How Rutgers Could Work in the Big Ten

When I created the Big Ten Expansion Index, I was 99.9% sure that the Big Ten was simply looking for the perfect school #12, which led me to write that the “Only Real Choices” for that spot are Texas and Notre Dame.  Since that time, lots of rumors have been circulated, including ones about Missouri, Texas and Pitt.  The latest rumor is that Rutgers is supposedly at the top of the wish list after the no-brainers like Texas and Notre Dame.  That spurred me to write essentially that Rutgers was fool’s gold in terms of delivering the ever elusive New York market, where Scarlet Knights fans then responded that I ought to be re-enacting the critical scene in Deliverance.

After mulling it over for a little while and engaging in a great discussion with all of the commenters out there (who I must commend for a multitude of ideas and incredible wisdom during a literally 24/7 debate), I’ve come to the conclusion that Rutgers could make sense in the Big Ten as long as it’s in a 14-school conference that concurrently has another big national name involved.  Personally, I think that 12 schools is really the perfect size for a conference in practice and I’ve gone over how there needs to be a massive value proposition in order to make a 14-school conference work financially.  However, the Big Ten may decide that the New York market is too big to ignore even if they don’t really watch college football out there.  If that’s the case, here are 3 ways to do it correctly in terms of adding packages of 3 schools:

(1) JoePa’s Dream Conference (Notre Dame, Syracuse, Rutgers) – If any conference really wants to secure the New York market as much as it could possibly be secured, it needs that old standby Midwestern university involved: Notre Dame.  The Irish arguably have the largest fan base in the NYC market simply due to the large Catholic population constituting the Subway Alumni.  Adding Syracuse and Rutgers on top of Notre Dame and current Big Ten member Penn State would get the 4 top fan bases in NYC, which would create a “penumbra effect” where all of those schools together would turn New York into a Big Ten town.  This league would effectively be a high rent version of Joe Paterno’s proposed Eastern football conference merged into the Big Ten.  For the geographically inclined, there’s also a certain elegance to this hypothetical conference as it’s a pretty natural extension of the Big Ten’s footprint.  Out of the 5 schools examined in the Big Ten study that was leaked, I’m fairly certain that this had to be the highest value 3-school combination since it legitimately locks down the Northeast for the conference.

(2) JoePa’s Quasi-Dream Conference (Nebraska, Syracuse, Rutgers) – I’ll reiterate that I truly don’t believe that the Big Ten will expand without Notre Dame or Texas involved, but if there’s one school that could prove me wrong on that statement, it’s Nebraska.  In my discussions with commenters, I’ve noted that Nebraska is really “Notre Dame lite” as an expansion candidate.  When you really look at everything closely, the Cornhuskers provide the same main attributes that Notre Dame would bring to the table: a national football brand name and huge fan base that trump the lack of a substantive home market.  If Nebraska has the national name without a great home market while Rutgers has a great home market without a national name, then putting those two together could make financial sense together when either one on its own as school #12 in a 12-school conference wouldn’t cut it.  Add Syracuse on top of those schools to further solidify the Big Ten’s presence in the Northeast and the conference can come pretty close to getting the same value as it would’ve gotten with Notre Dame.

(3) Game of Risk Conference (Texas, Texas A&M, Rutgers) – Let’s say that the Big Ten can nab the two Texas schools and Notre Dame continues to refuse to join.  If the Big Ten has the entire state of Texas in the fold, then it’s playing with house money where it can make a bet to shoot the moon with the New York market on top of it with Rutgers.  It would be like a game of Risk where the Midwest would be flanked by the two power schools in the Southwest (Texas and Texas A&M) and then two major East Coast schools (Penn State and Rutgers).  On paper, the demographic power of the Big Ten would be staggering, with 4 of the 5 largest TV markets in the country in the fold (New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas-Fort Worth), 3 others in the top 15 (Houston, Detroit and Minneapolis-St. Paul) and 6 of the 11 largest states by population (Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and New Jersey).  This is one of the best situations that you could possibly construct in terms of maximizing the number of households available to the Big Ten Network outside of heading into the state of California.  All of this assumes, of course, that Rutgers can actually deliver New Jersey households for the Big Ten Network (which is a very open question).

So, Rutgers fans, I’m not entirely opposed to your school joining the Big Ten.  However, the Big Ten is going to need a marquee name to come along in order to back up the risk that the conference would be taking on whether Rutgers can deliver its home market.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant @frankthetank111)

(Image from Takhoma.com)