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Three ways expansion can become reality and make everyone happy

Penn State coach Joe Paterno wants the Big Ten to add a 12th team. While such a move would make the conference's name even more mathematically incorrect, it would allow the league to stage a championship game that would bring in more money and keep the Big Ten's best teams in poll voters' minds come early December. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, however, has said the league doesn't intend to expand anytime soon.

But since it's June and the season is still three months away, we have chosen to ignore reality and examine some conference realignment possibilities, including one scenario that would silence the loudest cries for a playoff. This is pure, rampant speculation, but there's a kernel of possibility in each suggestion.

Since Penn State's move to the Big Ten in 1991 served as the first tectonic shift in that it produced the foundation for the current conference alignment, we'll use Paterno's suggestion -- that the Big Ten expand and stage a championship game -- as the jumping off point. Our first scenario won't make Paterno very happy, though, because it would add the 800-pound gorilla of college football marketing to the Big Ten.

If Notre Dame's negotiations for its own football television contract ever fall short of expectations, the failure of that deal could produce the most financially attractive marriage in college sports. The Big Ten already rakes in the dough thanks to massive fan bases and a dedicated television network; Notre Dame would bring a nationwide fan base that would make it nearly impossible for any cable system to stand up to the conference. Ad rates for the Big Ten network would soar, as would the potential value of the Big Ten's contract with ESPN/ABC or with any other network wishing to broadcast Big Ten football. Meanwhile, Notre Dame, an iconic program that plays a brand of football well suited to Midwestern sensibilities, would be a perfect geographic and philosophical fit for the league.STAPLES: Pros, cons to conference realignment

If there ever were a conference leaving money on the table by not staging a title game, it's the Big Ten. Sure, the ACC's conference title game has been a disaster, but a Big Ten championship game would more closely resemble the SEC's. The most recent SEC title game brought in $14.3 million, which the conference members split. Chicago is the Big Ten's Atlanta, but since Soldier Field might be frozen come championship Saturday, it'd probably be best to hold the title game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis every year. For most Big Ten fans, Indy is a drive or a cheap flight away, and the city has a walkable, safe downtown area packed with hotels, bars and restaurants.

So how would Notre Dame fit into the league? Remember, to stage a title game, the 12-team Big Ten would have to split into divisions. Notre Dame would want to play Michigan every year, but it would want to avoid an annual schedule that included Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. Here's a way to keep the rivalries intact without making the marquee teams pound one another every season.

Place Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue, Ohio State and Wisconsin in one division and Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Notre Dame in another. Using the SEC model, which features one fixed interdivisional rivalry per team, would ensure the continuation of the Michigan-Ohio State series. The lone drawback would be that if Michigan and Ohio State each won their divisions, they might have to face off in consecutive games.

Fans of other conferences would absolutely hate this lineup. Complaints about the media overhyping the Big Ten would increase exponentially. TV executives wouldn't care, though. They would pay, and Big Ten members would laugh all the way to the bank.

Paterno has said he doesn't want Notre Dame, and if NBC keeps forking over big bucks to broadcast the Fighting Irish, Notre Dame won't want the Big Ten, either. So that leaves us with Paterno's suggestion to add a Big East member, specifically Pittsburgh, Rutgers or Syracuse. The best possible fit for competitive and financial reasons would be Rutgers, a state school with a large alumni base that would add the nation's largest TV market to the Big Ten footprint.

Adding Rutgers would allow the Big Ten to stage a championship game, and league members would appreciate the chance to play in talent-rich New Jersey. The Big East, however, wouldn't be so happy. Only a few years removed from losing Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC, the league would again have to seek a new member. Two schools would be logical fits.

The first is Memphis, which would make a fine Big East basketball citizen provided the NCAA doesn't crush the program for the Derrick Rose/SAT scandal. Admission to the Big East also would give Memphis football an immediate boost. Memphis produces more prospects than any other area of Tennessee, but those players rarely consider their hometown school because it plays in Conference USA. Put the Tigers in a BCS conference, though, and the scales would tip. Suddenly, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Tennessee would have to fight to pull players from Memphis.

The other option is Central Florida, which sits in the middle of the most fertile recruiting state in America and opened a beautiful on-campus stadium in 2007. Nielsen ranked the Orlando-Melbourne-Daytona Beach TV market No. 20 in 2004, and it likely will keep growing. Also, UCF would provide a natural rival for current Big East member South Florida. Fan bases at both schools would love to see "The War on I-4" played with a BCS bowl berth on the line.

If BCS supporters want to shut up fans, Congress, the Utah attorney general and anyone else who keeps screaming for a playoff, they need to buy off squeaky-wheel schools with big-conference bucks. Using a potential 12th Big Ten team as a jumping off point, here's a conference alignment that would minimize the griping.

The Big Ten could follow the suggestion of ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg, who made an interesting case for adding Missouri as the 12th team. Though Mizzou is a former Big 8 school, the Tigers would be an excellent geographic fit for the Big Ten. The Tigers regularly fight Illinois for recruits, so they would enter the league with a built-in conference rival. And without having to deal with Texas or Oklahoma, Missouri would immediately compete for the conference title.

Missouri's exit would allow the Big 12 to welcome Texas Christian. TCU has played outstanding football for the better part of two decades, and the Horned Frogs would compete right away. After an infusion of Big 12 cash, TCU could rise to elite status. The Big 12 boasts plenty of fans in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, but not a school in the area. Adding TCU would change that. It also would put a dent in the Mountain West's quest to break the BCS.

To truly silence the BCS bashers, the Pac-10 would have to jump into the fray. The league reported only $88.78 million in gross receipts for the 2007 fiscal year, putting it far behind the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC. That's partly due to the nation's worst TV deal, but Pac-10 officials also are passing up on the championship game gravy train. Since Pac-10 coaches want to discontinue round-robin scheduling anyway, the next-best way to crown a conference champion would be the one that would make the most money.

The league could solve this problem by adding Boise State and Utah. By inviting the two biggest thorns in the BCS' side to sit at the big table, the Pac-10 could protect the BCS and its precious Rose Bowl matchup with the Big Ten. More than likely, Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff would drop any talk of an antitrust lawsuit if the Utes jumped ship. After such a shift, only BYU, which probably also deserves a spot in a BCS conference, would have reason to complain.

The Pac-12 -- thankfully, the former Pac-8 isn't married to round numbers -- could break into divisions easily thanks to its convenient geographic rivalries (The Civil War, the Apple Cup, The Big Game, Arizona-Arizona State and UCLA-USC). Utah and Boise State, two of the best programs this decade, would make fine conference rivals. Utah-BYU would join Clemson-South Carolina, Florida-Florida State and Georgia-Georgia Tech as a premier in-state, out-of-conference rivalry.

Though this alignment would seem to make life tougher for USC, it might give the Trojans a better shot at making the BCS title game. Last season, the Trojans stood virtually no chance at making the title game despite a regular-season record identical to Florida and Oklahoma. To make matters worse, USC's loss at Oregon State came the same week eventual champ Florida lost to Ole Miss. There's no way voters would have so quickly dismissed the Trojans if they'd gone 12-1 against a schedule that included matchups with Boise State, Cal, Oregon, Oregon State and Utah and a conference title game.

Of course, none of this will happen. Conference members won't want to split the pie any more than they already do -- even if realignment produced a bigger pie for everyone. But the Big Ten and Pac-10 have a golden opportunity to shut up the playoff pushers. All they need do is make like the universe and expand.

MORE COVERAGE:STAPLES: Pros and cons to conference expansionREACT: Share your thoughts on our realignment proposals

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