By Andy Wittry
Two schools — the University of Maryland and Rutgers University — defected from the Atlantic Coast Conference and American Athletic Conference, respectively, and entered the fray of the Big Ten, bringing the conference to a total of 14 universities.
The conference that once identified itself with the Midwest has expanded as far east as the banks of the Raritan River in New Jersey, where Rutgers’ campus is within 10 miles of the Atlantic Ocean.
The conference spans almost 1,200 miles from the University of Nebraska — the conference’s 2011 addition — in Lincoln, Neb., to Rutgers’ campus in New Brunswick, N.J.
“I do believe that together that we’re a conference that now lives in two areas of the country,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said at the University of Maryland’s introductory press conference Nov. 19, 2012. “One Midwestern, one mid-Atlantic and that we together have an opportunity to have an impact.”
Every one of the five power conferences — the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference — is outside their natural footprint, Delany said.
“We looked at that and we thought, you know, we need to explore how we might become larger,” he said.
IU Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Fred Glass said some traditionalists wished the Big Ten would’ve remained a 10-team conference. However, in reality, if you’re going to be successful, you have to evolve, he said.
“Darwin said it’s not the strongest that survive, it’s the most adaptable,” he said. “If we didn’t adapt, then I think our brand would eventually erode because we wouldn’t be economically viable.”
As the conference’s geographical footprint invades major metropolitan areas on the East Coast, IU’s athletic programs will have a larger recruiting base, face tougher competition, and the University’s athletic department will make more money than ever before.
Expanding the talent pool
Between the state populations of Maryland and New Jersey, the Big Ten annexed about 15 million people to the conference’s total populace.
The foundation for recruiting on the East Coast has already been laid for IU swimming Coach Ray Looze and his staff, which has always recruited in that region of the country.
“We’re sort of kind of muscling into that territory, which to me was free for the taking,” he said. “I’m pretty excited about it — just the fact that we have more of a reach — and we’re sort of claiming the East Coast as Big Ten territory and I’m fine with it.”
Like his coaching peers at IU and throughout the Big Ten, Looze will be able to exploit what is arguably the conference’s biggest asset — the Big Ten Network — in East Coast television markets in his pursuit of recruits.
This year the Big Ten Network signed deals with Time Warner Cable, Cablevision and Comcast to bring Big Ten athletics to homes on the East Coast.
“It’s almost impossible to overstate how important it is,” Glass said. “The Big Ten Network is an incredible innovation and we all take it for granted now, but it was perceived as a crazy idea when it happened.”
IU baseball Coach Chris Lemonis said Maryland and Rutgers strengthen the structure of the Big Ten, which can potentially help keep top Midwest recruits in the region.
He wants them to stay in the conference, which he considers to be one of the best in the country.
“It’s amazing sometimes you’re selling all your competitors, saying ‘Hey man, this is where you need to play,’” Lemonis said. “You’re going to play in Newark, you’re going to play in D.C., you have some neat trips as a student-athlete.”
Similar to the IU baseball program, IU women’s soccer’s first priority in recruiting is Indiana and its surrounding states, according to IU women’s soccer Coach Amy Berbary.
However, her program has what she described as a “national roster,” so when she arrived at IU before last season, she wanted to establish a recruiting presence in the northeast part of the country. Every state from Virginia to Maine is included in what is labeled as U.S. Youth Soccer Region 1.
“We’ve got kids from California to Philadelphia to Texas,” she said. “We wanted to make sure we were getting out to see those kids (in Region 1) as well.”
Arguably the most tangible sign of the expanded talent base is in college basketball recruiting, which is dissected online by recruiting analysts.
From 2007 to 2015, the years in which ESPN has published its annual list of the top 100 high school basketball recruits, 62 recruits have been from Maryland or New Jersey. That means an average of almost seven recruits per year have been from Maryland or New Jersey.
The IU men’s basketball program has had its share of recruiting successes from the Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia area, commonly referred to as the DMV, under the direction of Crean, even before Maryland and Rutgers joined the conference.
Crean brought former Hoosiers Maurice Creek and Victor Oladipo, as well as current IU players Troy Williams, Stanford Robinson and Robert Johnson to Bloomington from the DMV before the area was considered Big Ten territory.
Additionally, the Hoosiers have played in non-conference events at New York City’s Madison Square Garden and Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in the last two seasons, giving the program exposure on the eastern seaboard and in nationally televised games.
“If you’ve ever been out there, it’s like going to an IU home game, except they’re selling beer,” Glass said. “And so the crowd is very raucous and pro IU, and it freaks the other teams out because it’s supposed to be a neutral court, but that is really IU country.”
As the Big Ten grows more formidable through the addition of strong programs, such as Maryland’s preseason No. 1 field hockey team, the conference’s overall strength and the postseason prospects of its teams will improve.
A stronger conference can lead to a better Rating Percentage Index, which is a mathematical system in which the NCAA uses formulas based on winning percentages to rank teams and determine postseason eligibility in various sports.
Berbary, who preaches the importance of RPI to her team, said it’s going to benefit the conference to add two teams that have been successful in the national scene.
“Our conference, as you’ve seen over the last couple of years, has evolved with getting more teams into the NCAA Tournament, which is the ultimate goal,” she said. “And adding them (Maryland and Rutgers) is just going to make that continue to rise.”
In the same vein, IU baseball may have a better chance to extend its season into the NCAA Tournament after playing tougher competition in the regular season.
Fresh off of a Super Regional appearance in June, Maryland and 15-time NCAA Tournament participant Rutgers will strengthen the overall conference.
“You have to give and take a little bit,” Lemonis said. “It makes it a little tougher to win the league but also, our goal as coaches is one, to win the league but two, to get into the postseason, to have a chance to make a run at Omaha.”
The most difficult scheduling impacts likely fall on the shoulders of the IU football program. As a result of the two additions, the Big Ten was forced to reconfigure its divisions for football.
The new divisions will be based on the geographic locations of Big Ten schools, placing IU with Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers in the East Division.
IU has an all-time 39-182-5 record, a .173 winning percentage, against the teams in its division.
Five of the Hoosiers’ six opponents in the East have won a combined 27 national championships in football.
For a program in pursuit of its first winning season since 2007, the additions of Maryland and Rutgers triggered a chain reaction of division realignment that will make the road to future bowl games even tougher.
Glass said there’s no place for a football team to hide in the Big Ten given the strength of the conference, especially in the East Division.
“Our side, I think, is perceived as the tougher side,” he said, adding that IU Coach Kevin Wilson actually uses that to his advantage in recruiting. “He tells recruits, ‘Look, we’re going to play the teams you want to play,’ and so we’re not shying away from the challenge but the challenge will clearly be there.”
As the Big Ten has grown, so have its revenues. The growth has been roughly $30.9 million per school this year, according to one future projections document obtained by the Lafayette Journal & Courier last spring through an open records request from Purdue.
According to the Journal & Courier’s Mike Carmin, each of the Big Ten’s recent additions — Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers — have to follow a six-year financial integration plan before receiving full revenue shares.
Nebraska will be eligible to receive full revenue in the 2017-18 school year, which coincides with the first year of the new BTN deal.
The document projects the 12 Big Ten schools that will qualify for revenue sharing that year will receive around $44.5 million.
While Glass is quick to mention the financial projections are merely speculative, he has already thought about how he hopes the expanded revenue will be used.
As IU’s director of intercollegiate athletics, he wants to prioritize funding the University’s student-athlete wellness initiatives, such as helping fund the cost of attendance, expanded food opportunities, improved facilities and its lifetime scholarship guarantee program, Hoosiers for Life.
By focusing on the wellness of student-athletes, Glass said he hopes to break a trend of funneling increased revenue into coaches contracts.
“I think our coaches are well paid,” he said. “I don’t begrudge them (for) what they make but I hope the money flooding into the system doesn’t just create bonuses for our coaches but really goes into things that improve the student-athlete experience.”
Glass called the Big Ten the most well-resourced conference in the country thanks to the BTN.
Because of revenue sharing, every school takes an equal slice of the increasing large pie.
While each university receives the same amount of money, it means more to some schools than others based on the size of their athletic department budgets.
With a $75 million athletic department budget, IU’s roughly $30 million share of Big Ten revenue is probably more important to the University than it is for Ohio State or Michigan, which boast budgets of more than $135 million, according to Glass.
“It really makes it possible for us smaller markets, if you will, or less-resourced universities to compete, which is good for us,” he said. “I think it’s ultimately good for the conference as a whole.”
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