The rumors that the Big Ten Conference had interest in adding the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the Maryland Terrapins seemed so ludicrous at first, that they seemed like the easily dismissed product of realignment rumor mongers trying to jump start their page views. Alas, the rumors are true. Rutgers and Maryland have both announced their defections to the Big Ten. So, now that the wheel is spinning again, what will this round of realignment mean?
The thing most striking about this move is complete apathy of all considered. Aside from the small number of diehard Rutgers fans and some gentlemen in business suits, nobody is excited about this. Maryland fans are comforting themselves with the knowledge that they will finally be able to extricate themselves from their horrible financial situation. But otherwise, you don't see a lot of Maryland fans jumping up and down about switching long time rivalry games against Virginia, Duke, NC State, and Florida State for trips to Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan State and Purdue.
The additions will almost assuredly help the Big Ten Network get into more homes, as Maryland and Rutgers' alumni mostly live in the Baltimore-Washington DC and New York City markets. One cannot help but think the Big Ten's brass have been assured by their cable company partners that this move will help that, so attacking this move on that front seems silly.
The problem here comes when you look at the long term impact, rather than focusing on short term infusions of cash. Maryland has struggled with attendance for football for thirty years, despite periods of competence (Maryland is, after all a basketball school first and foremost). Their athletic department has been upside down in debt for over 30 years. They are not making this move because of an intense desire to buy in to the Big Ten so much as they are cash hungry. The idea that Georgia Tech or Virginia or North Carolina are soon to follow seems foolish, given that those schools recruit mostly in the south. These schools would have to give up much of their recruiting territories in order to sign up for bludgeoning on the field and on the recruiting trails.
The bottom line here is that with the possible exception of the SEC, no conference has any real recruiting value outside of its geographic region. Nobody in North Carolina really cares about Big Ten sports, nobody in Ohio really cares too much about the Big 12 and people in the northeast make lewd motions when you tell them about the Pac 12. College sports are driven by their regional-focus.
Any move to under cut those kinds of long standing rivalries is a blow against what makes college sports popular. People watch college sports to support their school and see it triumph over the nearby schools whose alumni they interact with on a regular basis. They watch to see that loudmouth at work that went to the nearby rival school get his comeuppance after their school beats his.
They also don't tend to really care if their conference makes more money than the other conferences. This whole realignment business may have (I emphasize HAVE, because it seems to have long passed the point of exhaustion for even most of the hardcore fans) been a big page view earner for hardcore fans, but the average fan just seems bewildered and annoyed by it. It's just another reminder of how much of a big business college athletics are, despite all the protests that these schools couldn't POSSIBLY afford to pay the talent earning all these big dollars.
Almost no Big Ten fans seem excited about this. They know that these additions (and the next two that will get them to the magic number 16) will just make it harder for them to play the schools they have spent 100 years playing on a regular basis. So why do it? Because you need more money? So you can pocket it and continue not spending as much on coaches as the SEC does? At some point, as Brian Cook pointed out, you just start thinking this largesse is just going to end up in someone's pocket.
As always, the Big East is once again flailing about for survival after having lost the last original football member that was still in the conference. Boise State, the conference's best hope for a perennial title contender, is now rethinking its departure from the Mountain West. Louisville and UConn are in a death battle to replace Maryland in the ACC, and the conference has to deal with all this while still trying to negotiate a new TV deal. So, it's business as usual in the Big East.
For the ACC, losing Maryland is more sentimental than harmful. The conference has lost a founding member who was a part of numerous classic moments in the rich history of ACC basketball, and a school that made its own memories on the football field as well. But there are a number of schools lining up to replace Maryland, and the school provided minimal financial impact on the ACC's television deals.
The real damage for the ACC could come if the Big Ten can convince a Georgia Tech, Miami, Virginia and/or North Carolina to leave. For now, the ACC can comfort themselves with their five Notre Dame games a year, and their new move into Pittsburgh and New York TV markets. Everyone in Greensboro is going to be saying that Maryland only left because their university is run by idiots who ran the school into massive debt in the 80's. As long as nobody else leaves, this will be a plausible explanation.
Most importantly for the ACC, they can be comforted by the fact that their biggest money earners, Florida State and Clemson, really do not have a better option. The SEC does not want either school (the SEC has reportedly had no interest in adding new members in states where they already have existing members), and the Big Ten has limited its new membership to schools with better academic prestige than either university.
That leaves the Big 12, which has no interest in expanding. The reality with the Big 12 is that each school makes more money with ten schools than they would by going to 12. Unlike the Big Ten, which makes more money with every new school it adds due to the increase in subscribers to their channel, the Big 12 has a set amount of money from its TV partners, and will only have to split that exact same money twelve ways instead of ten with new membership.
Moreover, Florida State and Clemson would have to go compete against unfamiliar teams on unfamiliar recruiting territory for only a small increase in money. Clemson, in particular, would suffer greatly in recruiting, seeing as how they rely very heavily on the Charlotte area for talent. Those kids don't grow up dreaming of playing Texas Tech.
Not only that, these schools would have to saddle up with a conference that has rivaled the Big East for dysfunction. What good is it to leave the ACC only to sign up for more dysfunction? The ACC is still going to have major bowl access, after all.
Ultimately, all these moves will mean very little to Notre Dame. They have what they wanted from the ACC in the form of bowl access and regular games to fill the holes in their schedule that Big Ten expansion has caused for them. They are not going to give the ACC anything more than they already have, and the idea that they would is fairly laughable. '
Any thought that NBC wouldn't re-up with Notre Dame has been dashed given the outstanding ratings the Irish have garnered in this 11-0 season. They did very little to help the Big East as it slowly began to rot, and they won't do anything (more than they already have) for the ACC either.
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