In the process of reading about Danny Hope's career-best-tying two-game winning streak in conference play, you may have stumbled across this or this or this. Yes, just when you thought it was safe to buy a copy of NCAA Football, the next step in Jim Delany's master plan has nearly come to fruition ... and to be honest, he deserves credit at least for keeping this under wraps. The first I heard of it was on Saturday from a friend asking me about a comment another friend had posted on Facebook about how this might affect women's basketball in the Big Ten. (Short answer: Maryland looks good, Rutgers doesn't. Remember that for a minute.)
For those of you who've avoided the news, apparently Rutgers and Maryland are thisclose to joining the Big Ten. To be precise, Maryland is voting on Monday whether or not to join, and if they do, Rutgers will be sprinting to get in the door before it closes behind the Terrapins. I've not seen when this would take effect, but I would guess sooner rather than later, given the timing of recent moves. While the ACC did raise its exit fee to $50 million, apparently those documents haven't been signed yet (I'd ask how that happens, but a look at the ACC should answer that question), so Maryland might be able to get out relatively cheaply (especially with Connecticut lined up to get in, and don't think the ACC wouldn't like to swap out Maryland for Connecticut in basketball), and of course the Big East really can't stop anything from happening these days.
Why is this happening? Two reasons: money and money. First, because of subscriber fees, which are substantially higher within the "footprint" of the conference (states containing member schools) than outside it. Adding New Jersey and Maryland to the footprint would allow BTN to reap additional rewards from subscribers in those markets, and of course with New York City right next door, there could be additional interest in BTN in a much larger market just outside the footprint. (People seem to want to connect that to Rutgers, who obviously doesn't have much of a following anywhere right now, much less in NYC; I'd say it's more likely that Big Ten alums in New York would want BTN.) Some people estimate a potential gain of $200M, while others project something closer to $100M ... and that could mean an increase in annual payout to something like $30-$35M per school, although I haven't seen if that applies to 11, 12, or 14 schools. (Remember, Nebraska isn't getting a full share yet.) That would make a big difference for schools like Purdue: maybe we could get a real offensive coordinator next season. (Zing!)
Second, the agreement for Big Ten first-tier rights expires in 2017. Side note: first-tier rights are for national broadcasts of football and basketball. (ESPN/ABC in football, for example.) Second-tier rights are for football and basketball broadcasts by someone other than the network(s) holding first-tier rights. Third-tier rights cover everything else (remaining football and basketball games plus all non-revenue sports). See this EsPN post for details: it also shows the current rights agreement for the Big Ten. Anyway, when that comes around again, Delany would like to have more games and teams to offer, and when you consider that the Pac-12's current deals add up to just slightly more than the Big Ten's deals after the former added Utah (meh) and Colorado (whoops), you can maybe understand Delany steepling his fingers and cackling evilly as he counts the billions that some poor network will offer for those first-tier rights. (Hint: they are based in Bristol. There is no way EsPN will let those games go.) ESPN's paying $100M a year through the length of that contract. They just signed a deal with the ACC for $240M per year for rights at all tiers ... paying $125M or more for a conference that frankly whups that one across the board isn't unreasonable, and that would mean yet another boost in per-school revenue.
So you get what we have here today, which is the way Delany wants it. So, he gets it. Even if we don't like it ... at all.
That's right. I supported the expansion to 12 teams even though it stretched the Big Ten farther than perhaps it ought to have gone: we got a conference championship game out of it (and there are a lot of people really happy that it isn't going to be Northwestern-Indiana this year), we added a solid sports program (not so good for Purdue's volleyball team), and their academics are reasonable.
But this ... well, back when I was going over Directors' Cup standings (up to 10 men's and 10 women's sports count, points awarded based on national finish), Nebraska looked like a solid fit, and they pretty much came through in 2011-12: although they dropped to 40th, they were still a bottom-tier Big Ten program, and we still placed two schools in the top ten (Michigan and Ohio State). Doing the same exercise for Maryland and Rutgers, we get two surprising results, and not what you might be thinking.
Maryland's average finish from 2004-05 through 2011-12 was 32.1, solidly middle-of-the-Big-Ten pack (eighth, just behind Illinois at 31.4), and they've been better in recent years, with a 24.0 average over the last three, good enough for fifth in the 14-team superconference-to-be.
Rutgers, on the other hand, is not as good. At all. In 2007, they were 54th, ahead of Iowa in 68th. In no other season did they finish ahead of any Big Ten team, current or proposed. In most seasons, they didn't come within 40 places of a Big Ten school; in 2010-11, they were 158th. Schools finishing ahead of them include but are not limited to Maryland-Eastern Shore, Bethune-Cookman, Hofstra, and Oral Roberts.
So in return for all that money, we're not getting a Northwestern-equivalent program. (I should be careful saying that: they do better than Purdue, and I'll write more on that later.) Not an Iowa program. Not an Iowa State program. More like a top-tier MAC program ... and not an actual MAC program that would either have been within the footprint or close by, but a MAC program about as far from the other schools as you can get. (Good news for J, though: if he can't come to the Big Ten, the Big Ten can come to him.)
Sure, Rutgers and Maryland are AAU members. Sure, it's nice to get more money. But it would have been nice to make a decision that at least pretended there were other factors involved ... it's hard to see any reason for doing this except money. (It also makes you wonder if maybe they shouldn't have talked about expanding to 14 right away.) Well, OK, there is one more reason: this should get Wisconsin out of a division where it didn't belong in the first place. You can't tell me that they're going to put Rutgers or Maryland in the West. (No, don't tell me. They have to realign.)
The only other reason I can think for doing this is that Delany believes that pending litigation against the NCAA is going to succeed in the next few years, leading to some kind of requirement to pay players in revenue sports, and so this is a proactive plan to build extra revenue to account for that. (It also assumes that the market for televised college sports will be expanding, not contracting. I find that hard to believe when you see the current direction of non-live TV – I think a better direction would have been to enable BTN.com broadcasts for non-cable subscribers – but then I could be completely wrong.)
But what's almost done is what's almost done. Prepare yourself for longer breaks between certain conference opponents in football, more one-game-only opponents in basketball, and some really confusing road trips in the other sports. And who knows? Maybe we'll get a new logo. (Or maybe not. Did you ever notice how much a G looks like a 6?)
Big money got a heavy hand
Big money take control
Big money got a mean streak
Big money got no soul