It's been big news around the college sports world that the Big Ten is thinking of expanding. It won't happen this time around, and here's why.
1. Notre Dame will say no
There is no other school that is as good a fit or will ever be as good a fit for the Big Ten as Notre Dame is. Not Missouri, not Pitt, not anyone. Notre Dame has everything from an academics, athletics, image, and money making standpoint that the Big Ten could ever dream of.
Yet, right now there's no reason for Notre Dame to subsume its brand underneath the Big Ten banner. It has a special provisioning in the BCS contracts, and those don't expire until after the 2014 season. Its contract with NBC isn't up until after 2015.
That marks the earliest point Notre Dame could realistically think about joining a conference: the 2016 regular season. However, that would require two things. First, the Irish would have to forcibly lose their favored spot in the BCS contracts. That's unlikely because it will take more than five years for Notre Dame to lose its historical luster entirely and the school just hired a competent and qualified winner with a great track record for once. Second, the Big Ten would have to offer something commensurate to what Notre Dame gets from NBC (i.e. every home game on national TV no matter what), and it can't do that.
2. Saying yes to someone else means saying no to Notre Dame forever
Conferences larger than 12 members don't work well with football. The WAC tried having 16 and couldn't make it work. The MAC has serious scheduling problems with its 13 team format. A 12 member league works. More than that really doesn't.
If the Big Ten adds another member, it will have 12 schools. Since more than 12 is untenable, if that twelfth school is not Notre Dame, then the Big Ten will never have Notre Dame. Adding Missouri or Pitt functionally closes that door forever.
Just because Notre Dame won't be ready to join up in five years' time doesn't mean it won't in 10 or 15. The Big Ten has already been waiting on the Irish for the 20 years since adding Penn State; it can wait longer if it wants to. Closing the door on Notre Dame forever would be a huge step, one that I think a lot of folks aren't taking that seriously.
3. Solving the problem at hand doesn't require expansion
Just what is the real problem here? Let Barry Alvarez tell you:
"We're irrelevant for the last three weeks of the football season because we're not playing," Alvarez said Friday.
Somehow, people have decided that the only remedy to this problem is expansion and adding a conference championship game. Really?
Take a look at the Week 13 scoreboard. Now the Week 14 scoreboard. The Pac-10, Big East, MWC, WAC, and Sun Belt all have games on those weekends. None of those conferences have championship games, and yet they all figured out how to hold games over those last two weeks. Heck, Wisconsin played in Week 14 and Illinois (those cads!) managed to schedule games in both Week 13 and Week 14.
If your regular season isn't long enough, the simple solution is to extend the regular season. I know there are traditions involved here, but expansion breaks more tradition than playing regular season in-conference games after Thanksgiving does.
My money is on nothing changing after this 12-18 month exploratory period. If anything does, it will be an extension of the Big Ten regular season. The conference has looked at expanding three times since Penn State joined, and each time the number has stayed at 11. There's little reason to think that won't happen a fourth time.