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Bryce Miller: Big Ten to find out if money can buy sports bliss

[ 0 ] November 20, 2012 |

The Big Ten is expanding again, during a week when Americans think most about expanding waistlines pushed to the belt-straining brink by Thanksgiving tables.

The math-challenged conference — now fattened to the tune of 14 universities after scooping up Maryland and Rutgers — has finally reached the pounding waves of the Atlantic Coast.

Who will be gobbled up next? The University of Reykjavik? GreenlandU?

Where does it end? Is there an Ohio State-Marshall Islands game coming to a TV, laptop or smarty-pants phone near you?

Hold the realignment horses for a minute, though. All is not necessarily rosy for fans of Big Ten teams — other than those cheering the conference’s campus bank accounts.

More money will flow in, without a doubt, through cable fees and the like as the Big Ten Network taps into New York, Washington D.C. and Baltimore markets. Those places will still care most about the Jets, Giants and Ravens — but visits by Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska will spark initial buzz.

Husker fans, welcome to New Brunswick, N.J. You’re not in (Lawrence) Kansas anymore.

Is this an all’s-good situation for a conference known more for Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler and Hayden Fry than TV’s “Jersey Shore?” That depends on what you think is most important.

For football, new teams likely will mean less consistent games with old friends. Conference rivalries such as Iowa-Wisconsin, for example, already are proving more infrequent since Nebraska arrived and sent division alignments spinning.

If the Big Ten adds more conference games each season, it will mean fewer nonconference matchups — meaning athletic directors will have to think twice about burning those few windows on the Iowa-Iowa State types of rivalries that exist now.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany emphasized Tuesday that 117 seasons of Big Ten football will be protected, potentially, by adding conference games.

“As you add members, you have to seriously consider adding more games so as not to dilute how often you play each other,” Delany said.

Recruiting becomes another pro-con topic.

If there are more conference games on the Big Ten Network, will it mean less on ESPN/ABC? The Big Ten Network provides regional reach — though it’s a very big region — but lacks the coast-to-coast umbrella of the big boys.

When a five-star recruit in New Jersey considers Iowa now, the Rutgers connection on BTN might help Kirk Ferentz. When Ferentz wants a player from Florida, Texas or California, though, the conference tube fails to match ESPN’s power in those areas.

Lower-profile sports in the Big Ten could benefit, though. As dollar signs dial up, it has the potential to increase recruiting budgets in baseball, golf, tennis and more. Those coaches could be in position to hit the road harder and more often in charge of top competitors.

That means, too, that all teams will face the more expensive grind of long-distance treks to the East Coast. Maryland and Rutgers will be going farther more often to compete in Iowa City, Minneapolis and West Lafayette.

Maryland and Rutgers would be fools to pass on the cash, of course. This summer, Maryland eliminated seven sports alone because of bill-paying troubles and Rutgers is among the most subsidized BCS programs in the country.

The ACC added an exit-fee penalty that forces Maryland to face cutting a $50million check.

Rutgers will need to shell out $10million to leave the Big East, and that could double if it wants to leave — as expected — sooner than the required 27 months.

The financial pain will be fleeting, though. USA Today estimated members soon could be paid about $35million per year as Big Ten revenues rise.

Delany sees more potential payoff from adding the far-flung universities — in the form of gobs of interested people.

“There are lots of people, including 500,000 Big Ten alums (in those areas),” he said.

Outside the Big Ten, the rest of the country surely cringes. Moves like these jeopardize the future of history-rich conferences like the Big East and ACC.

Should we be surprised? That’s the American way, though, right?

No business is big enough, to someone’s way of thinking. No empire seems complete with another round of land-grabs that would make the ancient Romans blush.

For everyone worried about Wal-Mart wiping out main street, mom and pop shops, concerns about the big-bucks Big Ten putting the Big East and ACC on the endangered species list probably feel familiar.

When money enters the discussion, tradition can very easily be kicked to the curb these days.

One interesting side-wrinkle in all of this: The Tuesday adoption of Rutgers sets up the potential for women’s basketball coach Vivian Stringer, who led Iowa to the Final Four, to coach again in Iowa City.

No update yet on Iowa connections in Reykjavik, Greenland or the Marshall Islands.

The old saying about money failing to buy happiness? The Big Ten is about to find out if that applies to athletic programs, too.

Bryce Miller can be reached at 515-284-8288 or brmiller@dmreg.com. Follow on Twitter: @Bryce_A_Miller

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Bryce Miller: View author profile.

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