Monday, May 28, 2007

What If...Mizzou Joined the Big Ten in 1996? (Part One)

In late-February 1994, the Big 8 as it had existed for decades was about to change significantly. The Southwest Conference was falling apart, and there was a huge Texas TV market for the taking. The conference invited four SWC schools—Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, and Texas Tech—to join. MU Chancellor Charles Kiesler was skeptical:

The Big Eight needs to do more homework before finalizing a deal to bring four Southwest Conference schools into the league, and the union doesn't mean Missouri is in for the long haul, MU chancellor Charles Kiesler says.

“I want to emphasize I'm not badmouthing this deal,” Kiesler said last night. “It may well be the best thing that ever happened to the Big Eight and those four other schools. But it's a complicated deal, and we haven't treated it in a complicated way.

“If I went to the curators with a deal as complicated as this, with as many millions of dollars involved and said, `Trust me,' they'd give me my lunch pail and send me home.”
Others involved with Mizzou were also skeptical:

No pussy-footing around. I'm starting out against the proposed merger of the Big Eight athletic conference with four teams from the Southwest Conference.

If MU is going to join with teams from another conference, my first instinct tells me, let it be the Big Ten. Athletic implications are not all. Television revenue is not everything. Missouri's flagship campus would be in better academic company hobnobbing with the likes of Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois than with Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Baylor. We have more geographic affinity with the Big Ten. Missourians tend to look east instead of west.


I'm pleased to see that MU chancellor Charles Kiesler at least is skeptical. His stated concern is that it's a complicated deal, and he has not yet given it the complicated consideration he must before recommending it. The governing bodies of all the schools involved will have to sign off. If it comes to a conflict between a majority vote among Big Eight schools and dissidence from individual institutions, the dissidents no doubt would fall in line.

Kiesler made one intriguing comment. Even if the Southwest Conference deal goes through, that doesn't mean Missouri is in it for the long haul. Later, if the Big Ten comes knocking, MU might go that way. However, having made his caveats, Kiesler said he is happy with the Big Eight, has no intention of leaving the Big Eight, would no doubt vote with a majority that wanted the Southwest merger and that, superficially, the merger looks like a good deal.
So let’s say for a minute that Mizzou resisted the call of the soon-to-be Big 12, and let’s say for a minute that the Big Ten gave up on Notre Dame and invited Missouri to be its 12th member.

Now, before we go any further, I should acknowledge that the “Should Mizzou go to the Big Ten?” topic comes up about every 2-3 months on Missouri message boards, and it drives me absolutely crazy. I grew up in Western Oklahoma, following Missouri, OU, OSU, and Nebraska, not Illinois, Iowa, and Ohio State. I would have been a very hard sell. However, this is “What If...” Land, so it’s not really up to me.

This post will focus on football. It is, of course, tempting to go down the “St. Louis is basically Big Ten country, and if we were in the Big Ten, we might have ended up with some of those StL recruits we missed out on over the years” path, but I won’t. Nor will I think about Texas recruits we might not have gotten without as much Texas exposure. Instead, I will only aim—with the foolproof transitive property—to lay out about what would have happened if a 12-team Big Ten had begun play in 1996, and Mizzou had been involved with the exact teams they ended up with. I have to work through 11 seasons here, and if I started changing who was or wasn’t on the team, this post would end up 15,000 words long.

(Here are some more questions: what would this have meant for the Big 12? Would the deal have broken down if one team had backed out? Would someone like Iowa State have decided not to jump in either? Would everything have gone down exactly the same, only with TCU or Colorado State in Missouri’s place? And how the hell would divisions have been divided if TCU took MU’s place? They’d have almost had to split up OU and OSU! Anyway, it’s very interesting to think about the domino effect that might or might not have followed MU jumping from the train.)


The first issue on the table is, how would a 12-team Big Ten be divided? Geographically, there’s really only one answer:

West Division – Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Northwestern, Wisconsin
East Division – Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue
This keeps all the major rivalries—Michigan/OSU, Michigan/MSU, Indiana/Purdue, Iowa/Minnesota, Illinois/Missouri?, Iowa/Missouri?—intact, and it really does perfectly divide the conference up, east and west. Question is, would that be even remotely competitively even? Looking at the current state of those programs (in football), the answer is obviously no. However, divisions would have been formed in the 1994-95 range. What did the landscape look like then?

Here are the conference records for these teams between 1991-1995, the five seasons before division play would have started (brought to you by the always fantastically useful

West Division
Illinois: 21-17-2 (.550 win %)
Iowa: 21-18-1 (.538)
Wisconsin: 18-19-3 (.488)
Northwestern: 15-25 (.375)
Missouri (Big 8 record + record vs Big 10 teams): 12-28-1 (.305)
Minnesota: 8-32 (.200)

Total Record: 95-139-7 (.409) (Take out NW’ern’s 8-0 record in ’95, and this gets significantly worse.)

East Division
Ohio State: 32-6-2 (.825)
Penn State (Big Ten 1993-95): 19-5 (.792)
Michigan: 29-9-2 (.750)
Michigan State: 20-19-1 (.513)
Indiana: 16-24 (.400)
Purdue: 10-17-3 (.288)

Total Record: 126-80-8 (.607)
Okay, so it wasn’t balanced then either. Is there anything that could have been done about it, though?

- You have to have Michigan-MSU-OSU in the same division.
- You have to have Illinois-Iowa-Minnesota-Missouri in the same division.
- You have to have Indiana-Purdue in the same division, and those two teams have to be in the same division as UM-MSU-OSU to balance out the quality with their own lack thereof.

So that leaves Northwestern, Penn State, and Wisconsin without a division, and I think it just makes too much geographic sense not to stick NW’ern and Wisconsin with Illinois-Iowa-Minnesota-Missouri, right? Having an intra-division rivalry between Minnesota and Penn State (991 miles apart according to Google maps) instead of Ohio State and Penn State?

Let’s look at the other major revenue sport—men’s basketball—and see how these divisions would stack up there. Of course, I can only dig up records for 1993-94 and 1994-95—and since is flaky at the moment, I can only find overall records, not conference records—so we’ll work with that.

West Division
Missouri: 43-11 (.796 win %)
Minnesota: 39-22 (.639)
Illinois: 35-21 (.625)
Wisconsin: 30-24 (.556)
Iowa: 29-27 (.518)
Northwestern: 18-35 (.340)

Total Record: 194-140 (.581)

East Division
Purdue: 50-10 (.833)
Michigan State: 41-16 (.719)
Indiana: 37-19 (.661)
Michigan: 38-20 (.655)
Penn State: 30-24 (.556)
Ohio State: 18-38 (.321)

Total Record: 214-127 (.628)
Oops. Okay, so let’s try something different here. Before I dive into 11 years’ worth of results, I’ll solicit some feedback from you, the loyal Sanity readers. Even though it would result in relative imbalance, would the Big Ten have set up divisions in this East/West manner? Or would they have created more parity by sticking Penn State in the same division with Minnesota/Iowa/Illinois/Missouri?