Just when we all thought conference alignment in the NCAA was over, it rears its ugly head again. It was thought that when Notre Dame sorta kinda joined the ACC (but sorta kinda didn’t) it was the tail end of the shift. However that move seems more like a bridge, as the Big Ten has fired the first shot in the new round of moves by adding Maryland earlier today and reportedly Rutgers tomorrow, according to multiple reports. There are two ways to look at this, from a football prospective and from a business one.
First, for the football side, the B1G has taken a beating this season in terms of national prestige as traditional powers are struggling. Wisconsin has lost some close games, Iowa is trending downwards and who knows what is going on with Michigan State. At least Michigan and Nebraska are doing fairly well. It’s a bit ironic that the conference’s best team this year is the one that only joined last season. Adding the Terps and Scarlet Knights will do nothing to help the B1G’s image. Nebraska was a nationally recognized team that brought history and tradition to the conference. Maryland was on the fringes of competitiveness before absurdly canning Ralph Friedgen and Rutgers, while on the rise, had only been to one bowl game before Greg Schiano arrived. These two teams also don’t fit in with the B1G’s Midwestern roots. Yeah they might make Penn State not feel so alone out there on the East Coast, but is anyone really itching to see the titanic clashes that will be Maryland-Minnesota or Indiana-Rutgers? Terps basketball is leaving behind rich traditions with Duke and UNC for new ones in Iowa and Nebraska? It’s certainly possible the new guys could turn things around, but in the short term this does nothing to help the conference.
The other side, perhaps the prime motivation for all this, is the business one. Make no mistake about it, inviting Maryland and Rutgers was all about money, despite what B1G commish Jim Delaney would have you think. It certainly was for the Terps, as financial problems have caused them to drop other sports all together and from the conference they were a charter member of in 1953. The additions give the B1G access to the Baltimore, Washington DC and New York/New Jersey markets, which in turn allows them to expand the B1G Network, possibly to basic cable in those areas. Maryland also has UnderArmour Founder/CEO and Terps uber-booster Kevin Plank to pump cash into the program, while Rutgers just seems happy to be along for the ride. It also opens up new recruiting grounds in states like New Jersey and Virginia for the Midwestern schools. Going hand-in-hand with the economic motivation is the strategic one. With Pittsburgh and Syracuse joining the ACC, the B1G ran the risk of letting Penn State get surrounded.
With Maryland gone from the ACC and Rutgers from the Big East, those conferences are sure to look for replacements, poaching teams from lesser conferences who then poach from even lesser conferences. Connecticut and Louisville are rumored to be the favorites to replace Maryland in the ACC, though South Florida and Cincinnati are possibilities. This of course means the Big East will have to look for its own replacement, even though UCF, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Boise State and San Diego State are joining next year, the latter two as football only members.
This latest round of expansion only goes to show that those who control college football care nothing for the fans or student-athletes, but only for their wallets, egos and legacies. Big conferences will continue to grab teams from less important ones, until the weight of everything collapses in on itself, creating a black hole which sucks everyone into oblivion. Even then, they’ll probably continue the territorial pissing contest that is conference realignment.