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The Big Ten Conference is thinking expansion. On December 15, the athletic conference announced it would take the next twelve to eighteen months to consider adding additional schools to its ranks. Rumors and analyses of how it will play out have run rampant since the announcement (Frank the Tank’s Slant is phenomenal for more on expansion). Last week Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany emailed conference officials to squash the latest rumor, that Missouri, Nebraska, Notre Dame, and Rutgers had received invitations to join the conference. Big Ten conference coaches are meeting in Chicago this week, leading to more questions, and the rumors will be a major topic of conversation when the league’s presidents and chancellors meet on June 6.
To gain perspective on potential legal consequences of expansion, Delany need only look back to 2004-2005, when the Big East lost Boston College, the University of Miami (FL), and Virginia Tech to the ACC. In the aftermath of the conference realignment, Connecticut Attorney General – and current Senate-hopeful – Richard Blumenthal led the charge in a lawsuit filed by Big East schools (Univ. of Connecticut, Rutgers Univ., Univ. of Pittsburgh, and West Virginia Univ.) against the ACC, Miami, and Boston College. The plaintiffs alleged the ACC conspired with Miami and BC to weaken the Big East by luring away some of the conference’s greatest football powers after the plaintiff schools spent millions of dollars to upgrade their football programs based on the presumed loyalties of the departing schools. The parties settled, with each plaintiff-school allegedly receiving $1 million.
The Big Ten could very well be staring down the barrel of a similar complaint. Along with the four schools to which Delaney denied extending invitations, the conference has been rumored to be considering Boston College, Kansas, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Texas, and Texas A&M, among others. Depending on how this plays out, the Big Ten could end up really pillaging the Big East or the Big 12. What is a Big 12 without Missouri, Nebraska, and Texas? Would they even play men’s basketball if they didn’t have Kansas, Missouri, or Texas? What about a Big East sans Notre Dame (granting that ND doesn’t play football in the conference, but they do participate in every other sport), Pitt, or Syracuse?
Point is, at the end of this twelve to eighteen month search period, the Big Ten conference might make some serious enemies, stealing another conference’s major revenue-generating programs. This could give rise to a multi-million dollar suit based on the equitable grounds that the other institutions in the slighted conference spent large sums of money on the presumption of the loyalty of the defecting schools to their former conference. If the Big Ten elects to ravage the Big East, Delany might find himself at a bargaining table with Attorney General Blumenthal, representing UConn and its Big East compatriots.
Commissioner Delany appears to be approaching this in the right way, making his intentions clear and proceeding with openness and transparency. Further, Delany is quite possibly the most powerful person in college sports today. His move to advance the conference with the Big Ten Network was pure genius, making millions. His shrewd business decisions are the reason the Big Ten is in this position, able to handpick almost any program in the nation to join his conference. It’s not like Delany isn’t well aware that there will be short-term financial costs in these expansion plans. But the potential for a high stakes suit between major college athletics players is a delightfully tantalizing thought. Mr. Delany, we wait with bated breath.
– Joe Cesta
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