Well, as if the wave of news surrounding the NCAA’s newly-implemented name, image and likeness rules wasn’t enough, there’s now a new hot topic in the college sports world, and it’s quite possible that its implications are even more significant than those of NIL.
Following the weekend revelation that Texas and Oklahoma — the Big 12’s two biggest money-makers and the de facto rulers of the conference — would be leaving the conference and seeking membership in the SEC, the two schools and their desired new home conference made it official on Tuesday, with a series of statements.
Needless to say, the loss of their two most profitable programs puts the Big 12’s future in serious jeopardy, and with it, the conference alignment status of the other schools that currently comprise it. Two of those schools, Kansas and Iowa State, have begun talks of potentially joining the Big Ten, according to self-proclaimed “KU Scoopsmeister” Mike Vernon.
There is a sense that Iowa State is involved with the Big Ten as well.— Mike Vernon (@M_Vernon) July 23, 2021
KU has the head start here and would be trying to bring ISU along, if anything. https://t.co/0eWTGrjfeU
So, should the Jayhawks and Cyclones mosey on over the the B1G, what would that mean for the rest of the conference?
To start, we should probably look at the changes it would make to the conference’s top financial priority — football. First things first, as most readers of this site will already know, the Big Ten is divided into two subdivisions for football. For the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons, these division were known as the “Leaders” and “Legends,” with neither division having any ties to a particular geographic area. However, when Maryland and Rutgers joined the fold in 2014, the conference shifted to the geographically-based “West” and “East” divisions, whose names are pretty self-explanatory.
Let’s suppose that, instead of splitting into four pods of four teams each, the Big Ten keeps its current divisional alignment. Given that Both Iowa State and Kansas would fall towards the western boundary of where the Big Ten currently lies, one could logically assume that they would be added to the Big Ten West. This especially checks out when you consider the fact that Iowa would want guaranteed yearly matchups against its arch rival in the ISU Cyclones, as well as the quality of the two schools’ football programs.
Kansas football has been so bad since the start of the 2010s that it’s essentially become a meme. There’s hope among the Jayhawk faithful that new head coach Lance Leipold could start to reverse that trend, but then again, there was hope among KU fans when Les Miles was hired, and that didn’t go according to plan to say the least. Meanwhile, Iowa State has gotten increasingly stronger in recent years, making it to the Big 12 Championship game last year behind head coach Matt Campbell. In a West division that can often be a bloodbath without a dominant winner, should they keep their current trajectory, the Cyclones could very well end up at a Big Ten Championship game in the near future too.
Meanwhile, if you average out the two hypothetical new adds to the Big Ten West, you get something that resembles the Purdue Boilermakers, who would be the prime suspect to move from West to East in order to balance out the size of the two divisions given that they are the easternmost school currently in the West division and that their prime rival, Indiana, is already in the East. This means that the balance of the division would stay roughly the same.
You’ll have to look beyond football, though, to see what KU would bring to the conference. The Jayhawks’ flagship program — its men’s basketball team — is the second most winningest in its sport all-time, has won five national championships and is regularly a contender to add another under Hall of Fame coach Bill Self. Allen Fieldhouse, home to the original rules to basketball written by former KU coach James Naismith, is widely considered one of the best venues not only in college basketball but in all of sports. As a result of its winning ways and its rich history and tradition, KU basketball is a huge moneymaker. A 2020 article published by Forbes states that over the last three years measured the team brought in an average of $18.7 million profit for the school, good for third in the NCAA behind only Kentucky and Louisville. Should the Jayhawks come to the Big Ten, you can count on their regular contention for conference titles, as well as a boost in the value of the conference’s basketball TV rights.
Despite a series of strong regular seasons under (Bulls fans, look away) Fred Hoiberg in the 2010s, the Cyclones haven’t been able to ever get much going in March Madness. Their last Elite Eight appearance came in 2000, with their last Final Four trip coming before the establishment of the modern tournament format in 1944. Crazier things have happened (Baylor, of all teams, just won a national title), but I wouldn’t expect the Cyclones to be regularly among the premier tier of Big Ten hoops teams.
Rounding out the so-called “revenue sports” is women’s basketball. Kansas went to back-to-back to Sweet Sixteens in 2012 and 2013 as an 11 and 12 seed, respectively, but otherwise their only tournament appearance since the turn of the millennium happened in 2000, when they were bounced in the first round. As for ISU, things have been much less bleak, with 16 tournament appearances since 2000. However, the Cyclones have failed to capitalize on their opportunities, never making a Final Four. It seems likely that Iowa State would at least add to the depth of the Big Ten in women’s basketball, while Kansas will more likely than not detract from the conference’s overall strength.
As for non-revenue sports, neither program brings much to the table. The lone non-revenue national championship by either school came in 2013, when KU’s women’s track team won it all.
So there you have it. Kansas and Iowa State in the Big Ten Conference. Will the marriage happen? It’s nothing more than speculation at this point, but with the college sports world in disarray as the SEC Death Star grows more fearsome, it’s likely that every conference, the Big Ten included, will try to add to its value, and these two schools are prime prospects to do just that.