The college football offseason before the 2020 season, seems like it is going to last an eternity. While mainstream previews are coming out, we still have 80-plus days to go until the season starts — if then.
Let’s now discuss a hot offseason topic that is known as conference expansion. The topic of conference expansion has really cooled off since the Big Ten poached Maryland, and the ACC killed off the Big East we knew. It feels like the future of college football will be built into super conferences.
There isn’t a day on the CFBHome account that we do not see Twitter users fantasizing about a blue-blood super conference. While that is nice, the charm of college football is keeping a traditional, regional footprint. No sane person wants to see USC in the same conference as Alabama.
While no one wants to see a broad represented conference, super conferences are still a hot talk for many, and some see it as a future for college football. Today, the biggest conferences are the ACC, Big Ten, and SEC at 14 teams each. What if they wanted to take it to a higher level and become the first 16-team conference?
We’ll focus on the Big Ten to start this series.
Big Ten Football
The Big Ten is an athletic conference that finds its origins in the year 1896. Currently, the conference has a footprint in 11 different states and 14 different schools. The Big Ten is known for Midwest football, and has two blue bloods in its conference (Ohio State and Michigan). The geographical locations of its teams go all the way from the Atlantic Ocean and venture out as far west as Nebraska.
When many people think of conference expansion, the first thought is how we can strengthen the conference. When you are at 14 teams, how much stronger can you possibly get on an athletics platform? The real question that needs to be asked is what universities can be added to create a more profitable stream for our members.
If more conference expansion is to happen in the future, conferences need to think unique and long-term. It may not benefit them short term, but the university that adds value with longevity, and becomes a cornerstone of a conference.
Candidate No. 1: Toronto University
We did say earlier in the article that uniqueness needs to play a factor in the decision making. We can guarantee that some reading the article would have thought someone like Notre Dame or one of the ACC universities would have made an appearance. If you are going to expand to your limit, you need to make a selection that could be icing on the cake for profit margins and a fit for your conference.
We actually wrote about this in 2012 on our old website, and the idea is still a radical one. The thing about this idea is that there would have to be so much build-up on Toronto’s side, but the potential would be a massive one. Lets dive into the reasoning.
The Big Ten, known as the Midwestern geographical conference, would immediately become the first international conference with the addition of Toronto. When conferences are looking to expand, they try to avoid overlapping in the same states or the same markets. For instance, a program like Pittsburgh would never be considered. Penn State already offers all the same things.
Adding someone like Toronto would be a new footprint on steroids. Instead of adding a new state, you are adding a whole country where all Canadians could get behind the program. You can see on the map below that 50 percent of Canada’s population is below the red line. Under the red line is where Toronto is located. There is a reason why the NBA, Major League Baseball, and MLS have a footprint there.
One of the biggest upsides is adding a market that has just under 3 million people. While the facilities need major upgrades, and the school needs more of an undergraduate body, the city provides a big enough umbrella for it to happen.
Proximity to Big Ten Universities
Toronto ———-> Ann Arbor, 275 Miles
Toronto ———–> State College, 298 Miles
Toronto ———-> Columbus, 428 Miles
Ann Arbor ——–> Lincoln, 746 Miles
With conference networks bringing in new revenue streams for major conferences last decade, they heavily depended on TV markets. If conferences could reset themselves, and rid themselves of some charter members, they totally would. Do you think other ACC members are excited they get to share revenue with Wake Forest? The Demon Deacons are in relatively small Winston-Salem and have one of the smallest undergraduate enrollments in the country.
If you put all of North America on the same playing field of TV markets, Toronto would be ranked as the No. 4 market just behind Chicago. If you look at the list, the Big Ten has an entry to the No. 1 ranked market with New York since Rutgers is 30 minutes away (yes, work needs to be done there). Multiple teams give them access to the Chicago TV market which is No. 3. The addition to Toronto would be a huge cornerstone addition to TV markets.
One of the biggest things the Big Ten prides itself on is that majority of its members are AAU Research Universities. When Nebraska was first proposed for the conference, many thought this was going to be a major hurdle as it is not a AAU member. AAU (Association of American Universities) devote themselves to transform lives through education, research, and innovation.
Currently, there are 65 university members for the AAU. The University of Toronto is one of them. While the athletics side may be a big hurdle, there is already a familiarity on the academic side.
The Varsity Blues call Varsity Stadium home. That home currently only fits 5,000 spectators. To join big time college football, that capacity would need to increase at least tenfold. Not only that, but the level of the football program is Division III-level.
While upgrading talent would not be difficult as many teams have been through a similar position before (South Alabama is a great example), upgrading facilities across all athletics would take time. The Big Ten would have to be patient with a university with such major upside. Besides hockey, nearly each of the other 30-plus varsity programs would need facility upgrades.
Luckily, BMO Field exists within the city. BMO Field hosts MLS’ Toronto FC and the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts. Currently, the capacity there could be expanded to 40,000 and would be an acceptable fix until facilities are upgraded.
For logical conference expansion to happen, you want the largest upside you can gather as most conferences are reaching their expansion limit. The University of Toronto would add a new major market, an international footprint, and still keep regional proximity to other Big Ten schools.
While facilities and athletics would need a major overhaul, as a conference official looking to get the most bang for their buck, Toronto could be a sexy pick.