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Big Ten Expansion: Is Kansas In Play?

As BHGP readers know, we've spent plenty of time wondering whether the Missouri Tigers would soon be (among) the newest members of the Big Ten. It makes sense on its face; the Big XII doesn't accomplish what Missouri wants to accomplish nearly as well as the BXI does, it delivers at least the St. Louis market, etc. etc. We've been down this road before. Missouri won't say that they want to be in the Big Ten, of course; they're content to merely say they wish the Big XII were exactly like the Big Ten. Gotcha.

Next, we heard yesterday that Tom Osborne and Nebraska were flashing a little leg at the conference themselves; let's hear Spencer Hall's older brother Osborne one more time:

"We haven't entered into any formal talks with anybody right now," Osborne said. "We're focusing on the Big 12. But I don’t think that means if somebody wanted to pick up the phone and call us, that we'd hang up on them. You listen...."

"I would have to say the center of gravity has moved south. You’d have to say that trend to the south still continues to this day, which is a little concerning sometimes for people in the north part of the Big 12."

Now, what Big XII commissioner Dan Beebe should be doing is issuing public statements left and right that Nebraska is one of the most important members of the conference and blah blah blah. That is not what Beebe is doing, because Osborne is exactly right about the conference's priorities. Beebe is instead enjoying his plush new office in Texas, contemplating the Stetson as an "every day hat," and researching the best place to get a Longhorn tattoo. He's thinking tramp stamp, just so long as there's no bending over in public.

So. Given that Nebraska and Missouri would probably happily jump to the Big Ten together if given the opportunity, and keep in mind we are totally spitballing at this point... why not look at Kansas too?

Or, more appropriately--why the hell wouldn't Kansas want to come too?

First, the academic bona fides, because without them this conversation is an absolute non-starter. KU, like Mizzou and Nebraska, has been a member of the Association of American Universities for more than a century. All three are right around the #100 mark for academic rankings; not great but certainly not a blight on the conference. Further, one would probably imagine some sort of a boost when these schools join a consortium like the Big Ten.

Back to the original question, though. Kansas is a Big Eight/Big Twelve school through and through, and if the Big Ten approached the Jayhawks about becoming the 12th member of a 12-team conference, surely the Jayhawks would decline. All of their friends are still in the Big XII, after all.

But suppose KU's friends weren't still there; the triumverate of Kansas-Missouri-Nebraska is one of the most deliciously hateful three-way rivalries in all of college sport, and while it's possible to maintain it across two different conferences, it's certainly not preferable to do so. As for Kansas and Kansas State, well, Iowa and ISU do the whole "Big Ten team with only other in-state rival in a different conference" thing well enough.

Further, the move is a giant middle finger to the Texas-based Big XII, which would almost certainly collapse. Colorado would flee to the Pac-10 in a heartbeat, and KSU and ISU would likely explore other options rather than be Texas' playthings any longer. I bet ISU would dominate go at least .500 in the MAC, and the Mountain West would love K-State.

As for whether the Big Ten would do it, well, why not? St. Louis, Kansas City, and Omaha all come to play. The northern plains are basically redistricted as Big Ten Country. It is an epic power grab by Jim Delany, who isn't going to half-step on this one--not when he can effectively ruin what was supposed to be the Midwest's superconference in under 20 years of existence.

It's the first move on the table that would be a major plus in terms of basketball. Kansas is a top five all-time program in terms of history and current power, and Illinois would most certainly enjoy seeing Bill Self return to town. They would enjoy it so much Assembly Hall would need to install metal detectors and explosive-sniffing dogs. Missouri's basketball program isn't great, but they have three Elite Eight apperances in the last 20 seasons. As for Nebraska basketball... hey, how 'bout them Jayhawks!

Looking at football, yes, poaching half the Big XII North might seem, on its face, to be a little underwhelming. Perhaps. We'll just remind you that the Big 10's other alternative for expansion is the Big East, and Big East football makes the Big XII North look like the Bionic Steroid NFL. Moreover, who were the primary agents of suck in the XII North? Was it Nebraska, KU, and Mizzou? Or was it Iowa State, K-State, and Colorado? Mmmm-hmm. 

Now, when it comes to expansion, 14 (and one might successfully argue 12) is probably the upper limit for the size of a football conference. What's the point of recruiting someone to the Big Ten, after all, if there's a chance they don't play, say, Michigan at all over their 4-year career? Even if the conference went to a nine-game slate, with 16 teams in a conference, that's still not a whole lot of games to go around. Thus, if the Big Ten were to pick up these three teams, that's probably it, and there's no eastward push made at all.

Still, there's no point in going east for the sake of going east, particularly when the best candidates don't grow the media market (and revenue) enough to offset the pie being split into smaller portions. The Big Ten can try to force its way into New York the way the NHL forced its way into Phoenix, or it can bring in three schools that fit into the conference's profile and grow its footprint in a far more amenable (see: destructive to a rival conference) fashion. Let's see what they do.

Also, if there's any KU fans out there: if the Big Ten swallows up MU and NU... do you want in?