Big Ten Expansion Rumor Mill: Is Maryland a Candidate for the Big Ten?

Jason DuniganCorrespondent IApril 27, 2010

The Big Ten Conference has yet to reveal which dominoes it will tip over to get conference realignment started, yet everyone has an idea for what they think the Big Ten will do.

If you are like me, initially you found all the conference expansion talk to be fun, interesting, and a way to pass the time until spring football arrived. Then it just became tiresome.

For the most part, spring football is in the books with the exception of a few schools that will finish up this coming weekend.

Expansion rumors overshadowed spring football in a lot of areas that could end up being seriously affected by conference realignment once college football's tectonic plates stop shifting. Spring football came and went, and the hot topic remains, "What will the Big Ten do?"

We have all heard the usual suspects named numerous times. We all know the potential targets for the Big Ten: Rutgers, Syracuse, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Missouri, Nebraska, and of course Notre Dame.

For some time there was even a rumor that Boston College might come to the Big Ten in a package deal with Notre Dame, but not much came from that story.

Piecing together bits and pieces of rumors that keep recurring from one day to the next, we can safely deduce certain things about Big Ten expansion scenarios. Specifically, the Big Ten is serious about the academic side of expansion—so much so that concerns have been raised about the lack of AAU status among potential target schools Notre Dame, Connecticut, and Boston College.

While those schools may bring in television dollars, they won’t bring in more research dollars, at least not to the tune that AAU institutions are accustomed to, and everyone knows television money—while very nice—doesn’t come anywhere near the amount of federal research dollars garnered by AAU schools each year.

Although enhancing the Big Ten Network profile is a key component of expansion, federal research dollars are also a huge part of the equation, and several Big Ten school officials have reportedly stated in private that they may not support the inclusion of any schools that do not belong to the AAU, because bringing in non-AAU members would be akin to leaving potentially billions of dollars on the table over the course of time.

So if true, that sort of answers the Notre Dame question. The fact that growing the revenue stream for the Big Ten Network also seems to be a major driving force for the conference also answers the Nebraska question, seeing as how the Cornhuskers do not have a desirable top-50 television market for which to shop around the Big Ten Network.

Essentially, with those rumors or theories (however you want to refer to them), we have eliminated Notre Dame, Nebraska, Boston College, and Connecticut from Big Ten Consideration.

Who's left? Well, from the aforementioned commonly rumored group, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and Missouri—four teams.

However, the Big Ten wants five teams to get to an even 16 members. So where do they look now?

The latest rumor making the message board and water-cooler rounds has the University of Maryland being targeted by the Big Ten. Maybe you have heard it already, but it caught me by surprise.

Now there are many variations to all of the rumored realignment scenarios involving each respective school, but when I began hearing about Maryland late last week, it made more and more sense the more thought I gave to it.

Maryland taps into the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. markets, and the University of Maryland is definitely an AAU member institution. Couple those neat facts with the close proximity to current Big Ten member Penn State and the potential new members in Rutgers, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse, and you have a very intriguing option for the Big Ten.

I will admit I had not considered Maryland as an option for the Big Ten until now, but the more I dwell on it, the more I believe this scenario has legs. Joe Paterno stated last week that he felt the Big Ten should grow to 14 members, adding two in the east and one in the west.

Adding four in the east and one in the west would work just as well and would really add to the marketability of the Big Ten in America’s Northeastern panhandle, all while keeping the western members of the Big Ten happy as they get to add a large market in close proximity to their hometowns as well.

A move like that from the Big Ten lashes out at three separate BCS conferences. If there was any doubt about how serious the Big Ten was about becoming THE dominant name in college athletics, let those doubts now be put to bed.

If the latest rumors involving Maryland leaving the ACC for the Big Ten are true, the Big Ten will effectively force a restructuring of the Big 12 Conference, the Big East Conference, and the Atlantic Coast Conference. It will also leave little doubt that the Big Ten will have supplanted the Big East Conference as the nation’s premier basketball league.

One has to think that the ACC will act immediately to shore up its ranks by adding Connecticut and their dominant basketball programs and growing football program to their fold. UConn would be a fantastic addition to the ACC and would give Boston College an instant neighboring rival to help generate interest in their programs that has been lacking since the Eagles moved to the ACC.

After that, the dominoes will continue to fall.

Will the SEC strike back at the Big Ten by grabbing money-printing programs like Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State?

Will the Pac-10 grab Utah and Colorado? Maybe they decide to “go large” and draft Nebraska, Kansas, Kansas State, and New Mexico to form a Midwest division. Individually they may not bring many markets, but together, those are a lot of television sets to add and subsequently bring to the TV contract bargaining table.

Who knows where it will end, but do not expect to see the Big East survive if the ACC decides to grow to 16 members. Adding West Virginia to the ACC lineup will shore up football as well as basketball and reunites them with Boston College, UConn (whom could theoretically already be a member at this point), Virginia Tech, and Miami.

While we are at it, the ACC might as well go ahead and finish off the Big East by grabbing South Florida, Cincinnati, and Louisville. Those are three solid markets to add to the ACC footprint. They may not sound sexy, but three of the schools that might potentially be added from the Big East have participated in five BCS bowls within the last five years, winning three of them.

After the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-10, and ACC have finished their business, the remaining conferences will take part in a mad dash for teams and market share. Look for at least one "mid-major" superconference to emerge...maybe two.

Now if only the Big Ten would go ahead and push over that first domino.


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