Big Ten? Maybe not a bad idea

There's been active discussion recently about the possible realignment of college conferences. Among the many scenarios being mentioned is one in which Vanderbilt heads to the Big Ten conference. At first I felt the idea was crazy but after giving it more thought, I think that such a move might have some advantages for Vanderbilt.

First off, let's face it, football is most important college sport and Vanderbilt has just not competed well in the SEC at football. Vanderbilt needs to be able to compete in football and for over half a century in the SEC they just haven't been able to. Since 1960 our Commodores gridironers have just five winning seasons to show for their hard work. In the SEC we just haven't competed. Vanderbilt, which joined the SEC in 1933, has only managed only a paltry 118 conference victories. Arkansas, by contrast, which joined the conference in 1991, already has 66 conference victories in just 18 measly seasons.

At least if Vanderbilt went to the Big Ten they would be in the company of several respected universities who haven't sold their souls to the devil like some of our current SEC brethren. When a school like Kentucky hires a basketball coach who has already put two schools on probation or a school like Alabama hires a shady Nick Saban, you know what the priority is: win at all costs! In a nutshell the SEC members want to win so much that some don't mind getting frequent flyer miles for being on probation. By contrast, the Big Ten schools, while not perfect, run cleaner programs and understand that the first priority of a university is academics. Northwestern, in particular, would give Vanderbilt a sister university in the conference that it hasn't had in the SEC since Tulane got smart and left the conference in the mid 1960s.

Historically, Vanderbilt has some ties to the Big Ten, especially Michigan. Between 1900 and 1923 Vandy faced Michigan nine times. In fact, Vanderbilt's all time winningest coach, Dan McGugin, was the son-in-law Michigan's second winningest coach, Fielding H. Yost. In 1922 when Vanderbilt dedicated Dudley Stadium, which was at the time the largest football stadium in the South, they didn't dedicate it against Alabama, Florida or LSU. The Commodores faced Michigan and in a defensive battle tied them 0-0. We also saw a few years ago that Vanderbilt played Michigan in Ann Arbor. The game was shown on ESPN and it drew such good ratings that the network reps reportedly approached Vanderbilt officials about another setting up another Commodore-Wolverine clash for the following season. One argument is that no one would attend Big Ten games in Nashville. I think that is absolute nonsense. So you are telling me that Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State playing in Vanderbilt Stadium wouldn't attract the interest of Nashville area fans?

Recruiting wise, I think that while it is true that Vanderbilt gets many quality athletic prospects because of its membership in the SEC, a relationship in the Big Ten would also help the Commodores to gain excellent prospects. As a member of the Big Ten Vanderbilt could get the best of both worlds. Midwestern stars would like the idea of being able to go to school in a warmer climate at a prestigious academic university while being afforded the opportunity to compete in the conference they grew up following. Vanderbilt would still be able to attract quality student athletes from the Southeast because the actual campus wouldn't be moving anywhere; its still less than couple hours from the Georgia/ Alabama state lines. Players from the south who actually value education would still see Vandy as an attractive option.

Geographically speaking, it's really not that big of a deal. Teams in the Pacific 10, Mountain West and Western Athletic conferences cover huge areas, which encompass much larger areas than that of the SEC and Big Ten put together. We are not talking about that much more traveling distance anyway. For instance, while Baton Rouge is a nice 591-mile jaunt for Vanderbilt fans, to go to a game at Wisconsin it would only be about 40 miles further or 633 miles. While it's 442 miles to Columbia, S.C. you can get to Chicago (Northwestern) with about 35 miles extra driving. The University of Illinois is actually closer to Nashville than Columbia, about 70 miles nearer. Auburn is approximately 300 miles from Music City while West Lafayette (Purdue) is about 356 miles. Yes, we would lose the close trips to Tennessee (180 miles) and Kentucky (213 miles) while gaining an occasional trip to Minnesota (869 miles) but many of us fly to the longer distance games anyway so it isn't that huge of a deal.

The weather aspect of this possible move has been blown out of proportion. Contrary to popular belief in the South, there isn't a year around deep freeze in the Midwest. While temperatures do get colder up there they start playing a couple months before it gets really cold. They generally end their regular season a week earlier and play more games throughout the coldest time of the season during the mid-day. Vanderbilt, being the southernmost team, would likely have a good opportunity to be featured on TV for night home games later in the season in contrast to the usual 11:30 a.m. sweltering heat and tailgate shortened games in August/September that we've become accustomed to the SEC sticking us with.

Vanderbilt certainly cannot blame its football futility on officials but officiating is another area that we likely would see an improvement in with a move to the Big Ten. We saw the ridiculous celebration call at Florida in 2005 on Earl Bennett. Last season against South Carolina officials practically stole the game from Vanderbilt. It 1989 it was that moronic tennis ball call that cost our basketball team a championship. Briefly there was an improvement in the officiating with the advent of instant replay but now the SEC officials seem to have learned how to affect a game's outcome even with replay. I believe moving to any other conference would likely mean an improvement in officiating. Come to think of it, I believe our students would be able to rush the field/court after big wins as a member of the Big Ten.

Vanderbilt just fits into the Big Ten better. You have several types of universities in America. You have the Ivy Leagues, Stanford, Rice, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Duke, and others, which are considered the cream of the crop. Then you've the solid research public universities; these are universities, which actually do research, they learn new things, solve problems and find cures for disease, etc. In the SEC, Vanderbilt and Florida are the only schools that are actually research universities. The rest of the SEC is primarily teaching universities with less emphasis on research. That is, they generally don't contribute to knowledge; they only teach what others have already discovered. Not that teaching universities are bad things; they are needed. It's just that the best professors want to be where things are being invented and new discoveries are being made and the best students want the best professors teaching them; this leads to great universities. That makes Vanderbilt a better fit for the Big Ten. All Big 10 schools are respected research universities can closer to the caliber of school that Vanderbilt is than most of the SEC. I read somewhere that the Big Ten conference schools actually collaborate in research projects in addition to facing one another in the sports arena.

Much has been made of the deal that the SEC has with ESPN. The Big Ten also has a lucrative television contract. If they do expand to other markets it may turn out to be even more lucrative than the current SEC agreement with ESPN. I think that by adding the television markets in Atlanta (Georgia Tech) and Nashville would certainly make the Big Ten Network a more prestigious media. Since the Big Ten controls their own TV rights they get to bargain and get the best price for their product. The SEC has pawned off all their rights to ESPN who can bid off games to other networks as they see fit. I also believe that it would be easier to see Vanderbilt football on TV with the Big Ten network. Last season, for instance, hardly any Vanderbilt fans were able to watch the VU game with Rice on TV. It was on the Cox network which many outside Texas and Louisiana don't have access too. A game like that would have likely been included on the Big Ten network.

Finally, moving to the Big Ten fits right in with the original goals for founding Vanderbilt University in 1873. When Cornelius Vanderbilt donated a million bucks to build Vandy he did it with the intent to, "contribute to strengthening the ties which should exist between all sections of our common country." What better way to facilitate the strengthening of ties between different areas of our nation than through sports?

Vanderbilt in the Big Ten? Yeah, it just doesn't sound right but maybe it's at least worth looking into.

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