Big Ten expansion coming soon

There's been one major brand of college basketball-related expansion to fret about this offseason -- NCAA tournament expansion. (I mean, seriously, look at this bracket. Is it too late to stop this? Ugh.) But there are other college hoops entities thinking about expanding this summer. I'm referring, of course, to the Big Ten. Who's ready for another superconference?

The news hook here is that Big Ten expansion is going to come faster and more furiously than anyone thought. The original timeline for considering and finalizing the process of adding more teams to the Big Ten was 12 to 18 months. Now an "accelerated" timetable has emerged, according to the Chicago Tribune. Big Ten officials met in Washington Sunday, and if they came away with a mandate for expansion, they can move forward with the process of selecting a new school (or schools) to expand the conference to 12 or 16 teams. For more on how this process would actually work, I highly recommend you check out Adam Rittenberg's Big Ten football blog; he's been covering the conference's expansion efforts as closely as anyone.

The really interesting bit here, at least for college basketball fans, is that 16-team thing. This is not out of the question, according to one of the Trib's anonymous sources:

"I don't think 16 is scaring anyone off, as long as you can find (five) that are a good enough fit," said one source who has been consulted during the exploratory phase. "They're looking long-term, across the horizon. What gives them the best shot at keeping value at a high level?"

It's hard to imagine a Big Ten expansion meeting not broaching, if not focusing sincerely, on the topic of building the conference out to 16 teams. This has major on-court implications for basketball. Depending on who the Big Ten was able to draw across the aisle, the conference could topple the Big East as the country's biggest, deepest and most competitive. What if Syracuse and Pitt, both angling for bigger football shares, jumped ship to the Big Ten? Hypothetical, yes, but you get the point.

What's more, the Big Ten's expansion to 16 teams would herald a new era in college basketball and football: the superconference. Not only are major conferences building their own networks and self-sufficient media operations, they're expanding toward something like hegemony. If the Big Ten goes to 16 teams, how much longer before the SEC, Pac-10, ACC or Big 12 expand? One 16-team conference is an interesting idea. Two is officially an arms race.