The addition of Rutgers and Maryland was intended to be a land grab for the Big Ten Network. Not only did BTN grow its subscribers, it also was able to charge a higher fee for those households that are now in the Big Ten footprint, so financially it worked. But Rutgers and Maryland have suffered multiple reputation and competition wounds along the way, in turn casting a poor light on the conference. Maryland’s bungled firing of football coach D.J. Durkin is the latest incident that could cause the Big Ten to regret its two most recent additions.
The Huskies were the unfortunate odd man out during the last round of realignment. The Big Ten picked Rutgers. The ACC went with Louisville. And the Big 12 decided not to expand at all. That left UConn as a basketball power in an ill-fitting American Athletic Conference, separated from its traditional rivals in the Big East and struggling to compete in football in a league dominated by UCF, Memphis and Houston. There was a thought that UConn could be “next man up” if one of the power fives expanded because of its basketball tradition and proximity to New York, but that’s fleeting now that football is a 1-11 wreck and basketball is reeling from the Kevin Ollie dispute. If a power five conference decided to expand, UConn would be no better than the sixth or seventh choice behind UCF, USF, Memphis, Cincinnati, Houston and maybe even Boise State and San Diego State.
When Rutgers originally joined the Big Ten five years ago, the school was considered the biggest winner out of the entire conference realignment dance. Three athletic directors and a bunch of losses later, the Scarlet Knights have done little to earn their membership. The Knights eventually will benefit financially from joining the Big Ten — they start receiving a full share of conference revenue in 2020-21, projected to be more than $50 million per school — but they have been overwhelmed competitively. There’s just no way you can get your brains beat in every week and be labeled a winner. In its recently completed 1-11 football season, only three times did Rutgers manage to lose by fewer than double digits. In five seasons in the Big Ten, the Knights are 7-36 in league play and twice went winless. They’re also picked to finish last in the Big Ten this basketball season. No matter how fat the checks are, there has to be some movement toward improvement for the leap to the Big Ten to be considered a success.
It all started in 2011 when Nebraska left the Big 12 for the Big Ten. And with it went the storied Oklahoma-Nebraska game, perhaps the greatest football rivalry in the country. The two schools haven’t met on the football field since 2010. Although they have scheduled occasional games in the future, starting in 2021, Oklahoma-Nebraska was the most acclaimed of the rivalries that fell victim to the 2011-14 conference realignment. Texas-Texas A&M would be a close second. In basketball, Kansas-Missouri, Syracuse-Georgetown and West Virginia-Pittsburgh were among the casualties from shake-ups in the Big 12 and Big East.
West Virginia’s travel budget
Any fool with a map could tell that West Virginia’s travel budget would go through the roof when the Mountaineers joined the Big 12. West Virginia used to spend $4.8 million annually on athletic travel in the old Big East, but with chartered flight costs doubling to reach schools in the Big 12 the travel budget grew to $7.6 million. As the last round of realignment taught us, geography is but a distant concern when it comes to finding the right school that will help increase revenue. When Syracuse and Pittsburgh defected from the Big East, the Mountaineers knew they had to go as well. And the Big 12, which was in the throes of losing four members earlier this decade, provided the opportunity for entry into the power five. The Mountaineers have flourished competitively — basketball and football are competing for conference championships — but it hasn’t been without a lot of heartburn in the travel department.