurred? Would it have been better? It is doubtful the conference would have added Maryland and Rutgers if it was already at 16, so haters of the league's new eastern wing would probably support this hypothetical move.
A 16-team conference is unwieldy, and it would mean that Ohio State likely wouldn't play their western division neighbors all that much, but a Big Ten East with Penn State, the Michigan schools, the Indiana schools and the Illinois schools may not be the worst thing in the world.
Big Ten football, and certainly the western side of the conference, would be a lot more interesting, and while losing Maryland basketball might hurt, adding Kansas and Iowa State would certainly offset that. Would fans complain about a future Big Ten basketball tournament being sent to Houston or Kansas City though? What about a potential Big Ten football championship game at Arrowhead? Would the next BTN contract be as big of a financial windfall without markets in DC and NYC? Yeah, it probably would.
It's a fun thought experiment, a neat thing to daydream about, especially as we potentially slog through some Iowa-Purdue game at noon, but it would have been messy as well.
A massive Big Ten expansion west, or even an expansion at all to the west, seems awfully unlikely in the short, or medium-term future. But it's hard to argue that the Big 12 is an exceptionally stable league at the moment, and information about how things went down last time could potentially be informative about how they might go if the conference has to change again.
Somehow, I don't think we've all written our last conference realignment articles.