clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

You’re Nuts: What If the Big Ten goes to 20 teams? What would that look like?

Your (almost) daily dose of good-natured, Ohio State banter.

BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl - Ohio State v Notre Dame Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.

In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.

Today’s Question: What If the Big Ten goes to 20 teams? What would that look like?

Jami’s Take:

Maybe we’re both nuts this week for considering a world in which the Big Ten is actually the Big Twenty, but I don’t think this is too much of a stretch after last week’s announcement that USC and UCLA are joining the Big Ten starting in 2024.

I admittedly don’t hate the idea of conference expansion. I think our little baby peasant conferences are on their way out as we know them, with college football shifting in the direction of superconferences. Adding teams would help the Big 10 continue to compete against the SEC and would also help secure TV deals that come with astronomical financial benefits.

Ultimately, a combination of superconferences and playoff expansion could also shake things up so we’re not watching the same four teams duke it out year after year in the playoffs (even if one of those teams is the Buckeyes, admit it - you’re a little bored).

Who Would The Rest of the New Teams Be?

Probably Notre Dame (I do not want it spiritually and I do not want it physically). The Fighting Irish are currently not aligned with a conference, and I don’t expect them to give up their FBS Independence unless we truly move toward superconferences, at which point they’ll have no choice.

Currently, they play most of their games against ACC teams, but in the case of superconferences, it would make the most sense for them competitively and financially to align with the Big 10 or SEC. Now, there is some bitterness between the Big 10 and ND given that ND once reneged on a deal with the Big 10. But ultimately, I think the financial gain for the conference and the Fighting Irish would outweigh any prior ill-will.

We could also see both the Oregon Ducks and the Washington Huskies pop on over. Both have expressed interest in joining, since USC and UCLA’s departure means the end of the Pac-12. Both teams are competitive on the football field and could really benefit the Big 10 on that front. Since geography is no longer a concern with other West Coast teams joining the conference, look to these two teams to link up with us eventually.

If the Big Ten keeps expanding West, look to Utah to be the 20th team to join us. They’ve become a football power in recent years (and gave the Buckeyes quite a battle in the Rose Bowl), and they’ll likely be looking to join a conference where they can monetize their play while also seeing some more competitive opponents.

None of this even gets into what could happen if the ACC crumbles, in which case Duke and UNC could be a package deal that would really shake things up in the basketball world. The ACC seems to be sticking around for the time-being though, so I doubt we’ll see ACC teams align with the Big 10 unless circumstances necessitate it.

How Would Scheduling Work?

Personally, I’m in favor of pods. If we have 20 teams, four pods of 5 would allow us to divide some of the regular season in a way that accounts for geography and time zones while still making way for annual rivalry games and some mix-and-matching.

I’d like to see three pre-season games, 8-9 conference games (with the final week being the rivalry games), and then a week of a sort of playoff system to determine the two teams in the Big 10 Championship. The top team from each pod would be seeded and go into that playoff (with the top team from the top pod playing the top team from the worst pod, and the top team from the middle two pods playing each other). The winner of each of those two playoff games would go into the Big 10 Championship, and ultimately, the winner of that would go into the NCAA FBS playoffs.

If we expand the FBS playoffs, then perhaps we’ll see a change to the way conference championship games are structured, but as it stands, this would be my preferred system.

I am also VERY in favor of a system of promotion and relegation where the worst teams in each superconference are relegated to a lower division while the best teams in the lower division are promoted up (see: European Football) - but that’s another column for another day.

Other factors to consider

This column is mostly focused on the football world, but we need to also consider where the other sports come in. It seems UCLA and USC’s Big 10 move will include all their sports teams, so when we consider basketball powerhouse and long-standing rivalries, that could shake things up differently, especially if the ACC fizzles.

What remains to be seen is how this could affect sports outside of football and basketball - and whether it should. What makes sense for football as they move toward superconferences might not make the most sense for a sport like baseball or volleyball, and in some ways, it seems silly to try this one-size-fits-all approach to conferences. Football is one game a week, and even then, the time zones can be tricky and take a physical toll. How will regular cross-country flights affect players whose games are more frequent (both physically and in terms of class time)?

While it could cause scheduling nightmares for different sports to be in different conferences, I would like to see superconferences for football only, while keeping other sports aligned as they currently are.

The logistics of these conference realignments still need to be worked out, and the devil is in the details, but one thing is certain – college sports as we know it are in for a major shakeup, and this is just the beginning.

Matt’s Take:

Forgive me for slightly bending the rules of the “You’re Nuts” prompt that I came up with, but in my scenario, the Big Ten adds nine teams (including the already announced USC and UCLA) and expands to 21. Now, you might be saying to yourself, “The B1G has 14 teams, so if they add nine more, they would have 23. So why is this bozo saying nine more would equal 21?”

Well, that’s because in my vision, our beloved conference would jettison Rutger and Maryland. Their addition made business and financial sense when they joined the Big Ten, and I applaud former Commissioner Delaney for making the cut-throat move in order to get the Big Ten Network into the valuable New York and Washington D.C. media markets. But, unfortunately, those two teams add next to nothing from a football perspective, and the media landscape has evolved dramatically since their inclusion in the conference, and having also-ran teams in major markets just isn’t that important anymore.

With Fox being a 61% owner of BTN, they have the ability to strongarm cable providers into including the channel with other Fox cable properties during carriage agreement negotiations, but more importantly, as streaming becomes an increasingly player in live sports rights — Apple wants in on the next round of B1G rights — markets just don’t matter nearly as much as they once did.

So, rather than carrying a couple of middling teams from major markets, the B1G should go out and add teams that add to the football competitiveness and national interest in the league. It would also be a benefit to the conference’s non-football sports if there were more teams to the west of the current conference footprint, making travel partners a little easier to account for.

So, my proposal is to bring on:

  • North Carolina
  • Notre Dame
  • Oklahoma State
  • Oregon
  • UCLA
  • USC
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington

These schools would allow the Big Ten to further establish a foothold in the south and to slightly bridge the ridiculous mileage gap between the current teams and the Los Angeles-based schools.

However, I wouldn’t stop there. Not only would I jettison the Terps and Knights, I would also get rid of the Big Ten’s divisions, opting instead for a seven-pod format. Every team would be placed in a group with two protected rivals, whom they would play every year. Obviously with only two protected teams, there will be some fun matchups that we don't get see every year anymore, like Ohio State vs. Penn State, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives.

Each pod would cross over with two other pods every year (playing in two-year, home-and-home cycles), so each team would have eight, pre-scheduled conference games, with one more game left TBA until the Sunday after the final scheduled contest.

From there, the top four teams in terms of record will be seeded into a Big Ten semifinal game to be played on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, with the winners meeting in the title game in the first weekend of December. The next 16 teams in terms of B1G seeding would be matched up in regular-season finales that could be based on rivalries, recent history, seeding, or storylines in order to create the best games. You could also do the semifinals and extra games on what is now Championship Weekend with the B1G title game coming a week later, but that could hurt the team(s)’s ability to prepare for the College Football Playoff, so I prefer keeping the conference championship game where it is.

Obviously, with an off number of teams in the league, the squad with the worst record does not get to participate in this cornucopia of conference clashes and is then forced to find a last-minute opponent to fill the date. To satisfy television contracts, a game must be played, so it would be fun to see all of the machinations that would go into landing an opponent on such short notice. I would personally prefer that the worst team in the league be relegated to the MAC or something every year, but I don’t see that ever happening, so the chaos of this plan is my next best bad idea.

In my vision, these are the pod groupings that I would go with, with teams being placed together with the aim to maintain as many of the preeminent rivalries as possible, while also taking into account travel and start time considerations.

Proposed Big Ten 7-Pod Format

Pod 1 Pod 2 Pod 3 Pod 4 Pod 5 Pod 6 Pod 7
Pod 1 Pod 2 Pod 3 Pod 4 Pod 5 Pod 6 Pod 7
Indiana Michigan North Carolina Iowa Illinois Oregon Notre Dame
Northwestern Michigan State Penn State Minnesota Nebraska Utah UCLA
Purdue Ohio State Virginia Wisconsin Oklahoma St. Washington USC

I don’t think that there is any reason for a west coast team to ever start a game at 12 noon ET, nor do I think that an east coast team should start a game after 8 p.m. ET. However, if Fox, ESPN, or another TV partner wants to put Utah vs. Oregon on at 10:30 p.m. ET, I don’t see anything wrong with that. That’s 8:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. local time for both teams respectively and it would extend the number of windows that the B1G would be able to charge networks for, helping everybody. And besides, who doesn’t want a little #B1GAfterDark?

Is this plan a perfect solution? Absolutely not. Is it mainly a bunch of disjointed ideas that I put together with little to no thought? Obviously. But, I also think that there are some pieces of coal in there that the big, beautiful brains at the Big Ten office could shine into diamonds.


Who has the right answer to today’s question?

This poll is closed

  • 70%
    (87 votes)
  • 29%
    (37 votes)
124 votes total Vote Now