Dienhart: Latest moves will shake things up

Dienhart: Latest moves will shake things up

And then there were 14. We all knew this day was coming, right? We all knew the Big Ten would grow to 14 schools. The SEC made the move prior to this season, which certainly had to catch the eye of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.

And when Notre Dame forged an alliance earlier this fall with the ACC to provide a home for all of its sports but football, the Big Ten reportedly began to move aggressively toward expansion.

Mission accomplished.

[RELATED: Clothes Call: Meet the Rutgers Scarlet Knights]

Maryland officially was announced as the Big Ten’s 13th member yesterday. After a day basking in the limelight, it was Rutgers’ turn today, as the Scarlet Knights officially were welcomed to the Big Ten club.

It will be a shock if these moves by the Big Ten don’t set off others, as leagues scramble to remain relevant and bolster their portfolios with good assets.

Rutgers vs. Big Ten schools
The Scarlet Knights are 9-26 vs. teams in the Big Ten. They have not played Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Purdue, Wisconsin or Ohio State.
Illinois 1-1
Michigan State 3-2
Nebraska 0-1
Northwestern 3-0
Penn State 2-22

The addition of two middling and financially strapped athletic programs that are way outside the Big Ten footprint has drawn scrutiny and criticism from many pundits, who also point out that neither has much of a pedigree when it comes to football–the bellwether sport.

Fair enough.

But this move by Delany and the Big Ten isn’t about today. It’s about tomorrow.

Maryland and Rutgers are undervalued commodities with great potential. Yes, compared to the Big Ten overall they lack great football traditions, massive fan bases, 100,000-seat stadiums and fat budgets, but they sit in fertile ground on two fronts.

  1. Rutgers (New York City) and Maryland (Washington, D.C./Baltimore) are two massively populated areas. The Beltway area has roughly 7 million people, while New York City has around 9 million. And all of those people own TV sets, which will enhance the media rights deals the Big Ten can secure for its first-tier TV contracts. It also will push the Big Ten Network onto more cable providers, which will raise its revenues.
  2. The densely populated areas now become prime recruiting territory for Big Ten schools, which presumably will bolster the rosters and make the league better.

Yes, some long-standing traditions get washed away in this Great Realignment that continues to sweep the landscape and forever change college athletics. Iconic rivalries like Oklahoma-Nebraska and Texas-Texas A&M have been erased. But the sun has continued to rise. I don’t think western civilization will crumble if Maryland doesn’t play North Carolina.

New traditions will develop. Give it time. Beside, tradition is the LAST reason why anything should be done. You can’t move forward if you are looking back and clinging to tradition.

Road trip!
How far is your school from Big Ten newcomers Rutgers (New Brunswick, N.J.) and Maryland (College Park, Md.)? We used Google maps to route the drive.
Rutgers Maryland
Illinois 811 712
Indiana 739 640
Iowa 989 905
Michigan 605 522/td>
Michigan State 668 584
Minnesota 1,189 1,105
Nebraska 1,290 1,206
Northwestern 800 716
Ohio State 514 415
Penn State 228 198
Purdue 750 651
Wisconsin 928 844

Besides, the ACC has been chipping at its tradition for years, beginning with when it brought in Florida State in 1991. Then, Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech came aboard in the new millennium. Last fall, Pitt and Syracuse were added. With so many teams, few traditional ACC foes would meet annually. Was anyone lamenting the loss of ACC tradition then?

Uh, no. They were speculating how big the ACC’s next TV contract was going to be after the league pushed into some massive markets.

Now the question looms: Is the Big Ten finished expanding?

Once conference alignment caught fire a few years ago, speculation began that the landscape would one day feature just four, 16-team conferences. The nation’s two biggest and most powerful leagues already are at 14. So, obviously, it’s not a big jump to 16.

Can the Pac-12 and Big 12 sit idly by? This is all about asset acquisition, for lack of a better term. I think we all can agree that the only schools on the market worthy trying to add are ACC and Big East schools, along with a few outliers like Boise State and BYU. And could Notre Dame remain on the outside of a four-league, 16-team structure?

This conference realignment game is all about demographics, population bases, TV markets. It’s not about how many trophies a school has on display in the foyer of its athletic department. Smart people know this. Ignorant ones don’t.

The idea by the Big Ten is to ride the crest of change—not to be washed away by change and react to it.

So, what’s next?

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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