Academic rankings of expansion candidates

If the Big Ten chooses to expand, it will look at factors like athletic success, TV market and fan following. But trust me, academic reputation will play a major role in this decision.

That's why I can eliminate several of your expansion suggestions right off the bat. The Big Ten prides itself on its academic reputation, and it's not going to compromise just for more money.

There are certainly several ways to rank institutions, but US News & World Report's Best Colleges series is arguably the most respected source on this subject. Here's a breakdown of how the US News rankings work.

First, let's examine where the current Big Ten schools come in in the 2010 edition of national universities rankings:

No. 12: Northwestern

No. 27: Michigan

No. 39 (tie): Illinois

No. 39 (tie): Wisconsin

No. 47 (tie): Penn State

No. 53 (tie): Ohio State

No. 61 (tie): Purdue

No. 61 (tie): Minnesota

No. 71 (tie): Indiana

No. 71 (tie): Michigan State

No. 71 (tie): Iowa

As you can see, having all 11 members ranked among the nation's top 75 national universities is pretty impressive.

Now let's look at where some potential expansion candidates rank. I'm casting a very wide net here on purpose.

No. 20: Notre Dame

No. 34: Boston College

No. 47 (tie): Texas

No. 56 (tie): Pittsburgh

No. 58 (tie): Syracuse

No. 66 (tie): Rutgers

No. 88 (tie): Iowa State

No. 96 (tie): Kansas

No. 96 (tie): Nebraska

No. 102 (tie): Missouri

No. 126 (tie): Utah

No. 128: Kentucky

Schools ranked below 128 are classified in Tier 3 and Tier 4.

Tier 3: Cincinnati

Tier 3: West Virginia

Don't hold your breath on Cincinnati or West Virginia becoming the 12th team. Missouri, my top choice, ranks a little low as well. The three top Big East candidates -- Rutgers, Syracuse and Pitt -- all certainly would satisfy the Big Ten's academic demands. As for Notre Dame? We all know ND is the obvious choice, but the school likely will never relinquish its independent status until it absolutely has to.