The Big Ten has solidified its position as one of the strongest and most cohesive conferences in the nation in the latest round of conference realignment. Let’s assess how they’ve fared.
2010 Big Ten
Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin
2015 Big Ten
East: Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers
West: Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin
As you can see, the Big Ten made a couple of additions, moving themselves up from 11 to 14 members. Here’s how it all went down…
2009: Big Ten announces decision to expand, kicking off conference realignment.
2010: Nebraska of the Big 12 applies to join the Big Ten in 2011 and is accepted.
2011: Nebraska joins Big Ten.
2012: Maryland leaves the ACC to join the Big Ten and is accepted. Rutgers of the Big East accepts invitation to join the Big Ten.
2014: Maryland and Rutgers join Big Ten.
The Big Ten was probably the single most important conference relating to realignment in the last half decade. The league’s announcement to expand is what kicked off this whole realignment craze in the first place. The Big Ten expanded geographically both east and west and did so with television money in mind. Pretty much the quintessential conference realignment tactics in this last cycle of moves. They are also the only conference that was able to poach schools from 3 different Power leagues.
So how do I assess these moves? Well in the short term I would say that they’ve been good for the conference. However, I am concerned with the long term effects that the expansion eastward might bring. The move to add Nebraska to the league is a great one, few other schools more perfectly fit the Big Ten’s image. The Cornhuskers are a traditional football power on par with Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State and are an extremely valuable asset to the conference. Perhaps the only gripe would be the fact that Nebraska isn’t quite up to the conference average academically, and was kicked out of the AAU as a result. The move to add Maryland and Rutgers had quite a different motive behind it. The Big Ten moved east in order to more open up the populated markets of the Mid-Atlantic States. Rutgers and Maryland fit the profile of a Big Ten school in the academic sense, but they have essentially no connection to any Big Ten member institutions other than Penn State, who themselves are an outlier from the Big Ten’s nominally Midwest profile. It’s rumored that the Terps and Scarlet Knights were added because Penn State was starting to get antsy as the only Northwest school in the league. This sounds very concerning to me. First of all, I’m not sold on the idea of a bi-regional conference period. The other Power conferences who tried having a bi-regional conference were the ACC, Big 12, and Big East, and aside from the ACC, which has much more geography going for it than the other two, it has clearly not worked in their favor. The Maryland and Rutgers moves were made without any credence to tradition or geography, it appears as though money was the only motivating factor. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand why this move was made and I understand the importance of increasing television revenue. But you can increase you market share by making a better product or you can increase it by weakening your competition. Only the first option actually increases the the value for the consumer. The moves to add Maryland and Rutgers were calculated to increase the money the Big Ten brought in without increasing the value of the product and we as consumers and football fans lose in that respect. Besides, I don’t think Maryland and especially Rutgers own their markets as much as the Big Ten would like. I can see New Jersey, but if you tell me having Rutgers in your conference gives you a presence in New York City I just can’t believe you. From what I understand there are a large number of Big Ten fans who don’t believe that the Terps and Knights belong in the league either. The Big Ten is one of the most cohesive units in college sports, it’s worrying that it’s apparently caused a rift in some of the fans bases. I can understand why Minnesota and Iowa fans would not be thrilled to go play in College Park or Piscataway, or why they should even watch those games on the Big ten network. Odds are those teams will never compete for the conference crown any way what with the murderer’s row being assembled in the Big Ten’s East Division. There are so many reasons to dislike this move…
And yet, I give the Big Ten a B+ for their expansion moves. That’s right, after all the whining and moaning I went through I still think they still did a good job. It COULD have been so much better, hell I think they would have been fine with just the 12 members and had stood pat. They moves they made were to strengthen the league financially and that’s what happened. I hope it doesn’t blow up down the road like I imagine it might, but the Big Ten is still one of the strongest and most stable conference in the nation.