Tate: Singin' the expansion blues

Tate: Singin' the expansion blues

If you’re willing to be overmatched, try debating Jim Delany. He’s the top commissioner in sports and has kept the Big Ten on the cutting edge. How can you criticize a genius who is so smart, so experienced and so focused on future $$$s?

Obviously, when he announced, “Go East, young man,” he didn’t walk in blindfolded. The expansion came after extensive study. And he articulated his recent power play brilliantly:

“What drove us to go someplace else (Rutgers and Maryland) was just the fact that there’s a paradigm shift, and that institutions that get together for academics or athletics have got to be cognizant of the fact that they are competing for students, for student-athletes, for research dollars, for the best levels of collaboration.”

Did he mention TV sets? Come on, Jim. Wasn’t that what this was all about?

Being smarter doesn’t win elections. Delany couldn’t carry the Midwest masses, not if this was done in the daylight. Let’s be frank. A lot of us flat-out don’t like it. It isn’t the loss of geographic integrity. It isn’t just the 12- and 15-hour drives from Illinois and Iowa. It isn’t simply the ridiculous travel requirements for all those non-revenue sports.

Most troubling is the inevitable loss of traditional football and basketball games. In football, Illinois should play neighbors Iowa, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Indiana and Purdue every year. These are close, long-term natural rivals. These are the games that the fans want to see. These five should never be off the UI football schedule.

In the present divisional alignment, the UI already lost Iowa. And if, as Maryland President Wallace Loh let slip, the Illini are moved in 2014 to the Legends Division, the Illini could get Iowa back but lose the frequency of showdowns against Wisconsin, Indiana and Purdue, plus the always-anticipated opponent that Illinoisans love to challenge, even at great risk, Ohio State.

What were they thinking?

We won’t know about divisional reshuffling for a while. But if, for example, Maryland and Rutgers move into the Leaders Division, and if Illinois is switched, get this: Assuming the UI would play two opposite-division foes in home-road arrangements, the UI could play football against Purdue in 2014-15, and not again until 2020-21 at the earliest or 2022-23 at the latest. There could be a six-year lapse.

Crazy! Purdue is a short bus ride away and in the same conference. But this possibility is based on scheduling, which would annually pit Illinois against the other six same-division members and would bring in two members from the opposite division for two-year terms.

Depending on how the divisions are adjusted, Illinois will find itself playing Rutgers and Maryland as often or more often than several natural rivals. To which I say: “Phooey quadrupled!”

From the viewpoint of Midwestern fans, whose opinions don’t matter, Rutgers resides in a different world and has a marginal football brand, having finished in the Top 25 once in 35 years. Maryland is only slightly better and of little interest here.

Nebraska seemed like a reasonable fit because (1) an 11-team conference is awkward and (2) the Cornhuskers have a grand football history. The folks there approved the move. This is different. These Eastern schools have little in common with the Big Ten, Maryland fans in particular aren’t happy with the move, and their appearances in the Midwest will resemble nonconference games.   

Cashing in
Don’t blame Rutgers and Maryland. They were broke and looking for a buck. Both had to cut multiple sports as casualties of the fiscal insanity sweeping the nation. And Rutgers had further concerns as the Big East appeared to be coming apart at the seams.

Speaking from the Washington Post, columnist Mike Wise called the Maryland decision “an impulsive cash grab.” The Terrapins threw away the grand tradition of ACC basketball for the money expected from the Big Ten broadcasts. This wasn’t put up to a fan vote because it would have failed.”

Maryland had one thing to sell, a media market that includes the District of Columbia, supposedly well-stocked with football fans from the Midwest. When Delany hears about a top-10 media market, his eyes light up. He’d probably be interested in Atlanta (Georgia Tech) if he didn’t have to vault Kentucky and Tennessee, and he already is rumored to be practicing his leapfrog techniques to reach the nation’s No. 8 market (or is Texas too distant?).

Rutgers falls in this big-market category. But while Delany has run numbers showing 20 million people in the New York media market, he may be overestimating college football interest there. Few sectors of this country have a smaller percentage of college football fans than New York and, face it, Rutgers gets a modest portion of that small percentage. Rutgers attracts far fewer actual fans than those who support the Hawkeyes, Badgers and Buckeyes, who rule their states and turn Saturdays into a must-see experience. Competition between the two Michigan schools only seems to heighten interest in that state.

So it may be a tall order for master negotiator Mark Silverman to sell the BTN to cable outlets in New York and New Jersey, but it is essential because the pie will be split 14 ways instead of 12.

Whatever the money distribution turns out to be, it won’t change the fact that all the original Big Ten members are losing traditional and valued rivalries. And a lot of folks, like me, could be turned off by that.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.


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DaisyJ wrote on December 14, 2012 at 2:12 pm

just plain freakin stupid this expansion. Stop calling it the Big whatever. Why have a conference if you bring in teams from who knows where. Tate, stop sucking up to Delany and tell him and the rest that money is one thing but integrity of conference and tradition is out the door. Who is next for sale.

dlhalsen wrote on December 15, 2012 at 12:12 pm

I understand your concern about the Big Ten's traditions being tarnished but there not. Rutgers has been getting the shaft for years in state where we are  48th in the country with higher education funding. It's terrible i am saying this as Rutgers alum. The college is rising in tuition and dropping in the rankings because of this. I understand your worried about tradition, but you wouldn't even have any tradition without Rutgers. It is the birthplace of college football, so you can bash all you want but you have to understand why rutgers did this. Sure its money also, but thats also because Rutgers is terribly underfunded, i have had professors without even phones in  their office because of this. So please i know you think you guys are gods and better than everyone else. Get the facts straight first though, Whats wrong with bringing in a school that founded the entire sport of college football?

DaisyJ wrote on December 17, 2012 at 4:12 pm

You get your facts straight first. Also, you asked what is wrong with bringing in eastern football,

Well, be truthful with the fan and quit calling it the big ten conference. It is not the big ten, it is the big money conference. BMC...now that is straight facts

cjcohen wrote on December 14, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Loren is correct re: fan interest in college football in the D.C. to NYC corridor. I grew up in NYC, remember people in my neighborhood mostly paying attention to the Giants & Jets. Interest in college football was pretty minimal & limited to Notre Dame & Army. I never bought into PSU as a Big 10 member, really don't like this latest expansion. When either Rutgers or MD come to Champaign, count me among the missing (fans in the stands). 

calvin wrote on December 14, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Syracuse is a natural............won't be long until we get them

jruss62 wrote on December 14, 2012 at 3:12 pm

The Q just went to ACC last year

RUinChiTown wrote on December 15, 2012 at 12:12 pm

No.  Sillycuse was bounced from the AAU two years ago.  Their academic profile has deminished considerably over the last generation.   In sports though they claim to be "NY's Team", fan interest in the NJ/NY metro area is microscopic, behind nd and psu (and the three combined don't add up to RU's interest level.)

Silver's numbers in the NYT article are skewed, as they incorrectly state "people" and should be "households".  Another survey was done in NJ only (not the whole 8.5mm metro NJ/NY area) this fall by an independant pollster: to the question, "Are you a Rutgers fan?" (pretty simple, I know) it garnered 3.1mm "Yes." responses. (This was more than either the Giants, the Jets or the Eagles.) No too shabby.

Almost without exception Rutgers fans are very happy about the affiliation with the B1G.  Not only did it save us from college sports purgatory, but just as important is the affiliation with the CIC.  It is a great match, as RU brings ~ $750mm annual spend from research money to the consortium.

Understandbly there are those in the midwest who object to the conference's move east, and the inclusion of a "psuedo IVY" (and one of the original "colonial colleges".)  But all we can ask is that these folks try to keep an open mind and give RU the opportunity to show we deserve to belong.

If you do come east for a fb game, you'll find a great game day atmosphere.  And if you make it a long weekend, plenty to do in NYC and, even in Oct., lot's of fun on the Jersey shore.

I live in the Chicago 'burbs now (20+ years) and I can see both sides of this discussion.




bernies wrote on December 17, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Who was the independent pollster who determined there were more Rutgers football fans in NJ than Giants, Jets, or Eagles fans? I live in Jersey, within walking distance of the Rutgers football stadium, and I find this hard to believe...

bernies wrote on December 17, 2012 at 5:12 pm

RUinChiTown said: "Sillycuse was bounced from the AAU two years ago." Not being an AAU member doesn't disqualify you from B1G membership. Just look at Nebraska...

bernies wrote on December 14, 2012 at 4:12 pm

I thought this New York Times blog post by Nate Silver was kind of interesting: "Expansion by Big Ten May Bring Small Payoff". See:  


nick wrote on December 14, 2012 at 5:12 pm

This article should be installment number 1 in a series of articles analyzing the corruption of college sports. Don't stop now.The power of the NCAA monopoly and it's divisions and departments,such as the Big Ten conference,is a story the media is terrified to investigate.Write the story and report the truth. The reaction would be overwhelmingly postive and supportive.

CecilColeman wrote on December 14, 2012 at 5:12 pm

I've been to several football games at Purdue and, win or lose, can honestly say I've had more fun at funerals. Would rather see a game at Upper Iowa U than that dump in West Lafayette.

Da Illini wrote on December 18, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Cecil, you to please take your meds daily.  Purdue is a good rivalry for Illinois and the Golden Girls are easy on the eyes!!

FloridaIllini wrote on December 14, 2012 at 7:12 pm

This whole scenario is playing out like the policitical scene.  Many of my 65+ friends just can't fathom the changes in our country and believe armegeddon is near.  Not likely I think.  The Big Ten will be very different but the conference is being proactive and taking the lead.  In life you either move forward or move backward- standing still isn't a choice.  Our football brand is weakened and the SEC is moving forward.  Sorry about the age old rivalries but I've been watching the Illini since about 1955 and in football I could care less about losing Iowa, Purdue or Indiana.  We are an afterthought anyway.  I'm sorry your world has been rocked, Loren, but at your age you won't suffer too long.

Da Illini wrote on December 18, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Yo, please take your meds daily.  Go to a game at Rutgers and see how you like New Brunswick.  One step above Camden.

Da Illini wrote on December 18, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Loren Tate hit it on the head.  Most midwesterners could care less if we play Rutgers or Maryland.  Plus New Brunswick, NJ is a slum!!

Plus if Illinois leaves the Leaders for the Legends Division in 2014 as rumored that takes away the Indiana bball rivalry!!