The Big Ten Conference's latest expansion plan reflects the desire of universities desperate for even more revenue to run their sports programs.
The arms race that has become spending in college football (and conference-jumping by member institutions) escalated dramatically this week with news that the University of Maryland and Rutgers University will be joining the Big Ten Conference.
That means the Big Ten, which has 12 teams, will expand to 14 teams. Meanwhile, the Big 12 Conference, which has 10 teams, is considering jumping into the expansion game to move up to 11 teams or more. The merry-go-round is spinning.
College conferences once were based on common characteristics, like geographic region and academic equivalence, but no more.
Now all they represent is a collection of millions of eyeballs that can be trained on football games broadcast on television. Networks pay a fortune for the rights and sell boatloads of advertising to pay for it. Everybody gets rich — at least that's the idea.
It's business and nothing more. University officials boosting the expansion may blather on about the academic opportunities created by adding the state universities in Maryland and New Jersey to the Big Ten's current excellent collection of academic institutions. What they say may be true, but it's essentially irrelevant.
Over the past couple of years and for a variety of reasons, live sports has become a huge advertising draw. That's why college and professional teams can sell broadcast rights to their games for sums that were previously unimaginable.
Conferences that put together the best collection of schools covering the largest population areas will prosper. Others may be forced to the sidelines. That's why Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski candidly stated that he fears for the future of the tradition-rich Atlantic Coast Conference, of which Maryland was a charter member.
The addition of Rutgers and Maryland will add major new television markets — New York City and the Baltimore/Washington, D.C., area — to the Big Ten's broadcast footprint. That's huge, and the Big Ten may not be done.
After all, it wasn't done when it added Penn State or Nebraska. This has become a ruthless, cutthroat business in which there will be big winners and even bigger losers.