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Big Ten Expansion: Why Conference Brass Is Overestimating Rutgers' Popularity

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Big Ten Expansion: Why Conference Brass Is Overestimating Rutgers' Popularity
Alex Trautwig/Getty Images
Wait, where's the rest of the stadium?

Today is Rutgers Day in the Big Ten, and if this is a decent and just world, it means Jim Delany is layering on the fake tan and adjusting his Snooki wig as we speak. Hey, it'd make the press conference entertaining.

It looks as if the Big Ten made a reach on this one, however—an overestimation of what Rutgers is going to bring to the conference and its network in terms of new eyeballs.

First of all, when one talks about Rutgers, it's impossible to discuss it without mentioning its close proximity to the great city of New York...and all its cable subscribers. That sounds like a positive, right?

It ain't.

When the first and best thing you can say about an athletic program is that it's close to a city, you're already talking about circumstance instead of what the athletic program is accomplishing. And the reality is that even though Rutgers is right there on the east coast, the east coast doesn't really care about Rutgers.

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Rutgers' football stadium has a capacity of 52,454. That's less than half of Michigan Stadium or Beaver Stadium, and it's barely more than half of Ohio Stadium. Call it the Little House.

Oh, but surely with such a small seating capacity—behind only Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium—surely Rutgers, with its proximity to multiple metropolises (metropoli? no? fine), can fill those 52,454 seats, right? Especially in the midst of a special, Big East-leading 9-1 season?

Guess again. Rutgers hasn't sold out a game yet this season, and the average attendance has been 48,466 in Rutgers' five home games. Maybe the sellouts happen when the likes of Michigan and Ohio State start coming to town. That'll only be because schools like that are bringing their Big Ten-sized fanbases.

Moreover, Rutgers is not a nascent university. It's been right there in Piscataway, right near New York and Philadelphia, for longer than there's been a United States—it was established in 1766. It has been in the Big East for over 20 years (a charter football program in the conference), alongside several other nearby schools.

The Big East's football presence never "cashed in on" New York. It made something of a dent there in basketball, thanks to the membership of St. John's and smartly hosting the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden. Yep—two things that aren't Rutgers.

The Big Ten doesn't have St. John's. It won't have access to Madison Square Garden until the Big East relinquishes it. All those nearby basketball schools that have helped accustom New York to Big East athletics? The Big Ten doesn't have those.

All the Big Ten did was add the arguably worst basketball program in the Big East. Rutgers hasn't gone to the NCAA tournament since joining the conference (though it did go the year prior, in 1991). Rutgers also hasn't even had a winning season overall since 2006—that's also the last year it lost fewer than 10 games in conference play.

And college football? In New York? Fuhgeddaboudit. New York is such an NFL city, it has two franchises. New York's not going to start caring about Rutgers now that it's in the same conference as Michigan and Ohio State—to say nothing of ho-hum Midwestern programs like Illinois and Indiana.

No, Big East football never "cashed in on" New York because that's impossible. And even if it were possible, Rutgers (we talkin' about Rutgers?!) isn't going to be the program that makes it happen.

Maybe Jim Delany has more plans to expand in the northeast. One would hope so. As it stands right now, all he has as a foothold is Rutgers, which means he really doesn't have much.

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