Missouri Compromise II?

With the Big Ten officially announcing it is considering expanding to 12 teams, there are rumblings that Northwestern could have itself a new interstate rival in Missouri. Purple Reign looks at the specter of the Tigers joining the Big Ten, and why – from the Tigers' "frustration" with the Big 12 to the resurgence of their teams – MU and the Big Ten is a seemingly logical marriage.

There is a mix of speculation and acknowledged fact regarding the expansion of the Big Ten. That much – the part about the Big Ten possibly expanding – falls in the something-we-know category.

On Tuesday, the conference released a statement saying that, yes, the Big Ten – already sitting at 11 teams – is considering adding twelfth team.

"The COP/C [Council of Presidents and Chancellors] believes that the timing is right for the conference to once again conduct a thorough evaluation of options for conference structure and expansion," the statement reads.

"Only after these notices have occurred will the Big Ten engage in formal expansion discussions with other institutions. This process will allow the Big Ten to evaluate options, while respecting peer conferences and their member institutions."

In addition to that official release, some Big Ten heavyweights are supporting expansion. Penn State's Joe Paterno was outspoken last May about adding a 12th team – Penn State, of course, was the latest addition to the conference – and Wisconsin athletic director and former football coach Barry Alvarez told the university board that he thinks the conference is serious about adding another team. Also…

There was also Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis, who said, "With the changing landscape of intercollegiate athletics, now is a good time for the Big Ten to review its current structure and evaluate the potential for expansion."

And Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee, who told The Columbus Dispatch, "We have to be thoroughly modern and realize the world has moved on, and having a playoff for the Big Ten championship makes sense. I'm not planting a stake in the ground on that issue, but it's something we now need to tackle."

So, that much we know. There is an evaluation being conducted, and there is considerable (if not overwhelming) approval for the idea of expansion. It would, after all, allow for two evenly divided divisions – much like the SEC East and West, Big 12 North and South, ACC Atlantic and Coastal, etc. – and it would let the conference have a conference title game in football, something that, per NCAA rules, you need 12 teams to do.

But who that 12th team could be? Well, that's anyone's guess. A bevy of names have been mentioned. Out east, schools like Syracuse and Boston College and Rutgers have been floated. A little further south, people have uttered Louisville's name. And toward the geographical center of the Big Ten, Cincinnati is on the list what ifs as well.

But it's a school in the Midwest, Missouri, a potential new next door neighbor for Northwestern, that has possibly received the most attention (outside of Notre Dame, which already turned down the Big Ten once and has preemptively taken itself out of the conversation.)

There are a few reasons why Missouri would be an attractive candidate for the Big Ten – and vice versa. First off, it makes sense geographically. Missouri borders* Iowa and Illinois, and the addition would place the St. Louis TV market firmly inside Big Ten country. It would also make Kansas City – where a slew of Missouri grads reside – more of a player on the TV front as well. And if you listen to people wax on about Big Ten expansion, TV and the Big Ten Network invariably come up, so it's ill-advised to downplay the importance of TV in this expansion equation.

* Fun fact: Missouri borders more states than any other state in the nation, eight. And while we're talking about geographical fun facts, can you name the four states in the nation whose capitals start with the same letter as the state? Answer below…

Now, the St. Louis and Kansas City TV markets are nothing compared to New York, which could be in play if Syracuse or Rutgers were included. But then again, New York isn't much of a college town. Not with a pair of pro baseball teams, a pair of NFL teams, an NBA team and two more NHL teams. So St. Louis and Kansas City may be small peanuts in terms of numbers, but not interest in college sports.

And there are reasons that Missouri may want to bolt the Big 12. On an intangible level, there is something about the Big Ten that just sounds good. It's old, it's established, it's not going anywhere. The Big 12, on the other hand, is little more than a decade old. It's a hodgepodge of the old Southwest Conference and old Big 8 conference. Indeed, the most recent addition to the Big Ten, Penn State in 1990, is more tenured that the Big 12 Conference.

There are also tangible reasons MU would leave the Big 12. The Tigers' football team has gotten the really short end of some recent bowl selections, and that is a direct result of the Big 12's laissez-faire policy toward bowl bids. Most conferences have stringent guidelines about which teams bowls can select. For instance, if one team obviously had a better season than another, a bowl would not be allowed to take the lesser one based solely on the specter of increased ticket sales.

But this has happened to Missouri a few times, costing the schools oodles of exposure, prestige and money.

Two seasons ago, Missouri won the Big 12 North with an 11-1 regular-season record. The Tigers were No. 1 in the nation heading into the conference title games. Yet Kansas – also 11-1, but with a loss in a head-to-head matchup with Missouri – was selected for the Orange Bowl while MU, which lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship, went to the Cotton Bowl. And this season, despite an 8-4 record and a win over Iowa State, the Tigers are headed to the (relatively) lowly Texas Bowl to play Navy. Iowa State, meanwhile, which had a 6-6 record and a loss to MU, is heading for the more prestigious – or at least better-paying – Insight Bowl. Missouri will lose about $500,000 by going to the Texas Bowl instead of the Insight. (Both Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and Missouri AD Mike Alden called the Big 12 bowl-selection process "frustrating.")

So in 2007 Missouri missed out on its first-ever BCS bowl to a team it beat, and this year 6-6 Iowa State nabbed the Tigers' spot – and $500K – in the Insight Bowl. Who knows how much of an impact the Big 12's inability/unwillingness to intervene will have on the Missouri's decision should the Big Ten come calling. But it seems like it could be in the back of Tigers' minds.

According to the AP, Missouri spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken said that MU hasn't been contacted by the Big Ten, adding, by email, "Should there be an official inquiry or invitation, we would evaluate it based on what is in the best interest of MU, athletically and academically."

And just as the Big Ten could be an attractive suitor for Missouri, Missouri isn't so bad itself. They have won two of the last three Big 12 North football titles – accumulating 29 wins over that span – and the hoops team just went to the Elite Eight last season.

Now, because we're so early in this 12th-team debate, everyone's still a candidate. But it just doesn't make much sense for some of the schools that have been mentioned to join. Syracuse, for instance, is a basketball-first school in the nation's elite basketball conference; same goes for Louisville. Plus the Orange are so far east that it doesn't make as much geographical sense as it does for Heartland-based Missouri. And despite its recent football success, Cincinnati doesn't have the cachet as some other schools; neither does Rutgers.

There is a ton of time to go before any invitations are extended, and even longer until a school would jettison its conference. But with the Big Ten being The Big Ten, and with Missouri's recent two-sport success, don't be shocked if, one day, this speculation turns into more than that, giving Northwestern another rival close to home.

Oh, those four states are Hawaii, Indiana, Delaware and Oklahoma.

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