Academic journal article Business Case Journal

The Big Ten Heads East

Academic journal article Business Case Journal

The Big Ten Heads East

Article excerpt

... unnecessary and unwanted additions ... a pair of historically mediocre programs that may well enhance the Big Ten Network's equity but will do nothing to improve actual Big Ten football.

Stewart Mandel, SportsIllustrated.com (November 20, 2012)

Traditions ditched. Geography stretched. A conference name made even more mathematically inaccurate. All for the sake of the dollar.

Mike Lopresti, USA Today (November 23, 2012)

Such was the reaction in the press to the announcements in November 2012 that both Maryland and Rutgers would be joining the Big Ten conference. It certainly wasn't the response that Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany had hoped for. Big Ten football teams had struggled of late. Concerns about the conference's competitiveness compared to other conferences had been growing for a number of years--Big Ten teams had won only 7 of the 19 bowl games they had played the past 2 years and were 5:8 in Bowl Championship Series (BCS) bowl games over the last 7 years (Rittenberg, 2012). The additions of Maryland and Rutgers seemed to be fueling the narrative that the conference, which had been described as the most valuable in college sports (Smith, 2013), was in competitive decline.

The adverse reaction to the announcement also seemed to be fueled in part by statements from the Big Ten over the past year that the conference was quite satisfied with its existing structure of 12 teams and did not feel that it needed to expand further. Speaking at the Big Ten Basketball media day on October 27, 2011 about the universities that were members of the Big Ten, for example, Delany was quoted as saying "We are as happy as we can be with what we have" (Dochterman, 2011, p. B-1). Similarly, during the summer of 2012, Delany spoke on the merits of stability and the disadvantages of getting larger, saying:

I think one of the most underrated factors about a conference is stability and the glue that holds it together. The larger you are, the less you play each other. The less you play each other, the less tradition you have. (Dent, November 20, 2012, p. D-1)

So what was behind the addition of two teams lacking the competitive stature of the existing Big Ten schools from outside the conference's traditional geographic boundaries less than a year after the conference indicated little need for further expansion? The answer appeared to be a combination of gaining access to large TV markets in the East and responding to the moves of competing conferences. Sports Illustrateds Pete Thamel (2012) reported that the addition of Maryland and Rutgers could result in a "$100 million annual television windfall for the Big Ten" as a result of giving the Big Ten Network access to the big television markets in the East. Barry Alvarez, University of Wisconsin Athletic Director described the motivations for the expansion as a combination of changing demographics, aggressive media markets, and moving ahead of other conferences that might have similar enlargement plans.

We're sitting in the Rust Belt. We lose population every year. That Eastern corridor keeps growing. ... With all the population [in Maryland, District of Columbia and New Jersey] you don't want one of those other leagues to come in there ... and close us out of there and we're land-locked. He [referring to Delany] just didn't think that was good for our future. (Baggot, 2012, p. B-1)

Delany admitted that the Washington, D.C. and New York City TV markets influenced the decision to add Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten (Dent, November 20, 2012) but argued that college athletics was going through a paradigm shift and that expansion was about more than just access to large media markets in the East.

Every one of the five (major) conferences is outside their natural footprint. We looked at that and thought, 'We need to explore how we might become larger. ... You look at what others are doing and you try and position yourself, not for the next five months or even the next five years, but really for the next five decades. …

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