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Big Ten Expansion - the case for Rutgers

2593_mediumThe topic of Big Ten Expansion has been covered by every major and minor newspaper, TV outlet and blog since Jim Delaney made the announcement in late 2009. A quick google search of "Big Ten Expansion" gets you a mere 22,3000,000 results. We here at TDG haven't really weighed in on the issued. Clearly as bloggers of a current Big Ten institution we will be significantly impacted by the conference additions. But since virtually everyone with a keyboard has thrown out their speculation as to who, how and when I haven't seen the point in adding to the monkey pile of opinions. Essentially everything written is pure speculation. Who is going to be added? How will the conference align? What makes the most sense for the Big Ten?

So rather than throw out my own opinions I've decided to bring everyone together from the schools suggested as likely candidates for Big Ten expansion. Rather than figuring out what is best for the Big Ten, I wanted to know what the Big Ten does for these schools? As bloggers, they are representing their fan base and I want to know if they even want anything to do with the Big Ten.

I asked the following bloggers a series of questions regarding Big Ten expansion. I think most of us in Big Ten country have our wish list of school we want to add for whatever reason. Notre Dame brings a national power, Nebraska brings tradition, Texas bring Texas, Rutgers brings NYC, etc. But do these schools even want to join the Big Ten? We know what is in it for us, but also what is in it for them? And most importantly does their fan base really want to switch conferences and come to the plodding and perennially-labled overrated conference?

  • On the Banks - Rutgers
  • Burnt Orange Nation - Texas
  • Rakes of Mallow - Notre Dame
  • Corn Nation - Nebraska
  • Rock M Nation - Missouri
  • The UConn Blog - UConn
  • Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician - Syracuse
  • Pitt Blather - Pitt

I'll start with the Rutgers Scarlet Knights who bring the promise of the #1 television market in the country.

Jon from On the Banks was quick to respond and if his response is indicative of the Rutgers' fans base, they are ready, willing and excited to join the Big Ten. He believes that if the conference expands by just one team, to 12, Notre Dame would be the favorite. And when they decline, Rutgers will be next. If expansion pushes to 14 or 16 teams then it is a lock that a near annual trip to New Brunswick, NJ.

Many, myself included, initially dismiss Rutgers because they bring very little to the table athletically. Currently they rank 78th in the Director's Cup standings just ahead of Temple and Navy. They finished 14th in Big East basketball and finished 3-4 in football including a loss to Syracuse (Gopher fans know of the Cuse). Their football team has had greater moments in the last few years, but the overall strength of the program is still fairly weak with a small window of success. Jon offers this defense...

Rutgers has had the better football program than fellow Big East targets Pittsburgh, Connecticut, and Syracuse since the Big East reorganized its lineup in 2005. Pittsburgh looks to be in great shape too going forward, but Rutgers has only scratched the surface of what it's capable of in football considering their improved recruiting over the past few years. Men's basketball is in awful shape, but everything seems to indicate that football dollars are what's driving expansion. For now, all it has the offer is a perennial status as a "sleeping giant" based on its location in the richest area in the country for high school basketball. The school is also very good at women's basketball and wrestling.

But we all know this decision comes down to money and outside of Notre Dame, Rutgers might be the most financially attractive (though one could argue the other way around here). Money and exposure, especially when the Big Ten Network is bringing in millions for it's respective schools, are all tied to viewership and cable subscriptions. Many wonder if Rutgers can bring actually deliver the NYC market. Paul Tagliabue made headlines when he wondered if anyone would care to see a Minnesota vs. Rutgers battle on the gridiron. This is actually not the point as Jon astutely points out.

Geographically, Rutgers is the closest program to New York City and Philadelphia, and is the only BCS conference school that plays in the NYC metropolitan television market. 2/3rds of New Jersey is located in the NYC television market, and Rutgers is located in the central part of the state that's dominated by New York. It's about 45 minutes each way from the campus to either city.
There may be skepticism out there about how much of New York City Rutgers can deliver, but that's not a question that anyone can fairly answer. The sample size is just too small. Rutgers played the equivalent of a DI-AA schedule until the late 70's (when the I-A/I-AA split occurred). They didn't get serious about football until the program bottomed out under the former coach, Terry Shea, earlier in this decade. It took Greg Schiano a few years to rebuild, so we're only talking about the last five years as a measuring stick of how Rutgers can do in the area.
It's true that the New York City area doesn't proportionally care all that much about college football, but population estimates have 22 million total residents in NYC and surrounding suburbs. Even a smaller proportional percentage of that number compared to the rest of the country is valuable. Especially considering that the region is the wealthiest and most-educated in the entire country. Those are the demographics that the Big Ten Network craves.
What's lost in any hand-wringing about this topic is that what really matters is whether or not the Big Ten Network can get in basic cable here. New Jersey is mainly split between Comcast and Cablevision, and New York City/Long Island between Time Warner and Cablevision. Basically, all that's needed are three yes votes, and their subscribers will have to pay a mandatory $1 a month to the Big Ten. The new Rutgers athletic director is a former television executive at ABC Sports and CBS Sports, so he should be a major asset in any future negotiations on this front.

And even is New York City isn't delivered on the basic package, the state of New Jersey is still a huge media market. According to Voice for New Jersey, the entire state of New Jersey on it's own would be the 4th largest TV market in the country. NYC and it's 7+ million television households would add mega bucks to the BTN coffers, but New Jersey is no small accomplishment.

For the reasons described before, I think Comcast and Cablevision will put the BTN on its basic tier in New Jersey (it's already available as part of a digital sports package). The real question is about getting the support from Cablevision and Time Warner in New York City and Long Island. Again, I'm optimistic. I can see how someone who followed the BTN's initial struggles to get on systems wouldn't agree, but haven't they already done all of the heavy lifting? If the BTN didn't foresee getting on those systems, then Rutgers wouldn't be in the discussion, much less supposedly the leading candidate.

Would Rutgers want to join? Sounds like they would jump at the opportunity. With no strong rivalry ties to the Big East and too much money on the line for all parties involved it would be hard to pass this up.

Yes. There will never be a peep out of Rutgers about this until the ink dries, but they have to be making a spirited push through back channels to make the jump, and those efforts will be rewarded. It makes too much economic sense for all parties involved. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is from New Jersey, and conference actors like Barry Alvarez, Joe Paterno, and Tim Brewster have all made comments to the effect of expanding eastward. Rutgers offers the best financial package in that scenario, so they will be at least one of the choices.

special thanks to Jon for providing some outstanding information, links and quotes.

Personally, when Rutgers first was tossed out as a candidate I was highly skeptical. This was largely because of their athletic programs when compared to several other candidates. I also wasn't convinced that New York would be nearly as thrilled to have the BTN as the BTN would be to have New York. That may still be the case, but Jon points out accurately that even just adding the New Jersey market would be a huge boost to what the BTN will bring in and share with the member schools. Not to mention at the very least a slight increase of exposure in the NYC and Philadelphia markets.

From a Minnesota perspective adding a team that isn't poised to dominate us in football any more than we already are is a good thing. But more than anything Rutgers = $$ (arguably more than any other school, including NotreDame). I endorse Rutgers and fiscally it seems to make enough sense that it will happen.