19 November 2012

What does Maryland's and Rutgers' move to the Big Ten mean?

Maryland's Byrd Stadium
This morning, the Board of Regents at the University of Maryland voted to leave the Atlantic Coast Conference, of which it is a charter member, for the Big Ten Conference for the 2014-15 school year. This was expected after rumors swirled all weekend that the Big Ten was in serious discussions with Maryland as well as Rutgers, which is expected to vote like Maryland as its Board of Governors is meeting later today. Here is what this latest bit of realignment means for the college football world.

There is no question about it that the move is being driven 100% by money and television. Both football programs are not that great as Maryland is a basketball school, has been awful on the field of late and has not won the ACC in over a decade while Rutgers was terrible before 2005 and has never won the Big East (although I think they will this year). Getting a pair of also-rans in basketball-first conferences on the East Coast certainly does not make that much sense in a football-first conference in the Midwest.

But look where Maryland and Rutgers are located, in two major television markers (Washington/Baltimore and New York). While I can tell you as a native of the New York market that nobody in the city cares about Rutgers and I can also tell you as a student in D.C. that nobody here cares about Maryland, plus both are in cities that are not college sports towns. But the chance to get the Big Ten Network on in the New York and Washington/Baltimore markets spells huge money, as a television executive speculated that this move could be worth $200 million a year for the conference. Now while it is not a guarantee, considering next to nobody in Texas has the Longhorn Network and how the Pac-12 Network still has distribution issues out West, the promise of a windfall of cash is very appealing to both schools, even one in Maryland that has a $50 million buyout from the conference (ironically, it was one of the two schools that voted against the exit fee). And think about this, FOX owns a significant share of BTN and is negotiating to buy into the YES Network so there could be something there.

So what do these moves mean for the conferences being left in the wind? For the ACC, losing a big piece of their basketball backbone is a decent blow, they'll likely add Connecticut to keep the basketball side strong and to hurt the Big East even more. The Big East, however, will be in some trouble. They will have lost all their limited football presence in New York with Syracuse already leaving for the ACC, and to where do they go to replace Rutgers? Would they add Villanova in football? Would they make a strong offer to another school out West to build up their western division with BYU or Air Force? But regardless, that conference will continue to become just a random glob of schools cross-country.

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