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Why the Big Ten Badly Needs the 2014 NCAA Title

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In his 24 years as the commissioner of the Big Ten, Jim Delany has turned the conference into an enviable college sports property.

Since 1989, the oldest Division I college conference has expanded ranks from its titular 10 to 14 with the additions of Penn State (1991), Nebraska (2011), Maryland and Rutgers (starting in 2014). Big Ten schools are now guaranteed slots in seven football bowl games. And by 2005, average home attendance at Big Ten home games had swelled from 58,000 to 72,000.

That was just a prelude for arguably Delany’s crowing accomplishment: The August 2007 launch of the Big Ten Network, a jointly operated channel with Fox Sports and the first internationally distributed network dedicated to covering a single college conference. The conference’s cash cow reportedly made a profit of $315 million in 2012 and sealed the Big Ten’s place as the envy of the modern-day mega-conference.

Alas, one big factor stands in the way of the Big Ten anointing itself as such: The lack of football and basketball national championships won since Delany’s arrival in July of ‘89.

As omnipresent as the league has become on the college sports landscape, it boasts a decided lack of championship hardware in the two major revenue sports. Since 1989, they’ve won two in football (Michigan in 1997 and Ohio State in 2003) and one in basketball (Michigan State in 2000). Among the NCAA’s “Big Five” conference, that’s dead last. What’s more, the best that the Big Ten has to offer has perpetually been the team to come up short with a national title on the line. Since the 1989-1990 season, the conference boasts three times as many losing championship game squads - two in football, seven in basketball - as it does winning championship game squads.

This isn’t to say that the conference’s athletic performance is suffering as a whole. Collectively, Big Ten teams have won 59 national championships in other NCAA-sponsored sports since the 1989-1990 season, and each current member school boasts at least one national title since the 2006-2007 season.

Yet there’s no denying that the football and basketball are the sports on which mega-conferences make their reputations. And right now, the Big Ten is in the middle of an 11-year drought. At this weekend’s Final Four, second-seeded Wisconsin will be the latest team to try and end it after Michigan State and Michigan were downed in the Elite Eight.

The Badgers are just latest team to try and prove that the Big Ten should be regarded as a shining example of a modern-day mega-conference not just because of the member schools rich in tradition or the massive football attendance figures or the first-of-its-kind cable network.

But also because it wins where it matters most: On the field and on the court.

Top Photo Credit: Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports

 
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