The Big Ten already has some experience with trampling over its natural boundaries, from admitting Penn State in 1990. Nothing against the Nittany Lions, but it was a mistake.
Penn State is now and will always be the equivalent of your cousin's ex-husband who keeps on coming to the family reunion 20 years after the divorce. He's greeted politely then but forgotten any other time. But what good could have come from squeezing 11 schools into a conference with "Ten" in its name?
The battle to keep the Big Ten at 10 is lost, but a few rules should guide any expansion. If your students can harvest oysters without leaving the state, you are not a Big Ten school. If they can leave class and be standing in a cornfield within 20 minutes, you are.
Does summer smell like salt water? Out. Is it fragrant with cow manure? In. Mountains and beaches? Let's think about this. Flat vistas that go on longer than the Academy Awards telecast? Now we're talking.
The University of Missouri is located in a state that had slavery, which is not a Midwestern thing, but it stayed in the Union, which is. Lots of people in Iowa and Illinois already feel an affinity because they root for the St. Louis Cardinals and share the Mississippi River.
Nebraska and Iowa State? Their athletes wouldn't need cultural orientation classes to prepare for trips to West Lafayette, Ind. Notre Dame, as everyone else knows, is a Big Ten school that just refuses to accept its obvious destiny.
In the end, there is something inseparable between the conference and the region where it grew up, and we tinker with it at our peril. So my advice to university presidents: If your students are happy to be called Midwesterners, you belong in the Big Ten. If they would take it as an affront, look elsewhere.
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