Originally written November 20, 2012 on Fox Sports Detroit:
Rutgers and Maryland? To paraphrase Brady Hoke, this is definitely not your father's Big Ten. The old Western Conference is now moving into New York and Baltimore, with plans for a league office on the East Coast. And they probably aren't done. Remember, during the height of conference realignment craziness, pundits predicting we're headed for four 16-team super-conferences? It looks like Big Ten president Jim Delany plans to be the first one to get there. Let's get one thing out of the way. This move is strictly about money. This isn't about adding legendary programs like Penn State and Nebraska. It's about adding huge media markets. The Big Ten can now go to cable companies in New York, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. and say, "we've got a home team in your area now, so let's talk about how much we're going to charge your customers to watch our TV network." Will it work? It's a risky move. A study done by America's greatest statistician, Nate Silver, showed that Rutgers brings about 900,000 fans to the conference, while Maryland is just under 500,000. Those are both below average for the conference, and the Terps are right at the bottom. Yes, New York is an enormous media market, but not one that cares much about college football or is slavishly devoted to Rutgers. Notre Dame and Michigan have almost as many fans in the Big Apple as the Scarlet Knights, and Maryland is in the same situation in a smaller market. Forget the money for now, and let's focus on how things are going to change at Spartan Stadium and the Big House. For one thing, say goodbye to the teams in the Leaders Division. With eight conference games, Legends Division teams will likely see them only once a decade or so. The math is pretty simple. You play the other six teams in your division and your "rivalry" game every year. That's seven, so you're going to play only one other crossover game each season. That means Michigan will play Wisconsin only once every six years, and the Badgers will visit Michigan Stadium every 12 years. The whole concept of the every-year rivalry game is going to get even sillier under the new system. If reports coming out of Maryland are correct, the new-look Leaders Division will be Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Maryland, Purdue, Indiana and Wisconsin. The Legends will add Illinois to Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern and Minnesota. So now we have to come up with seven heated rivalries -- teams that will play a crossover game every year, as opposed to once every six seasons. Michigan and Ohio State is not going to change, but let's try to get creative with the others. Michigan State and Wisconsin have developed the "Border Battle," so we'll put them together. And Nebraska-Penn State represents the Big Ten's first wave of expansion. Let's create two other border battles by pitting Illinois against Purdue (the cannon is at stake, after all) and Indiana against Northwestern. That's five rivalry games, and are all reasonable matchups to watch every year. But are people at Iowa going to be thrilled about an annual matchup with Maryland? Or will New Yorkers be glued to their seats and televisions for the annual Rutgers-Minnesota game? Meanwhile, we lose games that have some tradition. The Land Grant trophy between Michigan State and Penn State? Once every six years. Same goes for Paul Bunyan's Axe, which goes to the winner of Minnesota-Wisconsin. This is not a particularly fair system, either. There will be years when Michigan's crossover games will be Ohio State and Penn State, while a strong Northwestern team could play Indiana and Maryland. That would give the Wildcats a huge advantage in the race for the Legends Division title. Rutgers and Maryland are coming into the conference to get Big Ten football into big media markets, but they aren't coming in to play only one sport. With 18 conference basketball games and 14 teams, there are going to be four teams a year that don't play at the Crisler Center or the Breslin Center. If Ohio State or Maryland develop another superstar like Greg Oden or Len Bias, the odds have doubled that Michigan or Michigan State fans won't get to see them during their one-and-done careers. And this is almost certainly not over. Delany is likely looking for two more schools to create the first 16-team mega-conference. Will it be Syracuse and Georgia Tech that we're trying to plug into B16 rivalries next? North Carolina and Connecticut? Florida State and Miami? Whatever happens, it won't be about academics, tradition or adding football powerhouses to the conference. It won't have anything to do with geography, basketball or the Olympic sports. It's going to be about money. Welcome to college sports in the 21st Century.
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