Rutgers remains a few months out from joining the Big Ten. But, from a PR perspective, the addition has already been a B1G catastrophe. Many were skeptical at first. Rutgers stinks at football and basketball. The athletics department relies on tens of millions per year in subsidies. The school added little, beyond an addition to the Big Ten Network footprint. Since, the school has suffered a myriad of embarrassments and abuse scandals. Inviting paralyzed former football player Eric LeGrand to give the commencement speech, before rejecting him is only the latest gaffe. The excitement for Rutgers entry to the conference in 2014 is somewhere between that for a colonoscopy and for a new Paul McCartney album.
To place the Rutgers addition into context, here are five schools the Big Ten could have added during realignment instead. We stuck to the seamless moves, as rumored candidates such as North Carolina, Georgia Tech UVA would require the right circumstances.
UConn has been ready and willing throughout conference realignment. The Huskies offer elite basketball programs for both sexes, equal stature to Rutgers in football (after only 15 years playing in FBS) and equal (if not superior) penetration into the New York market. The school has spent the past two decades raising its endowment and investing in academic, research and athletic expansion projects. UConn would have been buying low, in a good way.
Missouri had wanted in since the early 1990s, before eventually joining the SEC. It is an AAU member. The football program is as nationally competitive as any Big Ten team has been over the past few years. The basketball program has potential. It would have provided two urban markets, St. Louis and Kansas City, not to mention a natural rival for Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska.
Syracuse offers equal if not better penetration into the New York market than Rutgers. It’s a national power in basketball, until the business end of the NCAA tournament. Historically, it is the far better football program. Lump the entirety of Up State New York into the conference footprint. Jim Boeheim is a barrel of fun, without being an embarrassment.
BC fits the culture academically. Massachusetts would be a mid-tier Big Ten market on its own. That’s not to mention Boston is the hub for a New England region with a population of nearly 15 million. The Eagles have produced decent football and basketball teams under the right coaches. Not the sexiest choice, but Rutgers was not exactly Sophia Loren.
Other Big Ten schools would have turned up their noses at Louisville’s academics. But there’s something to be said for putting forth the effort and the resources to compete at a high level in football and basketball, rather than going through the motions, minimizing expenditure and cashing the checks (cough, Purdue, cough).
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