Bob Asmussen: Big Ten gets bigger
Welcome, my friends, to the conference that never ends.
Today, the Big Ten grows by two. From 12 to 14. Can 16 be far behind?
Yes, Maryland is now a part of the Big Ten. So is Rutgers. Officially.
Maryland leaves the comfort of its longtime affiliation with the ACC. We think of Lefty Driesell, John Lucas, Randy White, Len Bias, Boomer Esiason and Gary Williams.
Rutgers leaves the discomfort and instability of the American Athletic Conference. Before that, it was the discomfort and instability of the Big East. Rutgers needed a new home, and the Big Ten happily obliged.
We think of Rutgers for its role in college football, hosting the first game in 1869. Since that 6-4 victory against Princeton, it has been pretty much downhill for the Scarlet Knights.
The school has multiple campuses and multiple names. Rutgers is actually the State University of New Jersey. Rutgers sounds better.
The Ron Zook era at Illinois opened with a comeback win against the Scarlet Knights. Then-quarterback Tim Brasic got into trouble with Zook by guaranteeing a victory. He got out of trouble by delivering on the promise.
The last and only trip to Rutgers didn’t go so well for the Illini. Zook’s second team lost 33-0 at what is now known as High Point Solutions Stadium.
Rutgers plans a Big Ten launch party tonight at the stadium with commissioner Jim Delany, coaches, administrators, athletes, cheerleaders and band members.
But that’s before they make the first drive to Lincoln, Neb. That will be 1,288 miles. Or about 20 hours depending on traffic.
It will be a quicker trip to Illinois for the Scarlet Knights: 807 miles.
Maryland is closer to Champaign, a scant 712 miles. Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall ... Even shorter if you take the Lebanon cutout in Indiana and avoid the nasty rush hour in Indianapolis.
The New Two have athletic strengths. Maryland owns a national title in men’s basketball. The school is also good in baseball and men’s and women’s lacrosse.
Rutgers calls itself a resurgent football program, which might be a stretch when you consider that football coach Kyle Flood is considered to be on the hot seat. But the women’s basketball team is coached by Hall of Famer C. Vivian Stringer. And before she came to Illinois, Theresa Grentz ran the Rutgers program, too.
When football starts in August, the New Two will see plenty of each other. They are both in the East Division, along with Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State. No more Leaders and Legends. Thank goodness. Keeping track of who went where made our heads hurt. And if you had quizzed the coaches and players, they would have had no idea. Now it is simple.
The New Two definitely drew the short straw when it came to division alignment. The Wolverines, Spartans, Buckeyes and Nittany Lions could become consistent Top 10 threats. The West has only two of those teams: Nebraska and Wisconsin. With Iowa a distant third.
Why did the Big Ten want Maryland and Rutgers? Pretty simple: adding bodies. More specifically, television sets. Two major metro areas are now a part of the Big Ten’s television footprint. You can argue that folks in New York City don’t care about college football. Maybe so, but now they have one of their own to root for. If Rutgers becomes a football power, count on the fans in New York to jump in. Full force.
Maryland brings with it population strongholds in D.C. and Baltimore.
Of course, Rutgers and Maryland aren’t the perfect fits. Notre Dame would have been much better. But the Irish have hitched their independent-minded wagon to the ACC. Notre Dame isn’t joining now and won’t be later.
So, the Big Ten found an alternative. One that smart-guy Delany thinks will pay off in the long run. Who are we to argue?
Sit back, enjoy and watch the games from College Park and Piscataway. Remember, it is Terps and Scarlet Knights. Both wear a shade of red. Both are in the Big Ten.
Now. And forever.
Bob Asmussen writes three columns a week for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Division rivalry for football