When the game of "musical conferences" began in earnest in 2010, the Big Ten was the winner when the music stopped. The SEC added a Texas power and more Tigers. The Big East looked west, while the Pac-10 looked east. The ACC scrambled, the Big 12 whined, and the Mountain West penned its obituary.
When the schools finished their collective mad dash as the record screeched to a halt—the Big Ten was quietly eating cake and smiling. Nebraska was welcomed to the party, and the celebration began. It was as if The Beatles were looking to expand, and Mick Jagger offered to sing alongside John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
Economics played a part in the decision, sure, but sentimentality and tradition were powerful variables as well. Contrary to popular belief, the Cornhuskers did not bring that many eyeballs with them in the move. The state only has around 1.8 million residents and 25,000 living registered alumni. Wisconsin, as a lone football-playing state school too, has more than 5.5 million residents and 357,511 "addressable" living alumni.
Nebraska brought more than money to the table; it also brought credibility.
Maryland and Rutgers come into the fold with only half that equation, as dollars and cents clearly overrode common sense on Monday. College football purists have been fighting the conference realignment for years, and until now, I was not in that camp.
I know that conferences change. Anyone remember the Southwestern Conference? The Big 8? Did you know that the University of Chicago used to be a Big Ten powerhouse?
Those were all shakeups out of necessity, but this decision feels like one made out of luxury and greed.
Conferences, in my humble opinion, should be predicated somewhat on geographic rivalries. Ohio State and Michigan share a border, and a special hatred because of their proximity. Wisconsin and Minnesota battle for the axe, while Illinois and Northwestern duke it out for state supremacy. These schools share a tradition because they share everything else—like brutal winters and huge, homegrown linemen.
Penn State's entry into the conference was an experiment, but its record as a power made the transition that much easier. Its army of die-hard supporters and natural rivalries with Ohio State and Michigan also made the Nittany Lions an attractive addition.
Neither Maryland nor Rutgers has a compelling-enough football legacy or a fanbase that will add to the tapestry of the Big Ten. In fact, the record attendance at a Terrapins home football game was thanks to a matchup versus Penn State. To Rutgers' credit, it has a great record this year. Its inconsistency cannot be ignored though, as it suffered four losing seasons in the last 10 years.
Both schools give the Big Ten a chance for exposure and advertising dollars in bigger media markets. It's a chance alone, far from a sure thing that anyone will tune in. College football it seems falls very low in the hierarchy of rooting interests. For instance, every single one of Maryland's football games this year has been relegated to ESPN3, ESPNU, RSN, FX or the ACC Network.
The Big Ten just forked over its integrity and tradition in an effort to attract two largely apathetic fanbases in areas of the country where big-time college football is a sideshow.
That's a price no Big Ten fan should be excited about.