Delany’s Shadow: Picking a Big Ten School

Nathan Roholt FishWrap, FishWrap Archive

2013 was the first season in the recent wave of conference realignments that the five power conferences didn’t see any member change conferences. Tomorrow that hiatus ends as realignment returns with Louisville, Rutgers and Maryland all finding new homes amongst the five power conferences, the latter two joining the Big Ten.

It only makes sense that the biggest increase in a conference this summer will belong to the Big Ten since they were the ones responsible for triggering all this realignment in the first place. In June of 2010, they were the ones that added Nebraska as a twelfth member, thereby allowing the conference to stage a championship game and in the process triggering a domino effect that saw dozens of schools across the country realign with new conferences, the conferences participating out of survival rather than desire.

Expansion has been used as a strategy for the Big Ten to attempt to stave off the inevitable: the slow erosion of its population base in the states of its member schools as they relocate from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt. So far, the strategy has been successful in convincing at least three programs to join the conference and follow them in the conference’s pursuit to remain relevant. No power conference has added more teams during the recent wave of expansion than the Big Ten, making the numerically inaccurate conference tied for the largest membership in the country.

For a student to pursue studies at a Big Ten school, they know what they are getting: good academics, bad weather, great partying, and football that is becoming increasingly mediocre and top-heavy with each passing year. This means that more emphasis is placed on the conference’s top-quality basketball that’s being played, which in that regard means that the Big Ten is the new ACC.

Still, there are a lot of fun places to go to school in that part of the country, so if a prospective student like me were interested a B1G school, which one would I pick?

As always, schools in power conferences are judged on five criteria: status as a football school, quality of other sports teams, campus life which includes partying, the actual academic quality of the school itself and the enjoyment possible in its city. For a more detailed primer, catch my initial explanation here.

14. Purdue

Purdue University

Purdue University

Football School (rank out of 14): 12
Other Sports: 11
Campus Life: 13
Academics: 8
City: 14
Total Score: 57

Interestingly enough, this is the only Big Ten campus I’ve ever visited.

13. Rutgers

Rutgers Stadium became High Point Solutions Stadium in 2011.

Rutgers Stadium became High Point Solutions Stadium in 2011.

Football School (rank out of 14): 11

Other Sports: 12
Campus Life: 9
Academics: 9
City: 12
Total Score: 83

“If the standard for expansion is you have to bring in Nebraska or Penn State, no one’s ever going to expand.”

Jim Delany

Here’s why I think this era of superconferences is eventually going to dissolve: the conference’s own commissioner can’t feign excitement over the addition of his conference’s two newest schools.

Could you imagine Jim Delany if he were single? He’d be on a third date going, “Well, if the standard for a wife is a supermodel, no one would ever get married. And you’re not a supermodel, so, you know, we should probably just get married, I guess …”

12. Northwestern

Northwestern University

Northwestern University

Football School (rank out of 14): 9
Other Sports: 14
Campus Life: 14
Academics: 1
City: 10
Total Score: 94

Northwestern seems like a fine school, a lot of prominent sportswriters went there as it has one of the better journalism programs in the country. Yet when I look at this score, all I can think is “credit to Pat Fitzgerald, because he’s the one who has the football program as high as it is,” which on this scorecard is the school’s best scorer in addition to its academics. That’s something that couldn’t have been said 20 years ago until Fitzgerald, then a linebacker, helped shift the culture of that program. Now as a coach, they’re a high quality academic institution with a scrappy football team.

11. Nebraska

East Entrance of Nebraska's Memorial Stadium

East Entrance of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium

Football School (rank out of 14): 6
Other Sports: 10
Campus Life: 11
Academics: 14
City: 9
Total Score: 99

I loved reading the story where LaMichael James described his recruiting trip to Lincoln. He said the weekend of his visit it was minus-five degrees and snowing so he said, “Nope.”

10. Maryland

University of Maryland

University of Maryland

Football School (rank out of 14): 13
Other Sports: 8
Campus Life: 7
Academics: 7
City: 11
Total Score: 100

Sure, Maryland football is down right now, but if they could get a coach like Penn State just got in James Franklin … oh wait, what’s that? They had James Franklin as their coach-in-waiting, and they botched it?

And that’s how Maryland football got where it is today.

9. Minnesota

University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Football School (rank out of 14): 8
Other Sports: 5
Campus Life: 12
Academics: 10
City: 9
Total Score: 103

I had to give Minnesota points in “Other Sports” because Gopher fans love their hockey. While the Big Ten has a much richer tapestry of sports to draw from (as opposed to say, the SEC, which only has football and spring football), not the least of which are a significant number of schools that have high-level hockey programs. And in a place where hockey matters, the school where it matters the most is going to carry some weight.

8. Indiana

Assembly Hall, IU's iconic gym

Assembly Hall, IU’s iconic gym

Football School (rank out of 14): 14
Other Sports: 6
Campus Life: 4
Academics: 13
City: 4
Total Score: 117

Indiana is the model school for the arbitrary nature of party school rankings. Twelve years ago, they were ranked the number one party school in the country, while in many other years they haven’t even made the list. How come? Because the day the Princeton Review people were on campus that year was the same day that the Hoosiers had just made their first Final Four in a decade. I’m going to say that just might have been the source of some celebrating.

7. Michigan State

Michigan State University was the very first land grant university under the Morrill Act.

Michigan State University was the very first land grant university under the Morrill Act.

Football School (rank out of 14): 4
Other Sports: 2
Campus Life: 10
Academics: 11
City: 13
Total Score: 124

Independent of any other criteria, if your school wins the conference’s football and basketball titles in the same year, safe to say that September through March is a good time to be on campus.

6. Illinois

Memorial Stadium

Memorial Stadium

Football School (rank out of 14): 10
Other Sports: 7
Campus Life: 5
Academics: 4
City: 7
Total Score: 148

Every person I ever met who went to school there loved it. Also, their football program may be slightly down right now, but they have been to a Rose Bowl more recently than all but four Big Ten schools including Michigan. So they have that going for them.

5. Iowa

Kinnick Stadium

Kinnick Stadium

Football School (rank out of 14): 7
Other Sports: 9
Campus Life: 2
Academics: 12
City: 3
Total Score: 162

As mentioned before, party school rankings are incredibly arbitrary and Iowa’s rankings in that area appear to be all over the map. I’m inclined to believe it because if anyone has ever been to a bar where Iowa fans congregate, those folks come out in droves.

Also, the writer in me would be drawn to one of the best creative writing programs in the country.

4. Penn State

The Nittany Lion Shrine

The Nittany Lion Shrine

Football School (rank out of 14): 5
Other Sports: 13
Campus Life: 3
Academics: 4
City: 5
Total Score: 177

Serious question: How does the school handle questions from perspective students about the scandal from a few years back? I mean, that wasn’t just an issue within the football program, that scandal was a massive failure of leadership on all administrative levels.

So how do they handle those questions? I bet one of those work-study campus tour jobs are just the worst there is, since getting questions from snarky high schoolers “Where did the Joe Paterno statue used to be?” day after day would get exhausting.

3. Ohio State

The famed "Script Ohio" tradition.

The famed “Script Ohio” tradition.

Football School (rank out of 14): 1
Other Sports: 3
Campus Life: 6
Academics: 6
City: 6
Total Score: 193

Seems about right.

2. Michigan

Michigan Stadium is the largest stadium in the United States, and home to both the NCAA and NHL attendance records.

Michigan Stadium is the largest stadium in the United States, responsible for both the NCAA and NHL record-attendance events.

Football School (rank out of 14): 2
Other Sports: 1
Campus Life: 8
Academics: 2
City: 2
Total Score: 206

I’m sure that Michigan fans don’t even care they came in second, just that they beat Ohio State.

1. Wisconsin

University of Wisconsin-Madison

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Football School (rank out of 14): 3
Other Sports: 4
Campus Life: 1
Academics: 3
City: 1
Total Score: 230

When I did my SEC rankings, I had no idea how they were going to turn out. With the Big Ten, I knew exactly how they were going to turn out. I even tried to score Bucky on the low end just to see if anyone could beat the Badgers. But I knew better, knew Wisconsin was going to win. Good football tradition, basketball team just made the Final Four, routine contender in hockey, great people, huge partying reputation, great school academically and Madison is in that club of special college towns that every college student dreams of living in before realizing there are exactly eight jobs available there because everyone wants to live in Madison before they have to move to a big city to actually build their career.

That’s Madison and that’s Wisconsin, my Big Ten school of choice.

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