In a move certain to continue to shake up at least the two biggest east coast conferences and change the balance of power in the mid-Atlantic region of the country, the University of Maryland announced today that it will join the Big Ten, and ESPN reported that Rutgers University will join the Big Ten tomorrow.
There was little doubt but that the University of Maryland was going to the Big Ten. Start with Maryland’s vote against the mandatory $50 million buyout now in force in the ACC, mix in some real financial trouble forcing Maryland to drop seven sports, and finish with former University of Iowa provost Wallace D. Loh’s claim that the $50 million buyout was unenforceable and you had an almost certain formula for departure.
Rutgers remains the biggest puzzle.
While the nearby New York media market beckons, there is little current draw from the Big Apple to warrant this move by the Big Ten. Yet, we are told that money awaits in the form of between $100 and $200 million more than currently being raked in by the Big Ten Network and its cable partners when they add the two media markets around Washington, D.C., and New York.
In adding Rutgers, reportedly courted or courting at one time the ACC and perhaps others, the Big Ten also has the allure of bringing the New Jersey recruiting market into the fold. Include the prep schools and major public high schools and the Big Ten in the mid-Atlantic region and the Big Tan gains two fertile recruiting grounds for mining football talent and promoting their league as “local.”
Whatever else can be said, there will be a continuous geographic connection now from Nebraska to New Jersey, with Penn State as a natural major sports partner for both new Big Ten schools.
Now for the future, conference members in the ACC, Big Ten, Big East and SEC have undoubtedly already developed contingency plans for these moves.
The University of Connecticut is probably the first choice for the ACC. Discussions flagged over the past two years with Jim Calhoun as the biggest stumbling block. Calhoun is now gone so it is a fair bet that this deal can be done quickly if this is the direction that the ACC wants to go.
Information has already been shared with the ACC when Connecticut was on the radar in 2010 and 2011. The addition of Connecticut would shore up the East Coast, providing another top quality university with natural rivalries to make the ACC even more dominant as the top college basketball conference for both men and women.
In Storrs, we find a compatible university. The only remaining hurdle may be the once-jilted chancellor whose comments were among the more negative during the last spate of negotiations. Odds are high that these can be smoothed over and Connecticut will join to make an even more powerful East Coast basketball conference, adding yet another incentive to gain revenue from the New York TV market.
It is an interesting footnote to the ongoing maneuvers that Connecticut played football games this year with Maryland, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and NC State, two current and two future ACC teams. It beat Maryland 24-21. So much for Maryland football.
A dark horse in the running is the University of Kentucky. Adding Kentucky could ease in another huge player in college basketball, making the ACC by far the best league in the land.
This story has been circulated for a very long time, however. And with the addition of Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Syracuse alone, we already have an incredible basketball conference.
There are risks at this point that Florida State, the only other league member to object to the $50 million exit fee, could join another league. If they did, they would join with Maryland in a suit challenging that fee by joining the Big 12 or less likely the SEC. Jimbo Fisher said that the school should explore the Big 12 option in May of this year. His very vocal recent complaints that his team is under-ranked could blame being in the ACC for his team’s ranking.
In the end, the ACC may not miss Maryland much. Its basketball program is not what it used to be, and its football program needs work. However, as to the middle Atlantic market, there are not too many teams that could be a fit. The ACC has the New York market covered, but Maryland is largely the only game in town for the mid-Atlantic market.
One thing is clear. Unless Notre Dame comes in as a full time football member, something that is almost certain not to happen, the ACC will be left in need of at least Connecticut to fill out its roster, and could be short a member for about a year or so if the exit timing remains the same for both conferences.