Misulonas: Big Ten expansion worth it for money


Joseph Misulonas, Columnist

On Monday, the University of Maryland’s Board of Regents voted unanimously to join the Big Ten, which means they will almost certainly become the 13th team in the conference. Rutgers is expected to announce the same move Tuesday, rounding off the conference at an even 14. (They probably should change the name before a generation of Midwestern children begin making simple math errors.)

Many have argued that this move makes little sense, as these two schools have few ties to the Midwest-centric Big Ten. These arguments largely ignore the big issue: money. It is the driving force of college sports today. The Big Ten is making this move to increase revenue through these schools’ access to major media markets (Washington, D.C. through Maryland and New York City through Rutgers). Although these schools may not be the most popular programs in their region, cable providers will offer the Big Ten Network in these areas because of the conference expansion.

People in D.C. may not be interested in watching a powderpuff football matchup between Maryland and Indiana, but they will be interested in the those two teams playing each other in basketball. They will therefore likely buy BTN through their cable provider to watch that game. And since they have BTN, they might as well watch the Ohio State-Michigan game during football season. These moves will unquestionably increase the numbers of BTN subscribers, and therefore increase revenue for all Big Ten schools.

There were two columns in The Daily yesterday arguing that expansion of the Big Ten to include Maryland and Rutgers was a bad thing. Josh Walfish argued that conference expansion does little to help Northwestern, while Dan Ryan said that it would hurt the Big Ten brand.

However, the move also helps increase the Big Ten’s relevancy, even if only a little bit. Rutgers may not be a national football powerhouse, but with the brunt of the Penn State sanctions coming into effect the next few years, the Big Ten needed to add another quality football team to its roster to enhance conference prestige. Rutgers may also be able to recruit more high profile players now that they have moved into a major conference, instead of playing in the joke that is the Big East.

The regional argument is an interesting one. The Big Ten had been (prior to this most recent expansion) one of the few conferences to retain a regional identity. While the Southeastern Conference was adding Texas A&M to its roster, the Big Ten was adding Nebraska, a clearly Midwestern school. And even though Penn State is much closer to the East Coast than the Midwest, Pennsylvania’s demographic makeup is more similar to Indiana and Wisconsin than Massachusetts and Vermont.

However, this goes back to the money argument. Conferences will continue to grow. The SEC is currently 14 teams and will probably look to add two more so they have an even eight teams in each of their divisions. The Big 12 is on the brink of collapse, and the Pac-12 is looking to clean come in and steal most of those programs. If the Big Ten wants to increase its revenues and attract stronger programs in the future, it is going to have to ignore its regional rigidity. Tradition means nothing in the current college football system.

Of course, this all ignores sports other than football. Maryland will add new depth to the Big Ten, which has established itself more as a basketball conference than a football one since Ohio State beat Miami in the BCS Championship a decade ago.

Will Northwestern have some more tough competition having to play Rutgers in football and Maryland in basketball? Yes. But a tough, more competitive Big Ten is a net gain for Northwestern athletics. In a perfect world, we would get Notre Dame and Missouri — but that isn’t going to happen right now. Adding Maryland and Rutgers instead opens the door to more revenue and the possibility of adding more prestigious programs in the future.

Until then, we’ll have to add the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights to our list of hated rivals.

Joseph Misulonas is a Medill junior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].