While most Husker fans were preoccupied with the Minnesota game, the news that the Big Ten was negotiating with Maryland and Rutgers to join an a 14 team B1G conference. ESPN reports that Maryland's Board of Regents will meet on Monday morning to discuss the issue; if Maryland joins up, Rutgers likely will be added to balance the arrangement.
From an athletics perspective, adding Maryland and Rutgers doesn't make a lot of sense. Maryland is better known for their hideous uniforms inspired by the state flag than what the players wearing the uniforms do. The Terrapins' football team is 4-7 this season, with one of those victories being a 7-6 victory over William & Mary. Rutgers' football team is 9-1, and leading the Big East with games against Pitt and Louisville left to finish the schedule. Maryland's basketball is much more competitive; last season, they finished 31-5, making it all the way to the Elite Eight.
From a television perspective, the move makes a whole lot more sense. Rutgers' campus is 30 miles outside of New York City; Maryland's Byrd Stadium in College Park is just 12 miles away from Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Suddenly, BTN becomes a desirable broadcast property in three of the biggest media markets in the country: New York (#1), Washington (#9), and Baltimore (#26). Sure, Rutgers and Maryland football may not be compelling at this time, but suddenly when teams like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Nebraska start playing games in these markets, it could become a bigger draw.
It's a gamble, to be sure. But Jim Delaney recognizes that the perception of the Big Ten needs to shift, and getting the conference into bigger markets is one way to do that. This certainly is the opposite of the Nebraska addition; Nebraska brings almost no television sets, but brings a valuable football asset to the conference.
But is a 14 team Big Ten a good idea? From a football perspective, it creates two seven team divisions and sparks new realignment in the conference. If it happens, I suspect that Illinois might get moved from the east to the west division. Ideally, Wisconsin would move, but that would tilt the competitive balance to the west. With an eight game conference schedule, that means 6 division games and only playing two of the seven teams in the other division each season. Cross-division rivalries will almost certainly suffer, and rotating conference foes might have to be done every year rather than every two years with a home-and-home.
But is Maryland and Rutgers the best that the Big Ten could attract? Part of me wonders if the Big Ten shouldn't go ahead and pursue a 16 team conference. Schools that I'd like to see considered would be Oklahoma and Georgia Tech. Oklahoma brings a national brand, and when combined with Georgia Tech, gets the B1G into the Sun Belt and exposes the conference in markets far beyond it's traditional borders.
With the ACC's new $50 million buyout, conference realignnment will not come cheap, and it won't be fast. Likely, the Big Ten will wait out the penalties, but the goal is to have any expansion completed prior to the expiration of the Big Ten's television deal with ABC/ESPN in 2016.