Big Ten Expansion: How Will the Other Dominoes Fall Now?
With a Tuesday afternoon press conference, The State University of New Jersey, better known as Rutgers, has officially become the 14th member of the Big Ten conference. A league once viewed as slow-moving, archaic and the like is now steering the conversation from a conference expansion standpoint.
The Big Ten has "caught up" to the SEC and the ACC, both of which got to 14 members in recent years. In the process, it also dropped the ACC from 14 to 13 by stealing a charter member, the Maryland Terrapins.
Now, with the Terps and Scarlet Knights in the fold, what happens next? Some folks are speculating about the always-looming "four 16-team superconferences." Others are wondering what happens to their team.
There is a lot to digest, so we'll take you through all of the elements of the latest conference realignment.
The Big Ten
Yesterday, here at Your Best 11, we talked about the winners and losers, and it is clear the Big Ten comes out on top, given its current revenue structure. Expanding to the eastern seaboard and possibly shoehorning their way into the New York City marketplace all makes sense when it comes to the numbers.
Folks will bicker about trips to New Jersey or Maryland, but the fact is when they want to fire their terrible coach and need to pay his buyout, they can help foot the bill. When they need a new weight room to keep up with the Joneses, they can afford to make that move.
Money does not cure all ills, but it certainly gets the Big Ten schools set up for whatever the future of the sport brings.
The Maryland Terrapins
The Terps get to start climbing out of their financial hole. In their press conference, the school's president, Wallace Loh, referred to the Terps' ACC existence as, "living paycheck to paycheck." Now, by moving to the Big Ten, that will no longer be the case.
Maryland is already looking into restoring some of the athletic programs that it was forced to shut down over this summer. That's a big move for the athletic department and a massive shot of goodwill for the folks who took the loss pretty hard.
On the field, it does hurt the Terps' best sport, lacrosse. The ACC, especially with the coming addition of Syracuse, is one of the sport's premier conferences. Now the Terps will likely head to smaller, more national conferences like the ECAC and American Lacrosse Conference for their programs.
Where football is concerned, Maryland has its work cut out. However, being in the Big Ten, playing more games against quality opponents, in a better league, might help Maryland keep more of its D.C. and Baltimore recruits at home.
The Rutgers Scarlet Knights
If Maryland was a school that was looking for a big score to pull itself out of being what amounts to "house poor," then Rutgers was a school sinking that needed a true lifeline. The Scarlet Knights were trying to play with the big boys, and in the race to upgrade in order to compete, they were spending money faster than they could make it.
Enter the Big Ten, a savior of sorts. The Scarlet Knights did something most of their Big East mates could not do: They got out.
Instead of the "almost as good" lands of the ACC, this Rutgers program is heading to the well-established lands of the Big Ten. A conference rife with cash, flush with national brand power and sporting some outstanding bowl tie-ins as the college football heads into a new postseason format.
Rutgers not only gets the windfall of money, but it also gets the access that will only be a dream for folks in the Big East. Should the Knights perform well, they will be sitting in the playoff no problem. If they win a Big Ten title but aren't in the top four, they'll be in the Rose Bowl. With a finish in the nation's Top 15 or so, look for the Scarlet Knights to grab the Orange Bowl bid or an access bowl.
Those are tall orders for a team that has not yet won an outright Big East title, but the hope still sits there for the Knights. They can also take solace in the fact that every time they fall short of those lofty goals, they have enough money to support themselves and reinvest in their programs without breaking the bank.
For the ACC, losing Maryland stinks. Not because the Terrapins are charter members and are irreplaceable as a commodity. Rather, losing Maryland stinks because of what it symbolizes: For the first time since all this expansion craziness started, a team has finally pulled the trigger.
Sure, Maryland needed the money, and the ACC can likely replace the Terps. Given Virginia and Virginia Tech's ties to the D.C. area, the conference will remain strong in that region. However, the issue is more macro than it is micro.
On the major scale, this is a clear indication that the ACC is not meeting everyone's needs. For Maryland, that "need" was to be able to support its sports and get off financial life support. Every school in the ACC is not in such dire straits, but there are schools in the conference that are not having their "needs" met.
One school's need might be a Texas A&M-like desire to emerge from its in-state rival's shadow. Another school's need might be its desire to stop making half as much as its intrastate rival. Still another's may be the desire to add to what it can see is now a limited pie.
No matter what the need is, Maryland has shown a way out, and as we watch the exit fee situation play out, it might pave the way for more exits.
The Florida State Seminoles
Remember this past summer's expansion fiasco that made Florida State one of the most "rumored to be leaving" teams? Well, that never actually happened. Florida State fans must be up in arms that a lowly program like the Maryland Terrapins got a big payday, while theirs has been relegated to staying in the ACC.
Where Florida State is concerned, the most important things to watch will be how the Maryland buyout happens. If the Terps escape for small-time money—think $20 million or so—then Florida State will be champing at the bit to get loose for more cash.
With that said, it must also be noted that the 'Noles need someone to court them. Kicking and screaming from Tallahassee won't do the job. They need the Big 12 to make serious overtures and belly up to the negotiating table for this to work. We'll see if they can get it done in the cloak-and-dagger fashion of Jim Delany, or if it all amounts to the same nothing we saw this summer.
The Clemson Tigers
If the Seminoles are the Mario leading the charge out of the ACC this summer, then the Clemson Tigers are their Luigi. These are two schools bound together in football with a real hatred, some legitimate and some imagined, for the league office in Greensboro.
The Tigers, like Florida State, won't be getting that coveted SEC invite anytime soon. Having in-state SEC teams makes it darn near a certainty that they will not be invited to the dance. Which means, just like Florida State, the Big 12 is their lone "better" destination than the ACC.
Just like FSU, the Clemson Tigers have to be asked. Yes, they'd accept the invite, especially if they can weasel out of the $50 million buyout, but that invitation has to come first.
Until that invitation comes, the Tigers, like the Seminoles, will be sitting in the ACC trying to go undefeated in order to get into a championship game.
Virginia Tech and North Carolina State
While the Clemson Tigers and Florida State Seminoles are not likely to hear from the SEC if the league is looking to expand, expect to hear the Hokies and Wolfpack pushed forward. The SEC has already expanded as far west as it will go by adding Texas A&M.
However, with the coming SEC Network, the league could certainly use some new television sets.
Florida State and Clemson don't bring new TV markets, but Virginia Tech and N.C. State most certainly do. As my colleague Barrett Sallee points out, we're talking very serious digital media markets in play with the acquisition of both schools.
Is this likely to happen? Not quite. A conference's next big move will be to assess the landscape as the new playoff format comes to fruition. With the shifting television landscape skewed toward the increased value of live sports and the new playoff, conferences have plenty to digest before they make their next move.
The Big East
As the final, central piece to the expansion puzzle, there is a lot to say about the Big East. The league is losing Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Rutgers, for sure. There is also speculation that the ACC will fill its vacancy with a Big East squad. So that's some not-so-good news for the conference.
Add to that the fact that Boise State and San Diego State, two future members of the Big East, along with BYU, are now talking to the Mountain West, according to ESPN. That could be another major blow to the conference should the Broncos and Aztecs decide to remain out west instead of joining up with the conference that was set to span coast-to-coast.
There is a lot of work to be done for Mike Aresco, Big East commissioner. First up is finding a replacement for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, and as it stands now, it is just about anyone's guess who will be brought into the fold.
San Diego State and Boise State
A lot has changed since this summer, when I wrote that the Broncos should seriously consider a return to the Mountain West. There is no "automatic bid." The Big East is no longer technically assured a spot in a major bowl. The Big East just lost Rutgers and might just lose another team when all is said and done.
For the Aztecs and Broncos, staying out west might end up making more sense now than it did from the start. The "Big Five Bowl" bid that goes to the highest-ranked team out of the Big East, Mountain West, Sun Belt, MAC and Conference USA could be just as easily obtained from where they stand right now.
The one kicker here will be the Big East television contract. If Mike Aresco can secure ample funds to make it worth those schools' while, they most certainly should stand pat and proceed with their expansion plans. However, if the money coming in does not significantly enhance their position, they're better served staying out west and hoping to make bank in the host bowls until they can snag a playoff spot.
UConn and Louisville
This is the battle of "who's next" out of the Big East. UConn seems to fit the ACC's "core values" approach to expansion. The same reason that West Virginia was an overwhelming "no" from the conference is why Louisville is currently on the outside looking in from a likelihood standpoint.
Louisville, like West Virginia, brings actual value to the ACC. The Cardinals are committed to success in both revenue sports and are no strangers to putting their money where their mouth is. For the football contingent of the conference and folks focused on the field, Louisville is the no-brainer.
Unfortunately for those folks, UConn holds the edge where television markets and academics are concerned. How ACC commissioner John Swofford handles this next round of forced expansion will say a lot about the direction his conference is going to head in.
A UConn pick angers the already-disgruntled football base. A Louisville pick makes the old trusty folks less than thrilled. Oh what to do, what to do?