Monday, November 19, 2012

The Big FourTEeN

Oh hai conference realignment. I have not missed you; it appears that you care not at all.
The University of Maryland's Board of Regents voted Monday to accept an invitation to join the Big Ten and begin competition in the conference in the 2014-15 academic year.

Meanwhile, Big East Conference sources told ESPN that Rutgers will be announced as the 14th member of the Big Ten on Tuesday.

Once Maryland's board voted and faxed a letter of application to the Big Ten on Monday, the conference's council of presidents unanimously approved the Terrapins' admission, a source said.
Ummm ... what? That news first broke Friday and was given pretty much zero credence by me because obviously. By Saturday, it was clear something was happening. By Sunday night, it was actually happening. By Monday morning, it was done.

The reason it's happening/done: money. There is no other reason. Maryland and Rutgers bring basically nothing to the table from a competitive standpoint; Maryland has a pretty good basketball program and Rutgers has a competitive-ish football program, but neither one has any real tradition of anything other than mediocrity and meaningless-ness in football, which is what drives the oversized money truck. Nebraska >>> Rutgers/Maryland. Because of that, nobody really cares about Rutgers and Maryland, and they add nothing to the conference from a brand-name perspective or a general-interest perspective or a better-games perspective. The previous sentence should make my opinion of this transaction quite clear.

The Big Ten is just bloating itself/watering itself down in the name of money. Full stop.

What Rutgers and Maryland bring to the conference is people. A lot of people. A LOT LOT LOT of people. The size of the fan base obviously means nothing since one of the teams being discussed is Maryland and the other is Rutgers; what means everything is the size of the local population base that can be persuaded to demand the Big Ten Network on basic cable. Even without going beyond the NYC metro area, that + the Maryland market + the accompanying Washington D.C. market = about 30 million new in-the-footprint viewers. Seeing as how the Big Ten nets just under a dollar per in-the-footprint BTN subscriber, that's ... like ... a lot of money a year. Basically, Jim Delany looked to the East, saw dollar signs hanging over the various metropoli and said "yes plz." And that was that.

Maryland -- which, as everyone has noted, has been cutting athletic programs to basically pay for Ralph Friedgen's buyout -- has to come up with $50 million just to get out of the ACC and will do it because of the unfathomable pile of money that awaits via a TV deal that's already about as profitable as the Pac-12 and SEC deals, will go up with the aforementioned added subscribers and will go up for auction a few years from now, possibly fetching the conference $1 billion a year in the process (I'm serious; just look at live-sports price escalation over the last five years). The ACC deal is blech by comparison, and what's tradition worth, anyway?

Rutgers doesn't even warrant a paragraph here. This is Rutgers:

There are probably a half-dozen schools out there that would've made more sense from a cumulative competitive/academic/whatever standpoint, with Pitt and North Carolina being the obvious ones. Those schools will be chillin' in the ACC instead because they'd bring essentially nothing in terms of new subscribers/TV money, and that's obviously all that matters.

This quote from Jim Delany explains everything, and by "everything" I mean "absolutely nothing":
"What we're doing is not creating a new paradigm, we're responding to a new paradigm but for very kind of historic reasons. We understand that success requires a dynamic involvement with rich demographics."
Jim Delany: awesome at making up words, terrible at doing things that make sense in any way other than the financial one.

The one silver-lining thought that bubbled to the surface at my overheated brain last night: Hey maybe Michigan and Ohio State will finally get to be in the same division like they should've been all along. Yeah! That's the ticket! I mean, these hypothetical divisions ...


Ohio State
Michigan State


Penn State

... would be perfect in pretty much every way. All major traditional/geographical rivalries contained within divisions? Check (times 10). Competitive balance retained? Check. Geographical coherence achieved? Ehhh kind of; the latter division would be split pretty severely, but that's a necessity for any arrangement other than the one featuring a line drawn vertically through the state of Michigan, which would result in four of the six best programs in the conference in the East Division.

So that'll definitely happen.
When Maryland and Rutgers join they will move into the Leaders Division occupied by Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Purdue and Indiana, Loh told the board of regents. Illinois then would shift from the Leaders to the Legends Division.
AAARRRGHGHGHGHGH. I hate you, Jim Delany.

Regardless, please note that with an eight-team conference schedule, Michigan will play Ohio State every year and every other team in the other division once every six years. That's the watering down I referred to earlier, and there's no way around it* in a confence larger than 12 teams. I can't even imagine 16; I mean, really, what's the point of having a conference in which half the teams never play each other? As it stands now (or in 2014), Michigan will be only nominally/tangentially associated with Purdue, Wisconsin, et al. How does that help the brand? Answer: It doesn't.

Going to 14 teams was a conscious decision to choose money (and the money that can be had in the next TV deal) over everything. That's probably not even something worth complaining about since I should be resigned to it by now; I'll still complain.

*A nine-game conference schedule would help some, and I fully expect one to be implemented within five years to up the desirability of the BTN. The unintended but excellent side effect would be a decrease in the number of MACrifice games. So in that regard, expansion wouldn't necessarily result in fewer Michigan-Wisconsin games but fewer Michigan-UMass games; that'd actually be (gasp) a net benefit, meaning there'd be one benefit rather than none for everybody other than the people cashing/writing athletic department checks.


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