Tate: Expansion all about the Benjamins
As Hawk Harrelson often exclaims when the Sox get hot: “Don’t stop now, boys!”
So Jim Delany, how about Texas? How about Oklahoma? You’re hot. Let’s keep it rolling. The Longhorns and Sooners are two of the biggest winners in college football history. The Texas budget is somewhere around $150 million.
As it is, the latest move by the Big Ten-Plus is hard to grasp because, as multi-sport athletic programs, Maryland and soon-to-be-announced Rutgers are two of nation’s biggest losers.
— The troubled Terrapins, dealing with a multi-million dollar budget shortfall, cut seven non-revenue sports this summer including swimming, men’s tennis and indoor track, with outdoor track surviving for another year via an $888,000 fundraising drive.
Neither the Terps’ new basketball arena nor Byrd Stadium upgrades are paying for themselves, and they’re battling to keep the debt under $5 million. Maybe they’re located too close to Washington, D.C., where the concept of a balanced budget is foreign to lawmakers.
— The state university of New Jersey is the most subsidized program among major conferences, even after cutting six varsity sports in 2007. The student fee for football is $1,000, outrageous even if they receive free tickets. After all, a major concern nationally is ever-growing student debt.
By pouring millions into athletics, Rutgers is weakening academic programs and drawing increasing demands from the faculty council for athletic cuts.
It should be noted here that only a few, like Illinois, generate enough revenue to pay for non-revenue sports without a substantial outlay from the institution. But with Gov. Chris Christie trimming everyone’s waistline but his own (state appropriations are way down), Rutgers carries it too far by drawing $19 million from the general fund for sports ($9 million in student fees). Put simply, Rutgers is short on revenue.
Disregard everything you’re read to this point. Red ink or black ink, program finances don’t matter. Nor do natural rivalries, even as throngs of Maryland fans complain about it today.
It’s an old story. If they tell you it’s not about the money, it’s about ... you guessed it.
It takes bureaucracies to run a burgeoning entitlement society, and Maryland is adjacent to one of the nation’s fastest growing communities: Seat of the U.S. government. This growth is in contrast to Midwestern states that are losing or stagnant in terms of population. The greater Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area is loaded with 8.5 million potential fans producing many prospective football players, the latter explaining why the Terrapins gave former Illini coach Mike Locksley $500,000 to return there as recruiting coordinator. Maryland shows two 2-10 seasons in the last four years (let’s play ’em!), and is 4-7 with five straight losses ahead of the finale at North Carolina.
And there’s Rutgers, seated strategically on the edge of the sprawling New York metropolitan area of 18 million people (give or take a couple million). Just imagine the income for the Big Ten Network if Delany and Mark Silverman can get it sold in the new Big Ten-Plus footprint. New Brunswick is just 40 miles from New York City, about the distance from Champaign to Decatur, only packed with people.
Buyout fines from their current conferences notwithstanding, Maryland and Rutgers can see a brilliant light at the end of their dark tunnels. The potential to earn huge profits after the next Big Ten TV contract in 2017 makes it an easy decision for them, particularly with the Big Ten so much more stable than their current conferences.
“It is in the strategic interest of the university to solidify our financial status for the long term,” Maryland president Wallace D. Loh said. “It was painful for us to face those students and tell them we could no longer support their teams. Someone has to pay the bills. This is about long-term viability.”
Echoed athletic director Kevin Anderson: “This assures our financial stability. We will now meet with the commission here and see if it is feasible to reinstate some of the teams that were dropped.”
So, for Maryland, financial need overwhelmed more than a half-century of tradition.
For the Big Ten, the latest expansion carries the look of money driving the conference one more major step toward 16.
Eyes in the sky
When someone mentions Maryland, what comes to mind? What makes up the brand? For me, it’s Lefty Driesell and Len Bias, it’s Gary Williams’ title team beating Indiana in 2002. Maryland has fielded strong quintets at times but is sometimes viewed as an outsider in a Carolina-dominated basketball conference. It doesn’t conjure up football memories, which makes it unlike Penn State and Nebraska. Those two and Michigan State rode football successes into the league. Maryland is riding TV sets in the District of Columbia.
Somebody mentioned Penn State as a natural rival for the Terrapins, and that was before realizing that the Nittany Lions lead the series 35-1-1. It can’t be called a natural rivalry, folks, unless both teams win from time to time; Illinois dropped a heavily-hyped, big payday with Missouri in St. Louis because the Illini kept losing. Otherwise, it would have gone forever like the basketball series in St. Louis.
Mention Rutgers and the mind switches to Greg Schiano, whose Scarlet Knights served as Ron Zook’s first victim (33-30 in OT) in 2005. It took awhile but he revived the football program before moving to the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers this year. Rutgers struggled from 1976 to 2006 without being ranked in the Top 25, revealing a history of mediocrity.
With only one loss in 2012, a 35-23 setback at the hands of Kent State, Rutgers is an almost unnoticed 9-1. The latest 10-3 win against Cincinnati was the 19th sports story on the New York Post website. The Knights finish against Pitt and Louisville. If there’s buzz, it doesn’t cover that 40 miles to NYC. If there’s excitement, it isn’t among potential bowl hosts.
So, for Maryland and Rutgers, the surprising move is great. In serving the expansion needs and the financial preferences of the Big Ten, this works. For the fans, well ... like me, many will accept it and go on with our lives. It means more football games without a traditional background, fewer football games against old rivals, and more tiring and expensive travel for all the other sports teams.
When the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins travel to Memorial Stadium, it’ll be up to the fans to manufacture excitement. Delany once said he preferred more games against natural rivals, not less? Then the world of college sports is changing before our eyes, and the greenbacks come first.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.