First, realize that university presidents, not athletic directors, rule the Big Ten Conference. This is not the SEC! Academics come before athletics. The criteria for admission to the Big Ten would be the following:
1. Academics - Ideally, a large, state, research oriented university with a high academic rating.
2. Television Market - The number of TV sets that could be tuned to their games.
3. Natural Rival - Do they have a natural rival in the conference now?
4. Athletically - Prowess in football and basketball, the revenue sports.
Let's examine the candidates:
1. Notre Dame - The clear leader in spite of not meeting all the requirements in #1. Although ND has a good academic reputation, it does not have the large graduate schools in medicine and the sciences favored by the Big Ten presidents. The Irish have the other three in spades, however.
2. Rutgers - The Scarlet Knights are the dark horse to get the Big Ten nod. Iowa Athletic Director, Bob Bowlsby, told me "Rutgers kept showing up high in the ratings when the Big Ten was considering expansion two years ago. Rutgers enjoys a great academic reputation, delivers 6% of the TV households in the nation, and would be the natural rival that Penn State does not have now." After all, the Penn State-Michigan State rivalry is as phony as a Larry Eustachy speech on temperance. This State University of New Jersey has an enrollment of over 50,000 students and has the many graduate colleges that Big Ten presidents admire. Obviously, the athletic prowess needs some work. However, many great athletes are native to the New Jersey area. Bob added "Do you think that there could be a stadium in New Jersey too big for a game with Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State?"
3. Missouri - Bob noted, "Illinois already has part of the St. Louis TV Market."
4. Texas - Former governor Ann Richards forced Texas to join the Big 12. It is a huge university with great graduate schools. In addition, the athletic tradition would rival Notre Dame and Texas has the finest athletic facilities in the nation. Bowlsby said, "Although the TV market is huge, it pales in comparison to the New Jersey/New York mega-market." The Longhorns would have no natural rival unless the Big Ten added several schools, including Texas A & M. "The travel expenses would be prohibitive for the minor sports" added Bowlsby.
5. Iowa State - A definite qualifier on academics and they have a natural rival in Iowa. However, the TV market is miniscule compared to the above.
Pretenders All of the following have too many flaws:
1. Pittsburgh - Academics are quality but it is not a state university and has a small TV market. As Kirk Ferentz recently noted, there are more Penn State fans in Pittsburgh than there are Pitt fans. It loses to Rutgers in every consideration except athletic prowess.
2. Nebraska - Academics and TV market husk the Bugeaters. Does the 'N' on the helmet really stand for Knowledge?
3. Kansas - From a selfish viewpoint, I personally like the Jayhawks because I love Kansas City, just 20 miles away from Allen Field house. Fortunately, the Big Ten presidents don't listen to me. Many Iowa high school graduates that aren't accepted at Iowa end up at K.U.
There is no reason to list any more as it is an exercise in academic futility. Conference USA members need not apply.
While Miami President, Donna Shalala, may hold the future of the Big East in her hands, it appears that the Big Ten presidents will play a pat hand. They see no immediate reason to extend an invitation to anyone to join the biggest, richest conference in the nation.
However, should the attitudes toward expansion change the Big Ten may be looking for a Leprechaun or a Scarlet Knight.