Gordon Gee is the current president of Ohio State. We say current because we don't know how much longer he is going to stay in that position if he keeps letting people record him speaking candidly about Big Ten matters and making inappropriate comments about one of the world's largest religions. The source of Gee's latest headache -- this happens on a regular basis with him -- was a speech/Q&A session he held with OSU's athletics council in December 2012. In the course of 27 minutes, Gee calls the persons running Notre Dame, and Catholics in general, untrustworthy, disparages the SEC as "shameful", and hammers the academics at Louisville and Cincinnati. He also makes an odd foray into Wisconsin's post-Bielema situation, saying that (1) Barry Alvarez though Bielema was a thug, and (2) Alvarez is a bad athletics director because he micromanages the football program anyway.
The speech came in the immediate wake of the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, and so the conversation naturally turned to conference realignment. Gee confirms some things that we already knew (the Big Ten was looking at Virginia, Duke, and North Carolina as targets should the ACC disintegrate) and some things that had been the subjects of speculation (the conference looked hard at adding Missouri and Kansas at the same time it added Nebraska), but one section in particular on the status of in-state rivalries got our attention.
Gee admits that Penn State abhors Pitt, a commonly-accepted fact that is only denied by Penn State fans. Gee puts Penn State's opinion on Pitt in the same category as OSU's attitude toward Cincinnati ("They would have to take Gene [Smith, the OSU AD] out and shoot him before he'd let Cincinnati join the Big Ten.") But it is Gee's next quote that made our ears perk up:
"We had to deal with some of those in-state rivalries. One of the problems we face is that Iowa has tremendous pressure about Iowa State. We're not interested in Iowa State."
Now, obviously the Big Ten isn't interested in Iowa State. Forget all the arguments about academics or long-term athletic success; Iowa State provides zero televisions for BTN and no star power for networks. The chances of Iowa State joining Iowa's conference are, were, and always will be zero.
But the "tremendous pressure" exerted on Iowa to attempt to include Iowa State is a different matter altogether. There is nobody at Iowa State who can exert any pressure on the Iowa administration, because there is nothing about Iowa's relationship with Iowa State that Iowa needs to maintain. Pressure requires leverage, and Iowa State has none.
No, that leverage in in the state capitol building, where a handful of interested observers -- including the former governor -- thought Iowa should have pushed for ISU's admission to the Big Ten when it looked like the Big 12 was about to implode and leave the Cyclones in the MAC or Mountain West. It was where there was some absurd grumbling about Sally Mason abstaining from a unanimous vote to admit Nebraska as a "show of solidarity" with Iowa State. And these are the same people that continue to push on Mason every time expansion comes up. The immediate threat to the Big 12 might have passed, but Iowa State is still not making Big Ten money, and these people clearly think it's the University of Iowa's solemn duty to ask if its little brother can join the club.
Gee admits that Missouri and Kansas were on the table at the same time that the Big Ten added Nebraska and says, almost wistfully, that they probably should have been admitted then and could still be admitted now. By the time the Nebraska vote came, the talk of the Big 12 South splitting off to join the Pac-10 had been stomped out, and the news of Nebraska and Colorado leaving didn't mean the conference would die. But at the height of Expansionmania in the summer of 2010, a four-team revolt in the Big 12 could have destroyed the conference and left the Cyclones without a dance partner. There is no doubt that Sally Mason knows how to survive -- by almost any means necessary, at times -- in her job as president of the University of Iowa. The question, then, is whether Mason vetoed the three-team move to preserve the Big 12 and, by virtue of that, her own job. Did she calculate that she could make a vote for Nebraska and withstand the momentary pressure, but that a vote for the effective destruction of Iowa State's conference could be fatal for her? And is that why Gordon Gee is longing for Missouri and Kansas while mentioning the tremendous pressure his counterpart in Iowa City faces?