In the months since Nebraska joined the Big Ten, commissioner Jim Delany had been fond of mentioning “tectonic plates” when the subject of conference expansion came up.
It was his go-to line and why not? It sounded smart and funny. Who doesn’t want to sound smart and funny?
The Big Ten’s plates did a backflip Monday and might have a cartwheel in mind on Tuesday.
The University of Maryland became the 13th member of the Big Ten, school officials announced Monday afternoon. The announcement capped six weeks of negotiations. The Maryland Board of Regents vote wasn’t unanimous, but it passed and the Big Ten Council of Presidents accepted Maryland’s bid this morning.
Delany said the move was made under the premise “bigger is better and richer.”
“We watched different conferences move out of their region,” Delany told ESPN.com. “The SEC moved into Texas (Texas A&M) and Missouri, the ACC moved into Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh) and Indiana (Notre Dame) and New York (Syracuse).
“It made us think: Are we vulnerable? What has been our advantage over time? Great institutions, great demographics. We started to think: What are the possibilities? We came to the conclusion: If there were opportunities there, we should explore them.”
The Terrapins, turtles that live in fresh or brackish water, is slated to join the Big Ten for the 2014-15 academic year. Delany conceded that Maryland isn’t a national brand, but that doesn’t mean it’s stuck in brackish water.
“I just believe they have real upside,” Delany said. “I recognize in the last couple years they haven’t been as competitive. We’re not always going to be able to add a member that has got a nationally relevant, top-tier program like Penn State and Nebraska. If that’s the litmus test, then there wouldn’t be a lot of expansion around the country.”
Maryland, a charter member of the ACC since 1953, does have the issue of the $50 million exit fee the conference passed this summer. Maryland president Dr. Wallace D. Loh, a former provost at the University of Iowa, said that would be a discussion between the school and the ACC. He wouldn’t put a dollar amount on it.
Rutgers is expected to follow the Terrapins and will announce its own move from the Big East to the Big Ten, possibly as early as Tuesday. A Scarlet Knights move would give the Big Ten 14 members. Rutgers’ Board of Governors held a regularly scheduled meeting Monday in New Brunswick, N.J.
Delany said, “Today is Maryland’s day and I won’t have any other comment on expansion today.”
Will the Big Ten stop at 14? “We’ll see what happens around the country,” Delany said. “If the shift continues, I can tell you we’ll be strategic about responding to it.”
Delany said the first volley for this move was when the Big Ten and Pac-12′s deal to play one non-conference football game against each other fell through this summer. It didn’t have anything to do with Notre Dame agreeing to join the ACC in every sport but football.
“It’s multiple institutions in multiple parts of the country moving into multiple regions,” he said. “It really wasn’t Notre Dame. It was pretty clear to me that Notre Dame for a long time wanted to maintain its independence, and as that’s a matter of fact, I knew there wasn’t a possibility for us to add Notre Dame.”
This move gives the Big Ten a foothold in eastern TV markets. According to this post by Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel, that could mean as much as $200 million annually on the high end.
From the post: “There are an estimated 15 million available households in the New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C. markets. If the Big Ten Network got on basic cable in all those places, which is an enormous long shot, the per-household figure by the time Rutgers and Maryland joined the league would project in the neighborhood of $1.25 per month. That would equate to about $200 million per year.”
The Big Ten will, essentially, be betting on itself to drive TV demand in eastern markets that are largely professional sports markets. When Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska start showing up in Maryland and New Jersey on a regular basis, there will be buzz.
“The Big Ten Presidents and Chancellors are pleased to welcome the University of Maryland to the Big Ten Conference,” said COP/C Chair and University of Iowa President Sally Mason. “The University of Maryland is one of the premier public research universities in the country and represents a natural alignment with our other member institutions.”
This will open up new recruiting fields for Big Ten schools. Iowa has been hitting New Jersey since Hayden Fry’s early years in the 1980s. Running back Ronnie Harmon and defensive end Leroy Smith came from New Jersey to help make Iowa a Rose Bowl contender. This season, Iowa has four players from Maryland and two from New Jersey on its roster.
When the Big Ten added Nebraska in 2010, the conference was split into the “Legends” and “Leaders” divisions. The goal was competitive balance, Delany said. Right now, the bluebloods are split with Michigan and Nebraska in the Legends and Ohio State and Penn State in the Leaders.
Big Ten athletics directors will address realignment possibilities in 2013. A nine-game conference schedule is back on the table, Delany said.
A possible divisional alignment leaked out of Maryland on Monday.
It had Maryland and Rutgers in the Leaders Division, with Illinois shifting over to the Legends. Iowa is a five-hour drive from Illinois. The two schools haven’t played since 2008.
The historical conference heavyweights remained in separate corners. Delany said he likes the “Honoring Legends, Building Leaders” concept, but that will be up for discussion.
Perhaps more Big Ten schools jump into the gear and apparel business with Under Armour, which is run by Maryland grad and former Terrapins walk-on special teams player Kevin Plank.
Delany said the “Big Ten” name will remain. He explained that it carries a brand recognition that supersedes the conference’s head count.
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