Everybody, do yourselves a favor and ignore any school president, college conference commissioner, or athletic director who “pledges loyalty” to a conference or says they’ll “stay put at x teams for a long time.”
With Maryland’s move to the Big Ten on Monday, college football’s realignment drama is heating up again. Word is that Rutgers could join the Terps as early as tomorrow.
Next season will be Maryland’s last in the ACC, a conference in which they were a charter member. Their membership in their new conference, likely at 14 teams by then, will be in 2014. Rutgers will allegedly bail on the Big East Conference, of which they have been a member since 1991.
This is not about the Big Ten trying to scoop up some big-time programs, because neither fits that description. It is entirely about money, from front to back, top to bottom. Maryland and Rutgers have made a move to secure their futures. The ACC’s television deal with ESPN is less lucrative than other major conferences, and Maryland had to cut some varsity sports (which will reportedly be restored once they have entered the Big Ten).
As far as Rutgers goes, for the Big Ten, it’s less about television markets and more about expanding the reach of the Big Ten Network, amongst other things. College football is essentially irrelevant in the New York City area, particularly when it comes to the “local” teams. Rutgers, Army, or even UConn and Syracuse have very limited followings in the area. There will be no sudden explosion of Big Ten goodwill in the Big Apple because nobody cares about college football in the first place. Still, those cable providers will get the BTN, and that’s more dough in Jim Delany’s pocket (as well as the rest of the conference).
The Big East has become an unsustainable cross-country behemoth, replete with mediocre programs in a complicated mix of full and partial members. That’s what it was before Rutgers left, and that’s what it is now. As for the Atlantic Coast Conference, Maryland’s departure creates an interesting void. Terps football is in a miserable state, a position they are likely to continue in the Big Ten unless their fortunes take a turn for the better. Some in the conference may even view it as addition by subtraction. The keys here now for the ACC are: (1) How/with whom will John Swofford replace Maryland and (2) What can the ACC do to keep its other members? Without question, schools like Florida State have an itchy trigger finger, and the ESPN TV coin isn’t as good as it could be. Maryland in itself is not a major loss for the conference, but it could cause major losses by starting a mass exodus. How the ACC and Swofford respond here could determine the conference’s fate.
Ramifications regarding widespread realignment remain to be seen, but we’re most likely far from finished.