When the SEC added Arkansas and South Carolina in 1992 (thus giving it twelve schools and the ability to hold a lucrative conference championship game), it started a chain-reaction that eventually killed the SWC and sent independent programs around the country scurrying for whatever conference affiliation they could find. Then when the ACC announced the addition of Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech (again, to get to twelve members) in 2003, another national game of Chinese Fire Drill ensued, resulting in a number of schools changing conferences, including TCU's move to the Mountain West.
Now comes word that the Big Ten (which, as most of you know, is a misnomer because it contains eleven schools) may be looking to expand to twelve teams (read about it HERE and a little more in-depth HERE). So who would the Big Televen go after? And what might some of the ramifications be if those schools were to make the move? Here's a look at a few candidates:
-Notre Dame. The Irish would be the logical fit, right? But with their huge TV contract (with whom they don't have to share any of the money), do they really need to join a conference? Also, the Big Ten has gone after Notre Dame in the past, only to be rebuked. That may deter some of the decision-makers from making another overture, at least publicly. If they were the choice, though, the Big Ten would reach twelve members without affecting any other conference, which would minimize the domino effect.
-A Big East school. Plenty of possible candidates there, depending on what criteria are determined to be the most important. Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, West Virginia, Louisville and Cincinnati could all be considered. If one of these schools left the Big East, you could see them replaced with a CUSA school (Memphis or East Carolina, for example). That would cause CUSA to look for another member (perhaps Louisiana Tech or Troy), which would then create an opening in another conference after that. You might also see the loss of a member cause instability that could lead to the non football-playing schools in the Big East to split from the football-playing members due to differences in opinion regarding the direction of the conference. I couldn't begin to speculate on all of the different scenarios that might cause.
-A Big 12 North school. Would Missouri, Iowa State, Nebraska or even one of the two Kansas schools consider bolting? I don't know if the Big Ten helps those athletic departments achieve their goals any more than the Big 12 does, but you'd have to expect that they'll at least be considered. It seems pretty unlikely, but this scenario surely has to be giving Frog fans boners, because you'd have to think that TCU would be a candidate to step into the Big 12, along with Arkansas, Utah, BYU, Houston...
-TCU? Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez stated that they would be looking at schools "all over the country". So while we're thinking outside the box, why not TCU? It's an up and coming athletic department in a large TV market that would create exposure for the Big Ten in another largely-populated part of the country and give them greater access to recruits in Texas. I doubt that they would seriously consider this, but it makes about as much sense as South Florida going to the Big East, right?
Of course, if the Big Ten does indeed decide to expand to twelve, does that mean that other conferences (most notably the Pac 10, Big East and Mountain West) might also look to expand? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments section.