February 14, 2010

Roundtable: Is expansion a real possibility?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for their opinion about a topic in the sport. This weekend, we will have two roundtables -- one Saturday and one today. Here is today's question:

Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott said last week that his league is "very seriously" looking at expansion; that comes on the heels of the Big Ten recently announcing it would study expansion. Do you foresee either league expanding?

Olin Buchanan's answer:
I don't think those leagues would be talking about expansion if it wasn't going to happen. A conference championship game not only is a financial boon, but can also propel a team into the national championship game. True, we've seen instances when a team was knocked out of the national championship picture by losing in the conference championship game. But just go back to 2008. Florida, Oklahoma and USC ended the regular season with one loss. Florida and Oklahoma added impressive wins in their conference title games. USC didn't play one. Florida and Oklahoma played for the national championship. USC did not. Hey, Joe Paterno sees a need for a 12-team Big Ten with a conference championship game. If JoePa says expansion is necessary, then expansion is necessary.

Tom Dienhart's answer:
Yes, I think both leagues will expand. It likely will happen when the current TV contracts expire in a few years. I believe the Big Ten will be the first to make a move, and that move will be to add Rutgers. If not Rutgers, then Pittsburgh. That would leave the Big East scrambling. Perhaps the league would look to add East Carolina, UCF, Southern Miss and/or Memphis in a push for a 12-team football league. As for the Pac-10, I can see it adding Utah and Colorado, which would leave the Big 12 with a hole. Would Arkansas leave the SEC to join the Big 12? Hmm. Bottom line: I anticipate a seismic shift in conference alignments sometime this decade.

David Fox's answer:
With the Big Ten and Pac-10 looking at expansion, the chances of two more 12-team conferences looks more likely than it did several months ago. The determining factor will be if either conference is truly desperate to add a conference title game. I won't get wrapped up in all the expansion talk until some big dominos start to move. Sorry, that's not Missouri, Pittsburgh, BYU or Utah. I'm talking about Notre Dame (no chance) and Texas. The Longhorns once were under consideration for the Pac-10 after the demise of the Southwest Conference, and a recent report said Texas could be a target for the Big Ten this time around. Until news about Texas picks up more steam, I imagine the Big Ten and Pac-10 won't see value in adding teams for the sake of adding teams, and they will remain in their current alignments.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
The potential exists for a sea of change in college athletics as we know it in the next few years: conference expansions that would affect the vast majority of the leagues and a change in the number of teams in the NCAA tournament. It all makes me uneasy. I easily can see the Big Ten and Pac-10 expanding for financial reasons -- which would be the only reason to expand. Texas looks as if it is going to serve as the prettiest girl at the dance, and if the Longhorns decide to dance, the dominos will start to fall. The domino effect could involve every league except the ACC and SEC.

Steve Megargee's answer:
If the Pac-10 and Big Ten expand, I'd have to assume the Big East would be under serious pressure to follow suit. Assuming the Big Ten and Pac-10 both expand to 12 teams, it would leave the Big East as the only one of the six major conferences without a championship game. Under that scenario, I'm guessing the Big East might be asked to expand to 12 teams and institute its own championship game in order to maintain its own automatic bid into a BCS game. Maybe that means offering a sweetheart deal to Notre Dame in an attempt to boost the league's profile (particularly if Pittsburgh or Rutgers ends up leaving as part of the Big Ten's expansion). Maybe that involves placing calls to East Carolina, Navy, UCF, Memphis or some other lower-profile programs. I'm also guessing BYU or Utah might be part of any Pac-10 expansion, which could result in some sort of merger between the top remaining programs in the Mountain West Conference and WAC.

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