I'm under no delusions that golf has anything to do with why the powers that be at the Big Ten are beginning to explore the possibility of expansion over the next 12 to 18 months. Were, however, the conference to add a 12th member (causing grade-school math teachers even more headaches regarding how the oxymoron that is the league name), just what kind of impact might it have on our little old sport?
The most popular candidates bandied about right now are Notre Dame, Missouri, Rutgers, Syracuse and Pittsburgh. The latter two don't field men's or women's varsity golf teams, so their addition would be irrelevant. The first three schools have men's and women's teams but none of them are in the top 25 in the Golf World/Nike Golf men's coaches' poll or the Golf World/NGCA women's coaches' poll.
Here is how they rank according to Golfstat through the end of the fall season (where they'd rank in the conference is in parenthesis):
__ Men Women
__Notre Dame 65 (7th) 36 (4th)
Missouri 69 (8th) 81 (10th)
Rutgers 190 (12th) 169 (12th)
From strictly a quality of competition standpoint, Notre Dame and Missouri would obviously be the preference over Rutgers. With all due respect to the Scarlet Knights, should they join the Big Ten it would set up a situation very similar to what the ACC faces with Boston College. It's unlikely Rutgers would begin to travel much to the Midwest to compete in tradition Big Ten tournaments, essentially making the conference championship the lone tournament in which they'd tee it up with the league foes. (Indeed, the Rutgers men's team faced no Big Ten schools in any of its fall starts or in any start during the 2008-09 season; the women's team played against Penn State twice this fall and three times in 2008-09).
Conversely, the Notre Dame men played seven different Big Ten schools (3-6 overall record versus conference schools) this fall while the ND women played 10 (5-7-1). Missouri's programs played seven on both the men's (0-7) and women's (2-5) sides. Both competitively and geographically seem to be a better fit.
In my mind, the top choice would be Notre Dame, although the odds of them joining the conference are slim because of all the football politics. Missouri is a viable option as well, but from strictly a golf standpoint, I'd hope the conference might consider two other candidates: Kent State and Louisville. Take a look at their current stats through the fall.
__Golfstat Record vs. Big Ten Fall 2009
Men Women Men Women
__Kent State 41 (4th) 30 (3rd) 5-2 3-1
Louisville 68 (8th) 16 (3rd) 5-7 3-1
Kent is the longest of long shots because its football program is not at the same level as the other Big Ten schools, but Louisville would seem viable.
Am I missing anyone? Let me know who you think would be worth considering as well.