By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle
Today is a day set aside for giving thanks. And football. And nowhere are folks likely feeling more thankful for their football fortunes than in College Park, Md., and Piscataway, N.J., home to the University of Maryland and Rutgers University, respectively. But Big 12 fans should also feel thankful.
In case you missed the announcements earlier this week, Maryland is bolting the Atlantic Coast Conference and Rutgers is bailing out on the Big East to join the Big Ten, which now will have 14 teams beginning in 2014.
As the collegiate conference carousel continues to spin, we now have the aforementioned Big Ten with 14 (Big Ten-Four anyone?), the Big 12 still has 10 teams, the Big East (the soon-to-be-home to such eastern schools as San Diego State) is quickly living up (down?) to its derisive nickname of the Big Least, and the WAC has been whacked as the Western Athletic Conference will simply cease to exist in football after this season. Not that anyone will miss it.
The college football landscape resembles a hodgepodge of teams with little or no geographic connection thrown together for the sake of maximizing the bottom line. As one Internet poster said earlier this week, the NCAA is the poster child for crony capitalism.
It’s hard to take issue with Rutgers making its move. It is going from a conference that is, or at least should be, on the verge of losing its AQ status. The Scarlet Knights are 9-1 and are on the brink of a Big East title and its first-ever BCS bowl berth. Of course, remember, they are playing in the same conference that sent that terrific Connecticut team to the Fiesta Bowl two years ago that got hammered by Oklahoma, 48-20. The Scarlet Knights are motoring through the weakened Big East. It’s a good thing they haven’t had to compete in a stronger conference such as the Mid-American Conference, considering their lone loss was to MAC East Division champ Kent State.
Rutgers, which just a decade ago was a one-win team, gets to join a conference that paid its members $24 million apiece according to an Associated Press report, and is projected to pay nearly $43 million by 2017. Rutgers’ current take from the Big East? A measly $6 million. The Big Ten also gets a little something in return, namely a presence in one of the nation’s top media markets.
The case for Maryland is a little stranger. The Terrapins haven’t really done much of anything but disappoint in recent years in hoops and on the gridiron. The Terps seemed to have found their way into Big Ten membership mainly by being in the populous mid-Atlantic region, further expanding the Big Ten’s geographical footprint, and in return the Terps’ hemorrhaging athletic department gets a much-needed financial infusion.
With Maryland bolting the ACC, Connecticut is hoping to get out of the Big East and move into Maryland’s old digs along possibly with South Florida, Central Florida (currently in Conference USA, which is an even bigger mess than the Big East) and Louisville. This comes after the ACC already previously raided the Big East by stealing away Pittsburgh and Syracuse.
And which conference, that just last year seemed on the verge of implosion, looks to be the most stable?
The Big 12 appears to be one of the few calm ports in the stormy sea of conference realignment. And with a sweet 12-year deal with ESPN for the Sugar Bowl that will add $40 million to its, and the SEC’s, coffers, the Big 12 appears to be on very sound footing for the future.
And that may be something really worth giving thanks for as the football season draws to an end and the silly season cranks up.
Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.