Like it or not, Big Ten expansion a win-win
November 20, 2012 11:32PM
Big Ten Conference Commissioner Jim Delany answers a question during a news conference, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012, in Piscataway, N.J., after he and Rutgers Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Tim Pernetti and Rutgers President Robert Barchi announced that Rutgers will join the Big Ten. Rutgers will join the conference in all sports at a date to be determined. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Updated: December 22, 2012 6:29AM
Free market principals sure can ruin a few good football rivalries.
Geography stopped mattering when it involved conference affiliations, oh, about 19 years ago when Penn State moved into the Big Ten, which has now become the Big 14 with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers. None of this conference hopping really makes sense unless you follow the money.
The Terrapins bailed on the Atlantic Coast Conference because they stand to get at least $9 million more per year from the Big Ten television deal than what they were making in the ACC.
They left because a football conference, which is what the Big Ten is, has a much higher revenue ceiling.
They left because, quite frankly, tradition and rivalries and geographical fits don’t mean anything when there is a big pile of money sitting in an empty room, just waiting to be counted, and your athletic department is operating the red.
Now, we’ll be left wondering what it will be like to watch the Terrapins come to West Lafayette to play Purdue. Or how about that Indiana at Rutgers football game? Here is what I’d say. It doesn’t really matter. Penn State has been fully integrated and accepted as a Big Ten school for more than a decade now. No one I know of lately has questioned the Nittany Lions’ right to belong to the Big Ten. They have played some stinkers and had some great games over the year. Maryland and Rutgers are just two more schools to throw in the pile. Worry about the matchups when the time comes.
The best regular-season college football game I’ve watched all year? That would be Texas A&M beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa a couple of weeks ago. Wouldn’t have happened last year before the Aggies jumped from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference, primarily because it was more lucrative for the Aggies and they wouldn’t have to deal with Texas anymore.
Maryland boogied because it was running a deficit of $5 million — a deficit that forced the Terps to eliminate seven minor sports last summer. Their President has said they are going to reinstitute some of those sports immediately with the infusion of cash. I’ll take him at his word.
Rutgers is leaving for essentially the same reasons, though, their departure has created less derision and scorn than what has been heaped upon the Terrapins, possibly because the Big East has been ravaged by defections.
When conference shifting became a reality with the departure of Pittsburgh and Syracuse from the Big East for the ACC last year, this game of a musical chairs was only a matter of time.
Will having Rutgers and Maryland in the Big Ten actually work? Who knows. Even Nate Silver, the man for the New York Times who actually called all 50 states before the election, weighed in on the probability of the new Big Ten. His prognosis: It’s a bad fit because the East Coast fan base doesn’t embrace football the way the Midwest does. That trying to enhance the Big Ten football brand in the D.C. and New York television markets is an impossible slog.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has readily conceded that establishing a foothold in the East Coast market for the Big Ten Network is going to be an uphill battle.
Here is the larger point, though.
This is not a time for sentimentality and reactionary behavior. This is a time for action. The risk for the Big Ten is fairly low. It now have three East Coast schools and has a chance to move into those television markets and make more money. There was no chance before that. Maryland and Rutgers both get a lifeline for their ailing financial situations. It’s what’s known as a win-win for both sides, with very little downside for either. The Terrapins still have a great basketball tradition and they should, by virtue of playing in the conference, get better at football. At least that’s the theory. Even if they flop miserably, the Big Ten still has its football brand.
Grieve for the loss of the Duke-Maryland basketball rivalry and all the other great traditions that are dying.
Feel bad for the conferences, like the Big East, that are basically dead.
Get upset for the kids who are freshmen now who wanted to play at an ACC school.
Be angry about the endless well of money that these athletic programs generate — and then move on and look forward to the Maryland-IU game at Assembly Hall. This is how the business of college athletics works now, and it’s not going to change soon.