August 31, 2014

The Getting Bigger Ten

Thanksgiving should be about being appreciative of family, friends and freedom.  Instead, it’s more about food and football.

That’s perfectly fine, not just because “f” is everyone’s favorite letter, but also due to the fact that the Big Ten epitomizes the modern spirit by gorging itself on ripe little football schools that, to most observers, would not appear to be terribly appetizing.  However, Maryland and Rutgers went down nicely with a little butter and gravy and are now part of an expanding collegiate sports empire as the Big Ten pats its stomach, lights a cigar, and farts all over tradition and convention.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a conference called the “Big Ten” having 14 teams but there is something increasingly odd and incongruous to it.  When Penn State joined two decades ago it seemed weird to have a decidedly Eastern school sitting at a table of Midwesterners but hey, it was Penn State, back when those two words translated into “great football” and not “ugly scandal.”

It was the same when Nebraska joined the party, but at least Nebraska is considered by some to be part of the Midwest (but try telling that to someone from Kalamazoo and you might be subjected to a randy Haiku and a cheek-pinch so be careful) and it’s tough to misstep by welcoming a school that has a trophy case full of Heismans, National Championships and autographed photos of Max Baer.

But now Maryland and Rutgers want to play, and it feels like Thanksgiving, 1997 when you walked into the dining room and were greeted by two homeless guys your parents got talked into inviting after a drunken night of bingo and charades in the church basement.

When it comes to football, Maryland is best known as a school that used to be good in basketball.  The Terrapins are 4-7 this year, were 2-10 last year, 9-4 in 2010 and 2-10 in 2009.  Hey! They are a Big Ten team!

Rutgers is 9-1 this season and has a had a winning record nearly every year this decade but there’s still the troubling matter that the football team stole its nickname, “The Scarlet Knights,” from a character on a 1980s prime time soap opera.

What Maryland and Rutgers lack in pigskin legacy they provide in geographic opportunity.  The Big Ten now gets to stretch its recruiting fingers and sponsorship possibilities for the lucrative Big Ten Network from the plains of Nebraska, to the shores of Maryland, to the golden roads of New Jersey.

It has been documented several times, including in an article posted this week on “Grantland,” that the Big Ten, despite being a punching bag on the football field compared to the SEC, annually brings in as much money if not more than the mighty conference down south, much of that thanks to the BTN.  Now, with ad dollars coming in from two more large metropolitan areas, the Big Ten will continue to roll in the coin even while getting eaten alive in the Rose Bowl.

What’s next for the conference of on-campus farms, stately fraternity houses and the pastiest cheerleaders outside of Northern Europe?  Will the Big Ten absorb Notre Dame?  Texas Tech?  Newfoundland?  Perhaps the conference that Hayes built and Schembechler ruled will adhere to manifest destiny and welcome Boise State, Stanford and Guam A&M.

May the sun never set on Big Ten football.  May mediocrity and polarity proliferate.  May Brent Musburger be at the call for fullback dives and snowglobe homecomings. Ride the expansion wave.  Pick your teeth with the past and then go back for seconds.

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