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Published: Wednesday, 11/21/2012

Don’t blame Big Ten; it’s all business

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Announcements the past two days that Maryland and Rutgers will shift to the Big Ten are not the end to conference realignment. This is merely the first salvo of the next round of musical chairs by college athletic programs.

The Big East has been all but neutered, at least in football. It has lost its seat at the adults’ table, and let’s watch now as the western schools slated to export themselves to the Big East — Boise State and San Diego State — go scurrying back to the Mountain West. TCU already has both jumped into and jumped back out of the Big East, over to the Big 12.

The Atlantic Coast Conference will try to save itself by further raiding the Big East to replace Maryland. Connecticut and Louisville would be likely targets.

But what if the Big Ten is not finished? After all, two seven-team divisions is an odd number.

Could schools like North Carolina, Duke, and Kansas be on commissioner Jim Delany’s hit list? While none is a football powerhouse, all are respected academic and research institutions and would bring big-time basketball programs to a league that is not exactly chopped liver in that department.

Just a thought. But stay tuned.

Neither Maryland nor Rutgers is an athletic giant. But that doesn’t matter these days. Neither do rivalries or traditions or loyalties. Nor does geography matter, or travel issues, or what alumni or students might prefer.

It’s all about the dollars and the television markets, which basically are interchangeable.

Although you can argue New York City is not a college sports stronghold — it’s all about the pros — Rutgers is the closest school that offers both FBS membership and Division I basketball. NYC is the nation’s No. 1 media market, and Rutgers’ New Jersey base makes up a chunk of the extended Philadelphia market, too.

Combine the Baltimore-Washington D.C. corridor, courtesy of Maryland, and the Big Ten picks up another huge swath of television sets. The D.C. metro market alone ranks eighth in the United States.

In return, Maryland and Rutgers will reap the benefits of the Big Ten Network and the conference’s other TV revenues. The latter agreements come up for renewal in 2017, and it has been estimated that the Big Ten’s next deal, or deals, could realize in excess of $40 million per year per member school.

That would more than double what Maryland currently gets as its slice of the ACC’s television pie and would quadruple what Rutgers reportedly realizes from the Big East.

And so it goes. It leaves buzzards circling over the Big East’s carcass, and you have to wonder about the future of the ACC, despite its recent collaboration with Notre Dame, which was dictated by Irish terms.

The Big Ten badly wanted Notre Dame, but on its terms, which would have included full football membership.

The long-independent Irish would have none of that, so the Domers went their way, and the Big Ten now has gone its way. I doubt it is done.

Remember when the Big East and ACC were the nation’s premier basketball conferences, their league tournaments head and shoulders above the rest, and the envy of all for their respective TV deals? That’s ancient history.

It’s a football world now. The Big Ten has positioned itself along with the SEC, Texas (Longhorn Network) and the Pac-12 to orchestrate a system of super-conferences driven by TV.

You and I don’t have to like the way this game is being played, but the game is on. So don’t blame the Big Ten for establishing new footholds, and don’t blame Maryland and Rutgers for jumping on board.

Who will be next?

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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