It seems like the dust had just settled and the rubble had just cleared from the latest round of conference realignment. The ACC had its new complement of teams, the Big East had taken everybody it possibly could, the SEC was standing pat at its new number of 14, and all was well.
Um, never mind about that.
According to several reports from reputable reporters, including Brett McMurphy at ESPN.com, the Big Ten is set to fire the next salvo in the realignment wars, conducting "advanced talks" with Maryland and Rutgers about expanding the conference membership to 14 schools.
The Big Ten is no stranger to expansion, obviously, as it has had more than 10 members for nearly two decades at this point. Penn State began play in the conference in 1993, and Nebraska made 12 in 2011. Both of those moves were hailed as wise moves at the time, and PSU scandal aside, they've been proven as wise moves since.
There is no such sense that adding Maryland and Rutgers would be as good a move.
Penn State and Nebraska were nationally known football programs at the time of joining the Big Ten, and when a program has that kind of standing, it adds value to a conference simply by virtue of being there.
Nebraska didn't add a giant media market to the Big Ten. It added a giant program. It added a marquee opponent on the gridiron.
There is nobody in the Big Ten who thinks adding Nebraska or Penn State hasn't been worth it. Ohio State and Nebraska's two games have been bona fide events in the Big Ten football season.
Now try telling Ohio State to make a big deal out of playing Rutgers. Try telling Michigan to get it up for Maryland. Try to foment a rivalry between Rutgers and any of the other 12 Big Ten members. Try convincing ESPN that adding Maryland to the conference mix adds any serious value to a TV contract.
Of course, there is the issue of media markets, and that's the only reason athletic programs like Maryland and Rutgers are seen as desirable additions.
When you've got the Big Ten Network as a revenue generator, you don't just see the Maryland Terrapins, you see Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia. You don't just see the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, you see the New Jersey media markets—and you start salivating at New York City and Philadelphia, both 70 miles or fewer away from the Rutgers campus.
In fact, that's precisely what the Big Ten is going after, says Frank the Tank's Slant, a remarkably good resource for conference realignment news over the last few years (especially as it pertains to the Big Ten):
What the Big Ten is banking on is that the combination of Rutgers, Penn State, Maryland and Michigan (along with bringing in marquee schools such as Ohio State and Nebraska into town) is going to drive interest for the casual sports fan in New York and New Jersey. Jim Delany and the powers that be in the Big Ten must have finally gotten comfortable with the belief that this combo is going to work or else they wouldn’t be pulling the trigger on the move. This is a conference that doesn’t take chances with its membership ranks because it doesn’t need to.
But make no mistake: Those giant metropolitan media markets aren't terribly responsive to college sports. They're definitely not responsive to Rutgers sports. They're especially not responsive to the rest of the Big Ten.
Try telling a New York City cable company that it needs to charge 60 cents per customer to get Big Ten Network football on all their televisions. We'll wait half an hour for them to stop laughing.
Oh, those are sports cities, to be sure. But as Dan Wetzel at Yahoo! Sports put it:
Still, the money from potentially being able to jam the Big Ten Network into the home of every cable subscriber in each state (combined population: 14.6 million) is significant. It also allows the league to extend some reach into major Eastern media markets such as Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and even New York City. That said, the Big Ten added the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights, not the Giants, Jets, Eagles, Ravens and Redskins. College football just isn't that big of a deal.
This isn't a nebulous concern. We know what happens when a league gets seduced by market size and thinks just being there will be enough to establish a foothold. That league would be the NHL.
The Phoenix Coyotes are insolvent. The New York Islanders aren't long for Long Island. The Atlanta Thrashers just tucked tail and headed to Winnipeg, restoring a once-proud franchise in a city that actually, y'know, cares about hockey.
How's all that working out for the NHL?
Thinking Rutgers can get you New York is like thinking the Coyotes can get you Phoenix. It's shortsighted, it doesn't do anything for your league (or conference) other than overextend it, and it won't generate nearly the kind of revenue you think it will.
Yes, there is the fact that Rutgers would consider this move, as NJ.com put it, a "dream scenario." That's cool that there's interest there on Rutgers' side. There was also interest from Missouri toward the Big Ten a couple years ago. Heck, Cleveland State would probably call a move to the Big Ten a "dream scenario" as well. Should the Big Ten pick up Cleveland State?
Lastly, there's the simple question of whether the Maryland fanbase even wants this move to happen. The Washington Post put up a poll online asking Maryland fans precisely that. After over 4,400 votes, the tally stands at 70 percent no, 29 percent yes. Per the post, former Maryland basketball great Len Elmore says the alumni won't support a move.
So let's get all this straight: Maryland's fans and alumni don't and won't support moving away from the ACC, a conference of which Maryland is a charter member. There's little history between Maryland, Rutgers and anybody in the Big Ten.
There's not a good sense that the new media markets would be receptive to the Big Ten Network, nor is there any reason to suggest the current Big Ten members and their fanbases even want to start playing these two teams. The average athletic standing of the conference as a whole certainly doesn't look like it'll improve.
Consider us unimpressed.
The Big Ten doesn't have to expand. It's "comfortable" at 12. Jim Delany said so himself in May, per The Gazette. If the Big Ten must expand, however, it must do better than this.