Ryan: Eastern expansion hurts Big Ten brand

Dan Ryan, Sports Editor

I’m not sure what the Big Ten is doing.

The potential conference additions of Maryland and Rutgers are highway robbery — unless you’re Maryland and Rutgers. Outside of those two parties, I fail to see how the Big Ten, its component schools or its fans benefit.

When we were excited to welcome Nebraska to the conference last year, it was based largely on the school’s tremendous football program, which had amassed the fourth-most victories all-time of any FBS team. The basketball program? Not so much. But hey, they’re from the Midwest, and that whole thing seemed to make sense. We accepted it.

As for our potential new recruits … Well, Rutgers is currently ranked No. 21 in the nation, which represents about the most impressive thing ever accomplished between the two of them. Maryland is primarily known for that hideous uniform-helmet combination that made them relevant in the national conversation for the two weeks after the revealing. That was fun.

But from a purely competitive standpoint, how does the addition of two programs such as these help build the conference? Adding schools with a flimsy track record of even marginal success dilutes the strength of the Big Ten, plain and simple. I suppose you could argue that this is a huge boon to Illinois and Indiana, who will no longer be the worst football teams in the conference. Perhaps Illinois will rack up more than zero conference victories in a few seasons by beating up on Maryland year after year.

From a fan perspective, this is very tough to swallow. The Big Ten is a Midwestern conference, and its identity is more closely associated with its region than any other conference in the nation. Composed exclusively of Midwestern schools until Penn State’s addition in 1990, the Big Ten is a traditional organization appealing to a region where tradition is all too important. Even the style of play in the Big Ten is traditional. Remember when that guy from Mizzou made that ridiculous comment about the Big Ten playing “old man football”? The conference is known as much for running the rock and playing defense as it is for its Midwestern roots.

So I’m left wondering about two things. A few years back when the Big 12 was going to hell, the rumor that was all the rage was Mizzou and Kansas joining the Big Ten. It made sense from all angles: two Midwest schools with big fan bases and successful programs and a complete monopoly on the region for the conference. Word on the street at the time, however, was that the Big Ten wasn’t all that interested.

Instead, we get Maryland, a school bleeding money and cutting sport after sport, and Rutgers, a program trying to escape from the doormat that is the Big East. I just can’t see why this is more appealing than the option that was turned down. Perhaps Commissioner Jim Delany wants to expand the reach of the Big Ten geographically, getting the conference’s foot in the door on the eastern seaboard. But this seems like a very desperate way to do that, almost like a reaction to the other conference shuffles happening around the country.

I’d love to know the reasoning — we all would. But for now, we’re left scratching our heads about the direction of the Big Ten.