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Big Ten Expansion Partially About Recruiting

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Given how annoying and arrogant both are, it doesn't surprise me that Jim Delaney and Lane Kiffin have something else in common. They both care deeply about recruiting.

That's the best way I can interpret Delaney's comments yesterday at the Big Ten spring meetings, anyway. He said that the Big Ten expansion talk has little to do with getting a conference championship game. Rather, it is about two things: increasing the Big Ten Network's revenue (duh), and the general southward population shift of the last couple decades. Specifically he said:

"As far as the shifting population, that is reason, by itself, enough, to look at the concept of expansion," Delany said. "In the last 20, 30 years, there's been a clear shift in movement into the Sun Belt. The rates of growth in the Sun Belt are four times the rates they are in the East or the Midwest.

"You do want to look forward to 2020 and 2030 and see what that impact would be on our schools."

The comment about the South growing isn't just about getting the BTN into growing markets, or else he wouldn't have made that its own bullet point. Not only are southern states increasingly where viewers are, far more than that they're where players are (H/T DocSat).

The Big Ten can't convince people to stop fleeing the rust belt, and proximity matters a lot in recruiting. There are generally four things that, in some combination, get players to go far from home: palm trees, beaches, average annual snowfall under two inches, and reputation. The current Big Ten can only offer reputation, and that has taken a hit in recent years thanks to the conference's prestige plunge since 2006.

Reputation can manifest itself in more than one form. General perceived quality is the big one, but the idea of an area being "_______ Country" works too. Players in the Southeast think of themselves as being in SEC Country, so they like to play for SEC schools. Delaney knows that, so he apparently wants to extend Big Ten Country south of the Ohio River.

Since 2006 the SEC collectively has signed 53 of Rivals' five star players, or 36.3 percent of the 146 total. They were pretty well spread around among Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, LSU, and Georgia, though Auburn and Arkansas had a presence too. The next highest amount goes to the Pac-10 with 27 (18.5 percent), but most of those went just to USC. The ACC and Big 12 tied for third with 19 apiece, though as you might guess Florida State and Miami in the ACC and Texas and Oklahoma dominated those lists. The Big Ten placed fourth with 18 five star players signed, with Ohio State clearly ahead and Penn State and Michigan trailing.

The trend for the Big Ten isn't good either. It got five of the five star players in each of 2006 and 2007, but then it got just four in 2008, three in 2009, and one in 2010. The Midwest and northeast are still producing some highly regarded talent; those states produced eight of them in 2010. Only one, William Gholston of Michigan, went to a Big Ten school (Michigan State). The rest went to USC, Florida, Miami, Texas, or LSU.

Expanding south gives the Big Ten more territory and creates more buffer from the invaders from the south and west. But who fits the plan best?

Well the Big Ten would prefer to get an AAU school if it could, so that adds a third prong to the test: commands TV markets, is south of the current footprint, and is an AAU member. Let's also assume the Big Ten would only invite a member of another BCS conference (sorry, Rice and Tulane). Without going too far west of the Mississippi (where the only big growth market short of Pac-10 country is Texas), the pool of schools is this:

  • Duke, offers inroads into the No. 9, 24, 27, 36, and 46 ranked TV markets
  • Florida, No. 13, 16, 19, 38, 47
  • Georgia Tech, No. 8
  • Maryland, No. 9, 26
  • North Carolina, No. 9, 24, 27, 36, and 46
  • Texas, No. 5, 10, 37,  and 49
  • Texas A&M, No. 5, 10, 37,  and 49
  • Vanderbilt, No. 29
  • Virginia, No. 9, 43

Florida's too far away and would say no, and the North Carolina schools are happy running things in the ACC. Maryland and Virginia are founding ACC members as well and would probably be resistant to leaving. Vanderbilt doesn't expect an invite and doesn't expect to leave the SEC. Texas doesn't seem willing to blow up the Big 12 preemptively, and Texas A&M won't likely do anything alone.

That leaves only Georgia Tech from this list. Of course, not every school has to fit all the criteria. The Big Ten has chased Notre Dame before, and it seems like Missouri would crawl across broken glass to the Big Ten at this point. Plus, if Rutgers or Syracuse could deliver the New York market, they'd getting an invite in, well, a New York minute.

But as I've said many times before, Delaney isn't stupid. He can see which way the wind is blowing, and right now it's blowing southward.