We feel bad picking on Gene Wojciechowski. We look forward to reading his book. However, his recent column on conference realignment’s next round contains a common misconception that must be addressed. Neither the Big Ten, nor any other major conference, should eye Rutgers as a prime target for expansion.
Meanwhile, if you’re Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, an ACC romancing of UConn and Rutgers creates an instant turf war. Look at a map. Big Ten member Penn State would become encircled and isolated by the ACC: Syracuse to the north, Pitt to the west, UConn, Rutgers and Boston College to the east and Maryland to the immediate south. Prime TV and recruiting markets would be in jeopardy.
Delany is no dummy. He wouldn’t cede those markets. I could see him sending in a Big Ten Special Forces unit to extract Rutgers from the ACC’s possible grasp and Maryland from the ACC altogether. Rutgers hasn’t made much of a secret of its fondness for the Big Ten. And who knows —
The Big Ten is a collection of healthy companies, banded together for mutually assured stability and profit. They pool gate revenue. They have a strong central leadership under Jim Delany. They act conservatively, changing only when there is a clear self-interest. Every market and recruiting base expansion opportunity was considered when the Big Ten went to 12 teams. They chose Nebraska.
Nebraska was a cultural fit and a nationally competitive football program, but, more importantly, Nebraska pays its own way. The Cornhuskers add at least enough revenue to offset dividing the resources an extra way. Their addition, with the championship game was a no-brainer.
Beyond 12 teams though, conferences won’t expand for expansion’s sake. Expanding to 14 or 16 teams divides resources. A conference such as the ACC, worried about losing teams, will add for stability. For fixed, static conferences such as the Big Ten and the SEC, the expansion has to be profitable. Adding Rutgers would not be a boon, but a burden.
The average Big Ten athletic department turns a $10.7 million profit annually. Rutgers’ athletic department ran a $26.8 million deficit last year. The Knights received 42 percent of athletic funding from the university through either direct student subsidies or the general fund. This quotation about Rutgers’ AD summarizes the situation well.
Pernetti’s contract provides a $10,000 bonus when the university’s subsidizing of the program both doesn’t increase and falls as a percentage of the athletic budget. He has yet to get a bonus.
Rutgers spent $102 million on its stadium, yet had to give away 41 percent of its tickets to help fill it last year. It sold the naming rights for $650,000 per year to make some extra cash. Not having to fire current and to hire new assistants surely played a role in the choice of Kyle Flood over say Mario Cristobal to replace Greg Schiano. The athletic department is growing, if you count spending tens of millions to marginally increase interest as “growing.”
The school itself is not an attractive addition. The entire argument for Rutgers stems from adding the New York market. The Big Ten does not need to penetrate the East Coast market in football. It already saturates it. New York cable carries the Big Ten network. Big Ten schools such as Michigan account for large alumni bases in New York. The Big Ten gets on TV there before “local” conferences. While Penn State may be physically “surrounded,” the school brings in more revenue than anyone but Texas and Notre Dame. Big East and ACC schools surround Penn State like Lilliputians surround Gulliver. It’s incredibly unlikely adding Rutgers would radically alter the Big Ten’s standing for the next television contract.
For the Big Ten or SEC, there are two classes of schools: Target schools that would enhance the conference’s value (Texas, Notre Dame) and makeweight schools, decent programs to even out the numbers. The SEC went to 14 to add Texas A&M, a large program and a valuable longterm market share in Texas. Missouri evened the numbers. If the Big Ten expands, it won’t be to keep up with others. It will be to add a top-tier program that would be a net plus. Rutgers is certainly not a top-tier program and there would be more desirable makeweights for the Big Ten.
[Photo via Getty]