You of course heard the news last week about the Big 10 expanding east to Maryland and Rutgers in 2014. There are no shortage of opinions on whether this was a good or bad move, including on the VBR staff. Lead editor Tim Tolley and staff writer Matt de Bear join the fray with their opinions on the move.
Tim – BOO EXPANSION!
I fully understand being pro-active in the race to 16 teams among the super-conferences. Well, I actually don’t fully understand it but I realize that it’s happening. That’s why, when the Big Ten announced plans to add Nebraska a few year ago, I was totally on board. While slightly outside of the Big Ten footprint, adding a program/university like Nebraska would immediately strengthen the conference from an athletic and educational standpoint. Nebraska brings a history and fan base to the conference that not many schools can.
Fast forward to November 20, 2012.
In the last few days, the Big Ten has announced plans to add Rutgers and Maryland to the conference, and they are planning on building east coast offices, which hints that further expansion is imminent, and that we know which direction to expect it in. Let me be fully clear here, I don’t mind the expansion, but from a conference standpoint, were Rutgers and Maryland the best options available?
Geography: While being on the eastern edge of the conference hasn’t been ideal, Penn State is within 800 miles of every other school, minus Nebraska. The commute from Happy Valley is less than 500 miles to three of the most prominent Big Ten schools (Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State). The trip from Rutgers to Ohio State, second closest in the conference, is 515 miles. A fan from Nebraska, hoping to make the trip to Rutgers is in for a 1,288 mile, 22 hour drive. Maryland to Nebraska? 1,206 miles. The addition all but alienates one of the best fan-bases in the conference. Nebraska fans travel well, as do Wisconsin fans, but how many times are they going to drive 20 hours to see New Jersey? And without looking, I’m confident that their aren’t many direct flights from Lincoln to Newark. I’m aware that fans and alumni aren’t centrally located at the universities from which they hail, but it’s a good point of reference.
Quality over Quantity?: This was the promise from Delany in the past when asked about further expansion. This week, he chose cable subscribers overs quality. Rutgers has an all-time record of 626-605-42 and they have a bowl record of 5-2 all time with zero national championships. minus one from 1869 that wikipedia says they claim. Better or worse, Maryland has an 11-11-2 bowl record with 611 all time wins. The two teams combined are 3-57-1 all time against Penn State. It’s very possible that these additions will cost Penn State games against Michigan and Nebraska, current crossover opponents.
Better Options: I won’t pretend to know what the Big Ten looks for, academically, when searching for new members. I also know that the money, not the academics, are the bottom line. If the Big Ten was willing to expand geographically, which they apparently were, the options really open up. The ACC appears to be crumbling, which puts schools like Virginia Tech, Miami, Clemson and Florida State at a crossroads. Even Duke and UNC bring something to the table, if not necessarily football dominance. Louisville and Pitt make sense, geographically, Iowa State would add a convenient opponent for the western border schools. Even Missouri and West Virginia would have made sense, if the Big Ten had moved quicker. Instead, the conference has added Blah and Meh, effective in 2014.
In the end, I just don’t think the conference got any better or more competitive at anything. Making a move just to make a move doesn’t strike me as the best course of action. Unless this was an initial move, built to later entice a bigger target, I see both additions as misses. In fairness, I also resist change in most facets of life.