Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Maryland & Rutgers join the Big "Ten"

With the addition of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the Maryland Terrapins, the Big "Ten" is set to have at least 14 teams by 2015.  I say at least because although it looks like the Big "Ten" is done adding teams, I thought they were finished adding teams when they added the Nebraska Cornhuskers (12th team) in 2011.  Having 12 teams in the Big "Ten" makes sense because it allows the conference to play a championship game, but 14 teams seems excessive.

I get that adding Maryland and Rutgers expands the Big "Ten" to the east coast, which potentially helps by adding bigger television markets (DC and NYC) and recruiting footholds, but those "potential" markets come with a number of questions.

For starters, is Maryland really a solvent athletic program?  A number of people have covered the fact that Maryland's athletic department is not in the best financial shape.

Besides that, does Rutgers really give you the NYC television market?  Nate Silver, a guy that did pretty well forecasting the most recent elections, debunked some of the claims that adding Rutgers will give the Big "Ten" the New York City television market.

Obviously adding Rutgers and Maryland is a huge money grab by the Big "Ten" that they couch as adding quality institutions to make it a well rounded conference.  Right, because the Big "Ten" is in a heated battle with the Pac 12 to determine the conference with the best mathletes.  Plus, adding Maryland and Rutgers seems like a bit of a leap of faith at the expense of actual rivalries that compromise the average fan's ability to travel to games.

Yes, attendance of live sporting events is down but alumni attending games on-campus has a much bigger impact than the gate revenue alone.  I've never run any studies but my assumption is that there is a direct correlation between wins on the football field and alumni giving.  If you make it more expensive or unappealing to experience that football game on-campus, I guarantee that you will feel that in diminished annual giving down the road.

Since we established this is an unabashed cash grab, even if the Big "Ten" conference is trying to add new markets, what's the rush?  If you factor in the 27-month notification of intention to leave policy for the Big East, the Big "Ten" would still have all 14 teams in place for the 2015 football season.  The Big "Ten" does not renegotiate their television contract until 2017 so again, what's the rush?

I get that the Big "Ten" wants to be able to choose programs sooner rather than later but money talks and no move is set in stone. Take TCU, they backed out on their commitment to join the Big East in favor of the Big 12 before actually joining the Big East.

The Big "Ten" went to the ever so stupidly named Legends and Leaders divisions in 2011.  Wisconsin will most likely stay in the "Legends" division with Indiana, Maryland, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, and Rutgers.  That leaves Illinois (former member of the "Legends" division), Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Northwestern as members of the "Leaders" division.  As I look through the "Legends" division, I see no real natural rivalries like Minnesota and Iowa, instead I see a hodgepodge of media markets slapped together for a few extra million dollars.

I wish the Big "Ten" stayed with 12 teams but since conferences forced each other to scoop up programs in the biggest land grab in college sports history over the last few years, I would have done everything in my power to add the University of Pittsburgh and Notre Dame.  That would not have expanded into new television markets like the fallacy of adding Maryland and Rutgers will as I alluded to earlier.  Plus, I am dubious that people actually care about college sports out east even 1/10th as much as people in the Midwest or 1/100th as much as SEC fans.

Since the Big "Ten" will have at least 14 members in 2015, here are three recommendations for making the best of a bungled situation.  First, admit that it was a money grab.  Couch it as a necessary move to save non-revenue sports like soccer and volleyball if you want to try to put a positive spin on the money grab.

Second, in the interest of making more money, add two more teams.  As I said earlier, I still contend the two best candidates are the University of Pittsburgh and Notre Dame but both are probably no longer in play so my order of other actual targets that make sense are taking the leftovers of the Big East: the University of Louisville and the University of Cincinnati.  Some might argue that the University of Connecticut makes sense but that creates some geographical issues while Louisville and Cincinnati make geographical sense.

Third, play nine conference football games: four home games, four away games, and one game at NFL stadiums around the Midwest for the "annual cross-divisional rivalry" game.  Since the changes are all about the money, you might as well maximize your ROI by selling beers at games once a season at least, or is that off limits since only college students over 21 drink?

Keeping all of what I just said in mind, admittedly I am a hypocrite.  I will still watch the Big "Ten" Championship Game to see if Wisconsin can be the most unlikely Rose Bowl representative in Big "Ten" history.  In fact, I would have gone in-person to see the game if work and family commitments did not interfere.  So I guess this post was a long way of saying that adding Nebraska, Maryland, and Rutgers at the expense of Wisconsin playing Iowa annually along with a bunch of other historic annual Big "Ten" traditions feels dirty.  I am not naive, I understand that colleges need to increase revenue, but at some point the ends do not justify the means.

No comments:

Post a Comment