Hello, Big Ten fans!
Maryland and Rutgers are the two newest members of your conference.
As a Penn State alum, I am happy to see Penn State now has Eastern rivals in the Big Ten instead of being the only one.
I had asked for an Eastern rival last year. I was hoping for in-state rival Pittsburgh or Syracuse (or both) but Maryland and Rutgers are on the East Coast and work as well. Yes, Rutgers is on the East Coast—even though you would never know from their name.
However, I have heard plenty of negative comments towards the two newcomers hinting they don't belong. I am here to tell you why Maryland and Rutgers do fit in with the Big Ten.
The most obvious reason stated why they do not belong is neither has a proud sports tradition, especially in football.
Then again, there are plenty of Big Ten schools that aren't exactly athletic powerhouses is.
Indiana has been to one bowl game since 1994.
Northwestern hasn't won a bowl game since 1948.
Minnesota isn't well known in either sports.
Are Maryland and Rutgers really much worse than some of those other schools?
Remember that all conferences have terrible teams. Even the SEC has two Mississippi schools that no-one outside Mississippi cares about. While Vanderbilt is having a good season, they are usually an SEC doormat.
In any conference, someone has to be at the bottom. Not every team can win.
Another comment I've heard has been they don't fit in geographically.
They talk about the Big Ten being a Midwestern conference and that Maryland and Rutgers (as well as Penn State) are not in the Midwest. I have never understood what "Midwest" really means. Who is in the Midwest and who isn't?
I can divide the United States into East and West using the Mississippi River.
As for north and south, it's not as clear, but still relatively clear. You can use the Mason/Dixon line. You can use the former slave states as being Southern and the others as being Northern (even though most of the West wasn't even in the US) or the Union and Confederacy.
But East, West, North and South are cardinal directions. I can even say Northeast or Southwest and it is pretty clear which part of the country it is. Midwest? What exactly does that mean? The middle of the west? Illinois and Ohio aren't exactly in the west.
Also, the two signature Big Ten programs (before they expanded to Penn State, Nebraska, Rutgers, and Maryland) have been Michigan and Ohio State.
Here are some distances to Columbus, Ohio, via Mapquest:
Penn State: 337.80 miles
Maryland: 417.20 miles
Rutgers: 510.72 miles
Iowa: 543.92 miles
Minnesota: 764.99 miles
Nebraska: 821.84 miles
Now here's some distances to Ann Arbor.
Penn State: 389.62 miles
Iowa: 446.00 miles
Maryland: 521.53 miles
Rutgers: 603.14 miles
Minnesota: 648.08 miles
Nebraska: 746.80 miles
Does anyone at Ohio State and Michigan complain that Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska are too far away? Then why are Maryland, Rutgers, and Penn State too far away?
So Maryland and Rutgers are not geographic outliers in relation to Michigan and Ohio State (and Penn State, who has been in the Big Ten almost twenty years).
Here are some other categories where Maryland and Rutgers fit right in.
Public vs. Private
The Big Ten currently consists of eleven public state universities and one private university—Northwestern. If Northwestern played basketball like Duke or football like USC, it wouldn't be a problem. But they are historically one of the worst Big Ten schools in both football and men's basketball. Maryland and Rutgers are state universities.
East vs. West
As I said previously, the Mississippi River is a great way to divide the US into the East and the West. Most Big Ten states are East of the Mississippi. Minnesota is right along the river (TCF Bank Stadium and Williams Arena are both on the East side). The only two campuses west of the Mississippi River are Iowa and Nebraska.
When I think of the Big Ten, I think of large states. Here's a list of Big Ten states in population rank.
11. New Jersey
Of the eleven states, four rank in the top ten states in population, eight rank in the top 20, and nine have at least five million people. Iowa has just over three million. Nebraska has less than two million. While Maryland and New Jersey aren't top ten states, they are heavily populated. Iowa and Nebraska are not.
Why is this important? Athletics is cyclical. Today's power can be tomorrow's doormat and vice versa.
Illinois football is lousy right now and their basketball team missed the NCAAs. But if Illinois wins, you have tons of potential fans in Chicago waiting to cheer the Illini on.
I remember the 2005 NCAA Tournament: Illinois painted the arena orange when they beat Arizona to advance to the Final Four. Illinois made the Rose Bowl in 2008 and has won a Big Ten football title more recently than half of the Big Ten (and more recently than Nebraska has won a conference championship).
The larger your state population base is, the larger number of potential fans you have. Rutgers isn't too good now (even though this year they are having a good football season).
But if Rutgers were good, millions of fans will pack their stadium and millions of eyeballs will watch on TV. Nebraska may be popular now. Let them be a sub-.500 team for five or more years in a row and see how many people will still be watching.
In addition, Iowa and Nebraska do not have any professional baseball, football, and basketball teams. All other states listed have at least one (if you credit New Jersey with the Giants and Jets).
Illinois has Chicago. Pennsylvania has Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Ohio has the three C's: Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus. What do Iowa and Nebraska have? Des Moines and Omaha?
Alumni tend to be more passionate about their school than people who didn't go there.
Ohio State and Minnesota have more than 50,000 students. Seven Big Ten schools have over 40,000.
The Big Ten school with the smallest enrolment is, not surprisingly, Northwestern, the only Big Ten private school. The next smallest enrolment is Nebraska, the only other school with less than 30,000 students. Iowa has the next smallest student body. Maryland and Rutgers both have more students than Iowa, Nebraska, and Northwestern.
More students now mean more alumni in the future.
In addition, Northwestern has the football stadium with the smallest capacity and the basketball arena with the smallest capacity in the Big Ten (when Rutgers joins the Big Ten their basketball arena will have fewer seats). Ryan Field holds fewer than 50,000 fans and Welsh Ryan Arena holds fewer than 10,000 fans. Compare that to Michigan, Beaver, and Ohio Stadiums that hold over 100,000.
All current Big Ten members have at one point been a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU). So are Maryland and Rutgers.
Big Ten schools pride themselves on academics.
Five Big Ten schools (Northwestern, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Penn State) are in the top 50 schools in the latest US News and World Report rankings. All but one Big Ten school is in the top 100, Nebraska. Nebraska ranks 18 places below the next lowest Big Ten school, Indiana. Maryland (58) and Rutgers (68) fit right in as both are well above Nebraska and both are above Iowa.
In many ways, I think Maryland and Rutgers fit in well with the rest of the Big Ten. They are east of the Mississippi River, they reside in big states and near big cities, and their academics are on par with the Big Ten.
I think Nebraska is the least "Big Ten" of the Big Ten schools. They are the smallest state, have the smallest enrolment of any public school, are the farthest western school, have the worst academic school in the Big Ten and they have never won an NCAA Tournament game. If it weren't for their football program, no one in the Big Ten would even care about them.
I wrote two years ago that Nebraska doesn't belong in the Big Ten and I still don't think they belong. I would take Pitt or even private schools Notre Dame and Syracuse over Nebraska.
To me, Nebraska is a Big 12 school (they fit right in with schools in Iowa and Kansas geographically, and with many Big 12 schools academically). Plus, their rivalry with Oklahoma is stronger than it is with any Big Ten rival.
I also don't like Northwestern. They are a private school in a public conference. They are historically the worst athletic program in the Big Ten. However, their academics are strong and they couldn't ask for a better location (but Illinois can easily carry the Chicago market).
I could do without Iowa and Minnesota either. It would be nice to have a Big Ten completely east of the Mississippi River. They also don't have Nebraska's football program or Northwestern's location or academics.
Minnesota is in a bigger city than most Big Ten schools and has the second largest student body in the Big Ten. But they are very far away from Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State.
My dream Big Ten would be Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Pitt, Purdue, and Wisconsin (I like Pitt better than Rutgers, but I'll take them). It would be a Big Ten with ten members!