Conferece realignment

Thoughts on B1G Expansion

The University of Maryland will leave the ACC to join the Big Ten in 2014, becoming the league’s 13th member.  Rutgers University is widely expected to leave the Big East for the Big Ten tomorrow.

Why those schools?  There appears to be two main reasons:

1) Shifting population.  Core Big Ten states Michigan and Ohio are losing population.  Maryland and the New Jersey/NYC area are gaining population.  The logic is to position the Big Ten for future growth and success, it needs to have footholds in population centers.

2) Television money.  Sports on TV are one of the few things people will watch live, instead of fast-forwarding through the commercials on their DVR.  This makes airing sporting events (especially football) a lucrative venture.  The Big Ten will be renewing their TV contracts soon, and adding teams in bigger Northeastern markets makes it more likely for the conference to land a huge payday.

2b) Cable subscribers.  Along with getting a big TV contract, the Big Ten also makes money by having people subscribed the Big Ten Network (BTN).  You can argue just how much folks in Washington D.C. or New York City really care about Maryland or Rutgers sports, but if the BTN becomes an addition to more cable companies in those areas, it results in more money for the schools.

There may be other reasons at play, conspiracy or otherwise*, but those are main factors driving the realignment bus, as always.

*I’ve heard the argument that this move is nothing but Boss Delaney sticking it to the ACC for getting Notre Dame to agree to play five game each year against ACC schools, when the Big Ten has been trying in vain to land ND for years and years.  That seems more short-sighted than Delaney is known for, but it is an interesting argument.

The thing one thing missing from this round of Big Ten expansion is the name factor.  When the conference added Penn State in 1993, they were getting a traditional power with a legendary coach.  When the Big Ten added Nebraska in 2010, they got one of the winningest programs in college football history, with one of the nation’s most passionate fan bases.

But what do Maryland and Rutgers bring in terms of football?  Not much.  Since 2000 (through this past weekend), these two teams are a combined 166-149 (53%) with a combined 13 bowl appearances.  None of these 26 squads has finished a season ranked higher than 11 (Maryland, 2001).

The 2000s were one of the worst decades in Nebraska history, but the Cornhuskers are still 112-54 since 2000 (67%) with 10 bowl appearances and two top 10 rankings.  I don’t expect every new member to be on par with Nebraska, but I definitely feel like the Big Ten could have done better.

My opinion of these moves is rather mixed.  Yes, the move will likely benefit Nebraska with more money, increased recruiting opportunities in Maryland and New Jersey, and the likelihood more easy conference victories, but at what cost?  Currently, if I want to watch NU play Illinois, Indiana, or Purdue, it is doable without shelling out for airfare (around 1,200 miles by car, round trip.  But 1,208 miles to College Park, MD or 1,288 miles to Piscataway, NJ?  Each way?  Forget it.

As a football fan, would you rather see Nebraska play Wisconsin or Ohio State every couple years, or once or twice a decade?  Whomever bids on the TV rights will know that for every classic Michigan-Ohio State game, they are also paying for the right to show Indiana-Rutgers, Maryland-Minnesota, and other duds.

Right now, I’m down on the expansion.  The addition of two unremarkable teams won’t help the overall product or brand, and I feel pretty safe in saying that the extra TV revenue won’t make my season tickets any cheaper.

There are some opportunities for a silver lining to come out of this realignment, specifically:

  • The conference finally gets rid of the overly pompous (and confusing) Legends and Leaders division names.  Call it East/West, Central/Eastern, whatever, but don’t insult my intelligence by trying to convince me that either of these new schools is a leader or legendary (unless we’re talking about leading the pack in wearing legendarily ugly uniforms).
  • Maybe Nebraska will get a new “designated cross-over rival”.  When NU joined the Big 10, Penn State was tagged as their inter-divisional rival, meaning they would play every year.  It felt like a forced marriage then, and the PSU sanctions since have all but guaranteed that this “rivalry” won’t really take shape for years.  Hopefully, NU can get a better draw with a team that they have more in common with, and would be a bigger draw for fans.  Wisconsin, I’m looking at you.
  • What dominoes fall next?  Is Delaney done with 14 teams?  Or does he move to 16 by expanding into the Sun Belt?  How does the ripple effect play out in the other conferences?  When is all of this going to be over?

Regardless of how this expansion turns out – good or bad – it is safe to say that this decision will surpass the move to land Nebraska as the one that ultimately defines Jim Delaney’s legacy.

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