The dust has settled the last few weeks on the expansion front, and now we are merely left to analyze all the action that took place in such a quick period of time. One of the biggest questions we have ask at this point is - who won the expansion war?
Well, early this year it appeared that the Big Ten was the front runner in all things expansion and would dictate what the other conferences would do. Jim Delany and company drug their feet though, and Larry Scott and the Pac-10 wasted no time jumping into the spotlight. At one moment it appeared they would jump to 16 teams, engulfing the powerhouse teams in the Big 12.
Though most of the predictions and rumors would end up being false, the Pac-10 did grab most of the headlines with their additions of Utah and Colorado. Those press clipping combined with the biggest expansion move (two teams) would leave many to believe that they were the big winners of the whole thing. At first glance that doesn't seem like a crazy assumption, but after a deeper look I think it's pretty clear the Big Ten came out on top. Here is why:
It's about quality not quantity...
Adding both Colorado and Utah ensured that the Pac-10 can now have a conference championship, but neither appears to add much as an elite power. Colorado has not fared well in recent years, and even under Gary Barnett (when things were much happier in Boulder), they were still typically a 5 loss team. Utah does have much more appeal with their recent bowl success, including the stunning upset of Alabama in '09, but have yet to show they can play in a power conference week after week (though I do have great respect for the MWC). Larry Scott even admitted this:
“Utah’s proven they can compete with the very best of the Pac-10,” he said. What will be interesting to see is, now they’ll have to do it on a week in, week out basis. I think it’s a real challenge for Utah coaches, but I’m sure they’re up for it.”
It's about the fanbase...
Nebraska has, arguably, some of the best fans in the country, while Colorado and Utah are both pretty average. Sure that sounds a bit harsh, but one has to merely look at the average attendance and stadium size to see that the statement is true. Nebraska was in the top ten last year in average attendance, with 85,888 (Memorial Stadium seats 81,091). In comparison, Colorado averaged under their capacity of 53,700 and Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium seats a mere 45,017.
Those numbers don't even bring in the national fandom Nebraska has or the identity of their fans. In fact, last time I checked neither the Buffaloes or Utes had many movies spotlighting their fans like Nebraska.
It's about the balance of alignment...
While both conferences have some work to do on the the alignment front, Nebraska seems to fit into the Big Ten much better easier than the Buffaloes and Utes do the Pac-10. With Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska and Iowa the Big Ten has a solid balance of power, and that doesn't even mention Michigan State and Wisconsin who often find themselves in the mix. Though preserving rivalries will cause some confusion, each side of the conference should be relatively even (no matter how they split things).
The Pac-10 has much bigger obstacles facing them including geography and recruiting. There are many who believe that the L.A. schools will join the Arizona schools along with Colorado and Utah in the South. That will leave Stanford, Cal, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State in the North. The problem is that Southern Cal is a recruiting and media hub presenting an imbalance for the northern schools, much like the issues the Big 12 had with the state of Texas. Berry Tramel talks about this issue:
"But that apparently has brought angst from the North schools — Stanford, Cal, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State. All recruit greater Los Angeles and reap the benefits of a game a year in southern California."
Considering USC is able to rebound, the balance of power should be pretty even. The issue is that the northern teams could quickly feel irrelevant in a conference that already gets less headlines thanks to a college football world dominated by the east.
This one belongs to the Big Ten!
Obviously, the failure to reel in Notre Dame hurt the Big Ten's image during the expansion process, but Nebraska is still a heavyweight. Colorado and Utah, on the other hand, will most likely add to the middle of the pack in the Pac-10. Outside of USC, the conference has had little to celebrate over the last few years, and the latest additions don't shake things up nearly the way Larry Scott would have hoped. Not only that, but the Pac-10 has some major image problems to overcome in the coming months.