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Steiner: Money drives crazy realignment (Nov. 20)

Peter Steiner | Tuesday, November 20, 2012

And the dominoes continue to fall.

Maryland became the newest member of the Big Ten on Monday, with Rutgers expected to follow the Terrapins in an announcement sometime today.

Many believed the shifting, realigning and politics finally ended when Notre Dame announced its decision earlier this fall to join the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in every sport except football. But, alas, the wave continues with a further ripple effect anticipated after Maryland’s departure from the ACC.

With the movement of two more teams, we now live in a world where the Big Ten will have 14 members, while the Big 12 has just 10. Colorado and Utah apparently lie on the West Coast and the Big East will soon include football teams from Texas to California to Idaho.

But the reason for all this craziness is simple – money. It has become more and more apparent with each subsequent move by NCAA conference commissioners, but in this most recent news, money stands as seemingly the only reason for the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten.

By increasing its reach to the Atlantic coast and New York area, the Big Ten adds new markets and expands the TV region for the Big Ten Network. The Big Ten will increase its annual revenue, while also adding more leverage at the TV contract negotiation table.

What else can explain adding a mediocre Maryland program whose football team finished last in the ACC Atlantic Division in 2011? And while Rutgers leads the Big East at 9-1 this season, they add barely any prestige to a conference dotted with big names filled with tradition.

Are Maryland and Rutgers to blame for ditching their respective conferences for the Big Ten? Hardly. When someone offers you a Thanksgiving-day turkey on a silver platter, it’s hard to turn it down.

The culprits are the conference commissioners who continue to escalate this competition to have the greatest conference, most money and best legacy. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was not going to stand on the sidelines as another conference reeled in Notre Dame and a brand-new TV network.

But lost in the fray of the conference politics stand the fans and many athletes, who are the real losers in the majority of these decisions. They’ve become second fiddle to the money and attention the biggest conferences are seeking.

Sure, some schools, players and fans will benefit from the shifting landscape of college sports. Numerous lesser schools have elevated their program’s status by joining the Big East or Big 12. And many big-name schools are glad to make the move, like most of the top-tier programs leaving the crumbling Big East.

But in most cases, from the fan’s perspective, the disadvantages of conference realignment outweigh the potential gains. Suddenly, a conference filled with age-old Midwest rivalries has been diluted with subpar competition. Schools like Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin can no longer play all of their rivals every year, because they must divide their nine-game conference schedule (assuming the Big Ten expands its conference schedule to nine games) between 13 schools.

And instead of making the trek to Penn State every other year, the Big Ten schools must travel to the East Coast every year and sometimes twice a year. These games prove the most taxing for the athletes who must make the long trips and the distance virtually excludes fans from attending these road games.

Despite the negative results for fan bases, the conference realignment will continue, especially as the ACC will look to replace Maryland with perhaps Connecticut or maybe Louisville.

So unfortunately, there is only one question that remains. How long until the next domino tumbles to the ground?
 

Contact Peter Steiner at psteiner@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.