Illini basketball

Pure Speculation – The B1G Twenty

Here’s a hunch: Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney wants two Big Tens. Twenty schools total, one east and one Midwest. He needs to add six major television markets research institutions to reach that presumed goal.

Here’s another hunch: Most of those six will come from the eastern seaboard.

The first three of these six television markets research institutions are no-brainers because of their long traditions of excellent academics and athletic success:  #8 Atlanta Georgia Tech, #9 Washington Virginia, and #24 Charlotte North Carolina.

Luring these schools from the A.C.C. might require a better deal than Delaney offered Rutgers, which isn’t even getting the reach-around  in its initial membership phase. But consider that Purdue’s payout for last year was $12 million more than Florida State’s, and you can see why those schools would join Maryland in leaving.

Delaney won’t go west of the Rockies, so #2 Los Angeles UCLA is out of the picture. But what about #5 Dallas and #49 Austin Texas?

UT is a prize jewel for academic and athletic purposes. But it has The Longhorn Network. That’s either a good thing, or a bad thing. It’s certainly an impediment to joining the B1G at this juncture.

#10 Houston Rice is excellent academically, but it’s tiny so probably hasn’t produced enough eyeballs. University of Houston is at the opposite end of the academic spectrum, ranked #187 by US News (tied with Nevada, South Dakota State, UNC-Greensboro, & Western Michigan). On the one hand, its alums almost certainly spend hours mesmerized by television. Delaney might not stoop that low.


Penn State counts about 123,000 viewers alums in the Philadelphia metro area (#4). But college basketball in Philadelphia is always focused on The Big 5 — Penn, La Salle, Saint Joseph’s, Temple, and Villanova .

Temple is the biggest, and the only (quasi-) public school among the five. If Delaney wants to shore up viewership in Philly leaven the B1G’s highfalutin brainiac reputation, Temple would take over last place among B1G schools in the US News rankings (tied with Kansas but still ahead of Arizona and DePaul). Temple makes more sense than University of Pittsburgh, which is considerably smaller (but much higher ranked, academically). But Pitt is certainly a good option.

No university in New York City (#1) combines athletic prowess with outstanding academics. The New York market is considered immune to college sports, being rabidly obsessed with pro teams. So don’t look for Fordham or Columbia to join the B1G.

But I think Delaney would love to reel in #7 Boston Harvard. The Ivy League is a great concept, but it doesn’t make any money. Besides, the Ivy League exists mostly in the mind. If Harvard joined a major athletic conference, it would still be a member of the Ivy League as a matter of history and reputation.

Boston College would enter the B1G as the third-highest ranked institution, for academic purposes. But BC is tiny, less than half the size of a typical B1G land-grant behemoth.  Moreover, it’s hard to envision the B1G entangling itself with a Vatican school. Much of Rome’s American college sports is internecine, although the West Coast Catholics and the Big East both recently adopted quasi-Christian members in BYU and Butler, respectively. (WCC member Pepperdine is Church of Christ, while recently rejoining Pacific is Methodist.)

Delaney is a product of east coast parochial schools.  Maybe he has a fondness for mother church, but you’d think we’d have seen it by now. Boston College’s defection from the Big East demonstrates Rome’s willingness to prioritize money over brethren. As Garrison Keillor wrote in Pontoon “the money you spend there goes in part to pay for diamonds for the Pope’s shoelaces.”

The B1G is currently #2 in revenue, behind the SEC. But that’s mostly the result of TV contracts.

We estimate that the SEC generated a staggering $347 million in TV money last year. Nearly $300 million of that total came from ESPN

The onus on Jim Delaney is to cultivate the Big Ten Network so its revenue exceeds ESPN payments. Surely the proceeds of a wholly-owned network, given sufficient market share, should eclipse the fractional outlay any for-profit network could afford to disburse.

The coup-de-grâce in defeating Bristol would be to make BTN accessible to anyone on the Internet. In the old days, you couldn’t watch TV without an expensive distribution system. That’s not true anymore, but major networks seem slow to recognize that fact.

Live sports is not the Holy Grail of TV anymore, largely because people are fed up with ever-growing subscription fees. But live sports is still the most reliable path to viewer eyeballs. Advertising revenue need not be marginalized into a subscription model.

I’ll drop the strike-through gimmick to make a serious point. There’s no way Delaney could capture the top ten TV markets in the United States, no matter whether those eyeballs are watching via traditional television or smartphones.

But it’s not hard to imagine 8 of the top 11 markets claiming a hometown B1G team. And revenue opportunities grow larger if there’s no need to negotiate an exclusive contract with a regional carrier: There may be no B1G schools in Los Angeles and the Bay Area (#6), but there are literally millions of B1G alums in those markets.

The 2018 Big Ten Basketball Tournament will be played at Madison Square Garden, in dreary old Manhattan. Perhaps, by then, East Coast Bias will be the B1G selling point.


*Wild-card: #29 Nashville #15 ranked Vanderbilt, the only school in the SEC that cares about academics.

Illini basketball

Help Wanted

Malcolm Hill can’t do it alone.

Sure, after watching this team play eleven times, the idea of giving Malcolm the ball on every possession seems tempting. But here’s the thing: In the first half against Villanova, Malcolm scored 14 points. Then they noticed him.

If Rayvonte Rice hadn’t suffered his worst game as an Illini, if The Legend of Aaron Cosby had replaced Aaron Cosby in the line-up, Illinois would have given Villanova a game.

Nnanna Egwu was a monster on the boards. Kendrick Nunn acquitted himself at the two-guard spot. It’s the rest of the team that was the problem. Even Jaylon Tate caused problems, because the defense sagged into the paint whenever he took the ball on the wing.

Despite his nine rebounds, eight points and two assists; even Nnanna got in Malcolm’s way. The two of them were trotted into the media room following the game, and that tells us that John Groce felt Egwu played well enough. But Malcolm and Nnanna were not on the same page on court.

As they lined up for Villanova free throws in the first half, Malcolm yelled across the lane at Nnanna, angry style. “We just TALKED about that!” Before Nnanna could respond to Malcolm, referee Pat Driscoll (who played “Gopher” on The Love Boat) got in his face to issue the type of warning that referees issue to Nnanna.

I asked a Stupid Journalist question about the incident, which tells me I’ve now fully succumbed to Stupid Journalism. I should have asked “what was Malcolm yelling at you in the lane?” But Groce probably would have interrupted and cut me off. You could tell that he was about to pop. I highly doubt that he would have made any players available for comment, were it his decision. (The Big Ten requires it, and  the Jimmy V people were running the show.)

We can assume that the Malcolm-Nnanna disconnect concerns help-defense. Groce said the Illini played defense “selfishly.”

Still, the Illini were in the game, well into the second half.

The collapse came right when Illinois should have seized control of the game. Ahmad Starks had just connected on his only made three of the night. That tied the game at 38. Villanova was shaken.

The Illini got the ball back on consecutive Wildcat turnovers. Aaron Cosby missed a three. Then Ray tried to no-look a pass under the basket to Maverick Morgan. Morgan didn’t anticipate the pass, and moved away from it. Two Wildcats pounced on the ball.

On the next trip, Ahmad Starks tried to no-look a pass to Morgan.  This time, there were two Wildcats already in the way. Another turnover. On the third trip down, Illinois turned the ball over a third straight time.

That was it. The Wildcats recovered emotionally from the onslaught of Illini effort. They composed themselves, and went on an eight point run. Illinois tied the game once more at 50, but that used up whatever fuel was left in the tank.

Ray’s pass wasn’t terrible. It just didn’t fit the recipient. Ahmad’s pass was terrible. It had no chance of succeeding.

John Groce was blunt. He described his team as “not a team.” He said they were selfish on defense. He resisted fingering individual players, as per usual. His tone suggested the next few days of practice will be “demanding,” and perhaps rubbing right up against the cusp of “demeaning.”

If you’re into superstition, you can blame the players’ families for this one. For every set that attended, their corresponding Illini performed poorly, or not at all.

The Cosbys came. Aaron shot 1-for-8. Rhonda & Laronda came. Ray played out of control. The Starkses made the trip. Ahmad spilled four turnovers to go with his four assists, and connected only twice from the field.

Contrast Machanda Hill, who missed her first game of the year. Malcolm tallied a career high.

I don’t blame the LaTulips for coming, but Mike got only a minute of PT.

You could also blame Bill Geist’s “lucky” orange shoes for casting a spell on the Illini.

I sat on these shoes for much of the game, beacuse @TheGarden puts courtside seats everywhere, no matter the likelihood of beer spilling on expensive equipment.

Geist said he’s had the shoes for about thirty years. He wears them only to Illini games. His son Willie, and Illini alum Kevin Miller came together, and sat within earshot of the Illini bench.