As multiple outlets began reporting on Saturday afternoon, apparently the Big Ten may not be standing pat with 12 teams after all. Despite publicly stating to the contrary consistently for the last two years, Jim Delany has been working behind the scenes to change the landscape of college football once again, instead of watching the mess that is Big Ten football in 2012.
It looks like the Big Ten has officially offered an invitation to Maryland to join the conference, as the Maryland board of regents will be voting on whether to make the move on Monday [UPDATE: the board voted to approve the move]. One would have to surmise that they would not go through the trouble unless an offer was already on the table.
This is certainly not a done deal [UPDATE: it is final as of Monday afternoon], as Maryland is facing a $50 million shotgun that is the new ACC exit fee for conference members. Maryland voted against this seemingly punitive and ridiculous amount, but being outvoted 12-2 leaves that university subject to paying the exit fee or facing litigation similar to the legal battles in the Big East over departing teams and the 27-month buyout period.
For a university that just cut some athletic programs because the budget was not working out, this seems like a big hit. Of course, the most important Maryland booster and Under Armour founder Kevin Plank has come out in support of this move and could likely make the financial hit less significant with a big check to the athletic department.
If Maryland decides to come, then Rutgers, which is one of the two programs (Missouri being the other) that was seriously considered for the Big Ten back when the realignment craze was in high season, will also join to make an even 14. This move will expand the conference footprint from the middle of the country to the eastern seaboard, with a chance to break into the Washington DC, New Jersey and New York television markets.
There are plenty of pundits out there, including right here on B/R, explaining the pros and the cons of adding these universities to the conference. Some of the upside is cementing a solid foothold in east coast recruiting, adding television sets and more money to the Big Ten Network coffers, and keeping up with the other mega-conferences the SEC and the ACC.
Some of the downside is that neither program brings much great football history to the table, both are mired in heavy professional sports markets and both are not nearly as exciting or profitable as most current Big Ten members.
But that's neither here nor there. Most would agree that the move is questionable, but similar to the risk the SEC took in adding Texas A&M (admittedly a better program than Maryland or Rutgers with a bigger recruiting market to boot) and Missouri (which brought none of the same benefits). These are the moves that will prove if Jim Delany is one of the smartest guys in the room or just another idiot running a major football conference.
Of course, Delany is a man who just climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Making Rutgers and Maryland be relevant enough to capture the DC and NYC television markets may be just his latest mountain to climb.
The timing of the move just does not seem to make sense, though. Why would the Big Ten move so quickly to add to what looks like a golden situation heading into a four-team playoff starting in two years? There has to be more than just the potential future money here, it seems.
Perhaps this move to expand eastward has a lot to do with what has happened at Notre Dame and Penn State recently.
Notre Dame has hitched a wagon to the ACC, agreeing to play five games against that conference in future seasons. That will likely undermine the regular battles with Big Ten teams, and Notre Dame is turning away from the Big Ten for good. That shuts a national program (read: television money) out of the picture.
Then there's what happened at Penn State at the end of the Joe Paterno era. The Sandusky scandal and the crippling penalties that have been passed down by the NCAA have a real risk of making Penn State largely irrelevant over the next decade. The next closest school to the East Coast is Ohio State, and Columbus, Ohio, is far from the East Coast both geographically and philosophically.
That means the best hopes for keeping the big markets along the East Coast interested in Big Ten football have been significantly reduced thanks to Notre Dame and Penn State. That is not an ideal situation, and not a recipe for success when running a television network.
Hence, this move has a bit of desperation written on it, because instead of being proactive, this could be a totally reactive move. Reactive to bigger conferences south of the Big Ten and reactive to Notre Dame and Penn State hurting the relevance of the conference along the East Coast.
These are not the right reasons to make a move. When Nebraska all but fell into the conference's lap thanks to the unsettled nature of money-sharing in the Big 12, Jim Delany looked like a genius for finding this diamond despite being rebuffed by Notre Dame for so long. When every conference commissioner lost his mind looking to expand and realign in the wake of the Nebraska move, Jim Delany looked like the smartest man in the world by standing pat with one great added program.
Now, his legacy is in question. If it's not just about the money, then there's even more reason for Big Ten fans to hate Jerry Sandusky and Notre Dame.
Those two entities will have forced Maryland and/or Rutgers onto the home schedule instead of teams like Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Ohio State. That cannot be a positive result for the likes of Iowa, Indiana and Minnesota. More teams equals more dilution, and a weaker product overall.
If more people watch that product though, then Delany will make the conference rich, if not wise.
Bottom line: This looks to be a big overreaction to the scandal at Penn State and the final rebuff by Notre Dame. Making a move to steal an ACC charter member and a move to try and capture the East Coast television markets may look like a good way to cut the losses from the PSU and ND football programs not being Big Ten assets, but it's a big risk for a questionable amount of gain.
Jim Delany may have overreacted this time. The Big Ten, and college football overall, may never be the same.
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