Rutgers? Maryland? In My Big Ten? It’s More Likely Than You Think
As if we Big Ten fans needed another reason to be sick of this puke-bucket season, we got one yesterday when rumors surfaced that Rutgers and Maryland were about to consider making a move to the Big Ten. The timing was atrocious. The idea itself seems atrocious. How concerned should we be about this? You’ve got questions; I’ve got answers.
Is this for real?
It’s real that Rutgers and Maryland appear to be considering such a move. The Big Ten itself has not commented on the topic yet. I’ll leave it to you to decide if those schools would be having these discussions without (a) an informal invitation from the conference, or (b) putting out feelers to see if the conference was interested in having them join.
Why these two schools?
I’ll grant that Rutgers and Maryland are far from the sexiest schools out there from an athletic point of view. They are, however, schools that fit the Big Ten’s overall profile: flagship universities of their respective states with excellent overall academics.
Of course, that’s not the reason why these two schools are in the mix. They’re in the mix because they are located in or near two huge media markets (New York and Washington DC). They’re also in the mix because Syracuse and Pitt are leaving the rotting carcass of the Big East for the ACC. With Notre Dame aligning itself with that conference, the Big Ten needs to expand its footprint on the East Coast or risk losing a strong presence in the nation’s most densely populated region. Notre Dame has a giant fanbase on the East Coast; without a physical presence in that region, the Big Ten could find it’ll never grow the BTN’s presence, thereby limiting its future revenue.
Because the ACC moves are about to happen. Because Big East football is on life support. Because the SEC went to 14 teams. Because, in the realignment game, it’s a half hour till closing time. All the 10s, 9s, and 8s are gone. The 7s are leaving quickly. The Big Ten needs a stronger East Coast presence before there’s an ACC/Notre Dame network competing for the prime spot on the cable systems. Raiding the ACC and the Big East is about the only way to pull that off.
So this is all about money, then?
Yes. What, exactly, were you expecting it to be about?
What does this mean for football?
In Rutgers, the Big Ten would get a solid team something along the lines of, if not Ohio State or Michigan, a definite Michigan State/pre-2012 Iowa level performer. With more media exposure and better conference opponents, Rutgers could certainly grow.
In Maryland, the Big Ten would be getting another Purdue or Illinois, complete with the bitter alienation between the coach and the fanbase.
The conference would also get the chance to realign the divisions. There would be pressure to go with a straight geographic alignment by putting the two new schools in the Leaders Division, then moving Wisconsin and Illinois to the Legends. The permanent cross-division rivals would have to be worked out, as Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Northwestern would all need new rivals from the other division. It can be done — there are the same number of teams in each division, after all — but every rivalry (save the Holy of Holies, of course) would have to be on the table.
If the Big Ten followed the SEC’s lead with a 6-1-1 schedule (six division games, a permanent rival, and one other team from the other division on a rotating basis) the league could actually reduce travel costs for the member schools since there would be slightly fewer giant road trips. For instance, a Nebraska-Maryland game (assuming they weren’t cross-division rivals) would only happen once every six years and each school would only have to travel once every twelve years or so. That wouldn’t be the case in basketball where there are no divisions, but basketball traveling parties are only a fraction the size of football traveling parties.
Even with a clear east/west split I can’t see the division names changing.
So, with all of this under consideration … is Jim Delany insane?
Remember, as of now, we don’t know this move is actually happening. That said, no, he’s not insane. I would prefer the Big Ten to think south rather than east (i.e., if the Big Ten is going to nab a team form the ACC, I’d rather it was Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech) but getting frozen out of any well-populated region is a real concern, and there’s every chance that the ACC could lock up the allegiance of fans — and recruits — on the East Coast forever. Given the population trends of the Midwest, that’s a real problem.
All this money-grubbing and media-driven realignment is depressing me. What can I do?
Wherever you are in Big Ten country, there’s a smaller athletic program (as in FCS, Division II, Division III, NAIA) near you that would love your support. The tickets will be cheaper, the games at least 85% as entertaining, and the discombobulation less frequent. Of course, your new team’s games won’t be on TV except maybe in their immediate home markets and nobody will care even a little bit if your new team wins a national title, let alone making the playoffs. You’ll root, you’ll follow, you’ll be just as happy, but fewer people will share in your enthusiasm and nobody will give a rip that you’re a fan. Of course, they don’t give a rip now, but at least there are more people who will share in your delusion that your team’s record says something about you.
If that doesn’t work for you, that’s fine; just acknowledge that you’re part of the problem and you can quit this any time you want.