Rutgers Makes One Kind Of Sense, I Guess

Submitted by Brian on March 4th, 2010 at 12:17 PM


Let me provide some excessively late opinion on the recent flurry of Big Ten expansion articles. Article one indicates that a very expensive consultant has given the thing a thumbs-up with five schools mentioned as primary targets:

A source inside the league told the Tribune that the report, prepared by the Chicago-based investment firm William Blair & Company, analyzed whether five different schools would add enough revenue to justify expanding the league beyond 11 teams.

"The point was: We can all get richer if we bring in the right team or teams," the source said.

The five analyzed were Missouri, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Rutgers. The source, though, called those five "the obvious suspects" and cautioned that other universities could earn consideration.

Someone got paid for this. I bet they yoinked the Grid of Judgment.

Anyway, that article comes with a big photo of the Rutgers mascot. Wha? Well, Teddy Greenstein—who I am suspicious of in this matter since he's the guy throwing those blind quotes about a 14 or 16 team Big Ten around—then claims Rutgers as the most likely school according to "consensus among Big Ten sources, officials from other conferences, and TV executives." I've also gotten some emails from a guy plugged into what's going on at Rutgers who says there have already been serious talks.

I don't get it. You look at this list of criteria proposed by Greenstein and try to find a way in which Rutgers makes the most sense:

  • Revenue. "Having a large and full football stadium is key. A basketball arena, too." Fail, fail. "But a bigger factor might be the television market." Maybe. More about this later.
  • Geography. Rutgers is adjacent to Pennsylvania, I guess, but it's ten hours from Ann Arbor. The closest school is Penn State, which is four hours from Rutgers. It is a better fit than Texas, but not by much. Ten conference members are flying to Rutgers every time.
  • Academics. Meh? Rutgers is not in the AAU. [Update: Oops. They are.]
  • Recruiting. I don't think recruiting matters at all since adding a new team to the Big Ten isn't going to significantly change conference perception unless it's Texas or maybe Notre dame. But it's hard to see what Rutgers brings to the table there other than the occasional New Jersey football recruit. It might actually become harder to recruit in Jersey if Rutgers becomes more attractive as a Big Ten member.

Literally the only thing Rutgers brings to the table is the New Jersey/New York media market, and it's unclear how much pull RU actually has there. The Big Ten had to fight tooth and nail to get the BTN on in places where the college kids are the biggest game in town. Rutgers is at best the tenth banana in the NYC/NJ pecking order. They are behind the Jets, Giants, Knicks, Rangers, Islanders, Yankees, Mets, Devils, Nets. Maybe they're more important than the Nets.

An area cable company could risk ignoring the BTN. Then what do you have? A school whose grandest bowl victory was probably a Texas Bowl demolition of Kansas State. Meanwhile, the basketball team hasn't made the tournament since 1991. I'm all for laughing maniacally as the Big Ten methodically steals a dollar a month from 18 million New Yorkers who don't even know what the BTN is, but I doubt Rutgers has that kind of cachet. Greenstein tries to prove that they do by citing that one game against Louisville which drew an 8.1. Sure, "when Rutgers wins" they are popular. They have been popular once since 1869.

Greenstein's other reasons are meaningless: they have an airport. They played a football game in 1869. Delany is from New Jersey. And they would leave the Big East. They've got some tenuous ability to bring TV markets. In literally every other way they are inferior to Missouri.

There is also a fawning profile in a Chicago business magazine that Orson should definitely not read unless he wants blood to run out of his eyes:

Colleagues describe Mr. Delany as restless and fearless. Those traits were apparent in 2007, when he formed the Big Ten Network, the nation's first conference-owned cable channel.

Anyway, that article has some quotes in direct opposition to Greenstein's "this is definitely happening" stance. Penn State president Graham Spanier:

"The folks in the media have gone a little bit crazy with this," he says. "There's a very good chance we won't expand at all. This is just a question we ask ourselves every few years. We don't feel we're under any pressure to expand."

"A little bit crazy" indicates that Spanier hasn't delved into the real speculation where Texas joins the Big Ten, brings half of the Big 12 along with it, and invades Mars.



March 4th, 2010 at 12:34 PM ^

Rutgers is just totally off the radar here in NYC. And you can confidently put Syracuse on the list as "more important than Rutgers" in this market.

They are currently more relevant than the Nets here, which will continue for two years, and then the Nets will be in Brooklyn.


March 4th, 2010 at 1:41 PM ^

Literally ever single Big Ten team has more fans in NY/NJ than Rutgers. Michigan probably has 10x as many fans here. They are a total non-entity. I couldn't even tell you which channel they were on. If you went into a bar in NYC and asked them to put the Rutgers game on you would probably get laughed at.

This is a terrible fit, and will bring nothing to the Big Ten.


March 4th, 2010 at 1:56 PM ^

It's been awhile since they were really good at bball, but I'd throw St. Johns in there too. They still play their big games in MSG. They've been down for awhile, but historically NY has always cared more about them than Rutgers.

Not even sure Seton Hall doesn't belong in this discussion as well.

I might be in the minority, but even as awful as they may be, I still think there is more of a buzz about the Nets than Rutgers.

Mercury Haze

March 4th, 2010 at 12:34 PM ^

Rutgers is not even close to 10th banana in New York City. They barely register at all, except for with their alumni. They are not the "local" team that everyone follows in the same way people upstate hitch themselves to Syracuse (or even the way non-UM folks in the Ann Arbor area hitch themselves to UM). I've been in Manhattan for 13 years and never once heard anyone say, "Rutgers is on tonight, better make sure we get to the bar for the game." It doesn't open up a TV market, at least not for UM, since all of our games are on TV here anyway. Their basketball program is a joke. Football has had one or two decent years but otherwise is a joke, too. They would be a horrible, horrible addition to the conference.

Brian, please use your powers to prevent this terrible prospect from becoming reality.


March 4th, 2010 at 12:35 PM ^

The Big Ten seems intent on expanding even without a high profile school such as Notre Dame. The reason for this is probably the Big Ten Network, and if the driving force behind expansion is expanding the Big Ten network, then the people in charge are probably looking at market as the biggest (only?) factor.


March 4th, 2010 at 9:14 PM ^

I agree that this is it (in the minds of those that don't read this blog regularly). However, just because Rutgers is in the No. 1 media market, it doesn't mean that the No. 1 media market pays attention to Rutgers.

That's why I think this whole Rutgers thing is someone putting 2 and 2 together and getting 17.


March 4th, 2010 at 12:42 PM ^

And the Mars invasion. Look, before I get neg-banged, this has absolutely NOTHING at all to do with market share, or filled stadiums, or what-have-you.

No. This is all about me and what I want. I may be moving to Texas in a few months, and I would totally dig it, man, if I could get UM on my local cable feed each and every football Saturday without subscribing to some sports tier that also carries North Texas versus Rice. Or some other sh-t like that.

And UM v. UT on a regular basis? How @#$%ing cool would THAT be?


March 4th, 2010 at 1:02 PM ^

And "Friday Night Lights" ain't just a TV show and movie down there, either.

Before I watch a game like Aggies vs. Cowboys, I'll have re-painted my house, landscaped the yard, built an outdoor gazebo, and earned that law degree I'm always talking about. Fortunately, this move would be to the Houston/Galveston area, so it will be marginally better than, say, Dallas, Midland, or fk-all Amarillo.


March 4th, 2010 at 12:42 PM ^

here are a few notes (not opinions) from the NY perspective:

rutgers (undergrad and graduate schools, particularly the law school) has a pretty expansive network within manhattan. plenty of wealthy NJers went to rutgers and now call manhattan or its suburbs home. if the big ten was trying to get more dollars, they'd be looking to those people for the dollars.

within manhattan, the largest cable provider is time warner. the BTN is available only by purchasing a special sports package. verizon has made some inroads in manhattan, and offers the BTN as part of its regular cable package, but still has few customers. also, verizon does not carry BTN overflow channels. a small number of manhattanites have RCN cable. to my knowledge, they do no offer the BTN, even as a premium channel.


March 4th, 2010 at 1:02 PM ^

This is a very solid summary of the NYC cable situation, but a problematic Rutgers note (not opinion). I won't argue about the number of Rutgers alums in NYC - obviously there are many, though I have doubts about the size of, say, their lawyer community here (which by definition can only be a few thousand individuals at most).

Nobody is suggesting that Rutgers alums won't largely want the BTN if they join the conference. The question is whether Joe NYC resident gives enough of a crap about Rutgers to get it, because Rutgers alums are .1% of the city's population. That guy just doesn't care about Rutgers at all; he cares more about St. John's when they're halfway decent. Even if every Rutgers alum here got the network, it would be a drop in the bucket because they have no pull beyond alums in this city (I won't argue about NJ, because I don't have meaningful knowledge about Rutgers' popularity there).


March 4th, 2010 at 1:22 PM ^

i see your point. i think people are downplaying the extent of rutgers fandom in NYC a little too much. in any event, i think if the big ten added rutgers it would be with the expectation that with more money rutgers would be able to better its program and its alumni base and the surrounding area would therefore care more about its football program. i don't have a good sense of whether that would work. but based on the article cited within brian's post, it seems like the big ten paid a lot of money to find out if it would work.


March 4th, 2010 at 3:24 PM ^

IIRC I remember seeing a lot of stories during 2006 about the huge (and unprecedented) level of support the Scarlet Knights received during their breakout season (and first bowl game victory) amongst even non-alumni in the NYC/NJ area. My thoughts are that the Big Ten is going to look at that and consider whether or not, in the future, Rutgers could be the NCAA football team for NYC. Obviously it's a very sports-saturated market but there's got to be some people looking for a local college team to support, especially one with newfound "legitimacy" due to membership in the Big Ten. And Rutgers is the only one in the NYC market:

We could all be applauding this decision in 10 years.


March 4th, 2010 at 12:44 PM ^

For a couple of reasons, which are related:
1. There are way more people walking around the city on the weekend in their Michigan, Wisconsin, ND and Penn State gear than Rutgers gear. Rutgers grads do not care about Rutgers, since culturally they probably wanted to go out of state to a private school.
2. This is even more important: LOTS OF PEOPLE HERE ALREADY GET BTN. I can't emphasize this enough.
3. I'm making this up, but it's truth-y: I bet the cable companies that don't carry BTN would be more likely to cave with the addition of ND than Rutgers.


March 4th, 2010 at 12:45 PM ^

As a new yorker I think this would be just about the greatest thing ever as I would get to go to a Mich maybe ever three or four years without travelling, so in my highly biased opinioned giant thumbs up on Rutgers.

I do think this would get BTN on most cable packages in NYC. I currently have Time Warner and get one BTN channel, but only as part of the sports HD package. I imagine without much cajoling, Time Warner would put BTN on main cable package. There are not only a decent amount of Rutgers alums, but a pretty big number of Big Ten alumini that would push Time Warner to do it I think. The increased revenue seems to me to outweigh the positives associated with a Pitt or Missouri, neither of which is really going to drastically change the conf profile.


March 4th, 2010 at 3:37 PM ^

the distance between College Station and Ann Arbor. Yes, Austin is a longer drive, but Texas brings everything else to the table; as explained before, travel is not as much of an issue in that case. Because Rutgers doesn't bring much (anything?), like Texas A&M does not, the fact that it's also not a geographic fit is an issue.

Another comparison could be with, say, Louisville ... if the rest of it wouldn't make sense, at least the geography would be reasonable.


March 4th, 2010 at 12:49 PM ^

People in New York are gonna watch this shit with RUTGERS? I know I won't.
Talk about status quo boring bullshit. To think the conference paid someone to sit down, scratch his balls, write the five names that everyone without an imagination or desire to increase interest in the Big Ten would write, and then this shit makes the MSM.


March 4th, 2010 at 1:00 PM ^

That's what I've felt from the start as well. Currently, ND's TV revenues are still high enough to be able to resist a Big Ten invitation (especially once you consider the hit alumni donations would take if they gave up their independent status). But the Big Ten is a safety net in case TV revenue doesn't cut it in the future, *unless* the Big Ten adds a twelfth team. And once the Big Ten expands, it's never expanding again, and Notre Dame is stuck looking at the Big East as the only alternative to independence. The ND AD will have to take an invitation much more seriously if declining it means the loss of the safety net.


March 4th, 2010 at 1:24 PM ^

It's more that ND gets a BCS invite with 9 wins against mostly mediocre BCS teams (save for Mich and USC) and service academies.

Plus, they keep all the BCS revenue rather than share it with the rest of the conference.

Annnnnnnd, as shown with Wisconsin in '06 they can go 11-1 and still not get a BCS bid. That would never happen to ND as an independent.


March 5th, 2010 at 12:14 PM ^

But it's been a little while since ND has won 9 games, and even then it was only for a couple years in a row. These last couple years where they either played no bowl or played in the Hawaii Bowl, they would have been better off sharing the bowl revenue with the Big Ten, which had 2 BCS Game teams each of those years, in addition to the other high revenue bowls that the Big Ten gets invited to.

Also, keep in mind that NBC as a station is struggling, the only bright spot they've had recently was the Winter Olympics, which still isn't that big of a draw, and they might reconsider their arrangement with ND as well. I'm not saying they drop ND, but when contract time rolls around again and NBC doesn't have the money to throw around they had before and ND doesn't have the national draw that they did when they were winning 10 games a year, the contract might not be as big as it always has been and the BTN money will be looking a lot better.

Wolverine 73

March 4th, 2010 at 1:16 PM ^

but I have always wondered why Michigan, MSU and Purdue never decided that if the Big Ten wasn't good enough for ND, they could do without ND on their schedules. If the Big Ten cut ties with ND, that would create significant scheduling issues, since the Big Ten provides the only meaningful geographic rivals for the Irish. Next step, longer trips every away game, or considerably weaker and lower profile local opponents. Michigan could substitute home and away games with a series of national programs on a rotating basis. MSU and Purdue might have more trouble attracting a big name to the schedule, I suppose. ND to the Big Ten makes all the sense in the world, maybe they just need a nudge.


March 4th, 2010 at 3:41 PM ^

for Michigan, yes, another rival (without the history) could be found rather easily. (Of course, some ND fans apparently think USC is their only rival these days. lol.)

Michigan State and Purdue are in a different category. They are not going to get a high-profile opponent in a permanent home-and-home rotation, and there simply aren't many other teams of that caliber within driving distance. (The MAC lottery is proving to pay off less and less often these days.) Sadly, I think ND has more leverage than they do.


March 4th, 2010 at 3:50 PM ^

Is it possible that Rutgers could be used as "bait" to bring in Notre Dame? They are already close to Chicago, with the rivalry with USC, they could play in either the NY or LA media markets every season and maintain their self-image as a national program while joining the Big Ten.

Also, I'm not sure of the details, so I could be off base, but I believe ND and the Big East have a deal with bowl games where the bowls take either ND or someone from the Big East. Weakening the Big East may put those contracts in jeopardy, and what other BCS conference wants to align themselves in a bowl agreement that includes non-member ND?

So bringing in Rutgers triggers Notre Dame to join, then to get to an even number Nebraska is invited. The Big 12 begins to fall apart and Texas and Texas A&M join. Bingo, the Big Ten becomes the most powerful conference in the galaxy.


March 4th, 2010 at 12:52 PM ^

I pay $3/month for BTN. I will pay $6/month to keep Rutgers out of the big ten because they are a big joke.

I live in NY and work with Rutgers alumni, they do not care about Rutgers. The local networks try to make Rutgers a big deal (only when they were winning), but have garnered zero attention.

There are probably more Gator fans in NY than Rutgers fans...maybe Florida should join the big ten.

MI Expat NY

March 4th, 2010 at 12:58 PM ^

Eh, it might be a gamble, but a gamble that makes sense in some ways. If NY/NJ is ever going to care about college football it's going to be because of Rutgers. There isn't another option. One potential way to make Rutgers alums and just general NY/NJ people support Rutgers is to have them facing off with Big 10 teams that have tons of alumni in the area that go crazy over every game, which would include games vs. Rutgers. It brings them into a community that cares, rather than just Big East schools that don't garner nearly as much support in NYC.

I don't think they're quite the dregs of the NYC sports market that everyone is making them out to be. Every one of there football games is on television and seem to have no worse support than the Nets or certainly the Islanders. SNY (primarily the Mets channel) already has a decent amount of programming dedicated to Rutgers. They will always be second teir at best in the NYC sports scene, but with a metro market size of 20M people, that doesn't necessarily make it any worse than, say, Missouri.

It won't be the financial draw that Texas would be, but I could see how it might make sense.


March 4th, 2010 at 1:09 PM ^

...hardly ever turn out well. Here in the DC area, the Redskins are the undisputed top of the heap from a fan perspective. Over the past few years as the team has struggled and fans have gotten fed up with Danny Snyder's antics (and with the advent of StubHub as an easy way to sell tickets to someone other than a friend who likely shares your rooting interest), more and more tickets at FedEx Field have found their way into the hands of fans of opponents.

This was striking on a few recent occasions including monday night and sunday night games against the Steelers and Cowboys.

At the risk of stereotyping, having seen how Giants fans act when they come into town, I can't imagine that the locals will take kindly to such invasions.

Caveats acknowledged in advance: NCAA vs. NFL fans; alcohol rules; Northwestern games

MI Expat NY

March 4th, 2010 at 1:40 PM ^

I wasn't really talking about the actual stadium, I was talking more about general football season atmosphere. It's no secret that there are huge numbers of Big Ten Alumni in NYC. During football season, there is a natural banter discussing upcoming games, there is also an excitement level walking past Team bars. If people who are sports fans and may be inclined to support a local team could be made to feel part of that community of Big 10 Alumni, it might lead to NYC becoming more of a college football city.

I'm not saying it's who I'd prefer or even that the gamble would pay off, I'm just saying I get it. NYC is the holy grail of TV markets. Being able to put the Big Ten's stamp on it is something that should at least be considered.

Durham Blue

March 4th, 2010 at 1:10 PM ^

does not excite me one bit. It was the same sort of excitement attained from the rumors regarding Mike DeBord or Brady Hoke as candidates for the Michigan HC job.


March 4th, 2010 at 1:13 PM ^

with Comcast, Time Warner and the other relevant cable companies? As I understand it, the cable companies are generally carrying the BTN on the basic tier in those areas which fall into the conference's footprint. Are the terms of the contracts such that if Rutgers joins the Big Ten, then BTN will automatically be carried on the basic tier in at least New Jersey because of the enlarged footprint? If so, the Rutgers move does make some sense.


March 4th, 2010 at 1:13 PM ^

Of all the schools floated around as the newest member, I dread Rutgers the most. As a fan, I have no interest in TV deals and media market (I understand the Big Ten doesn't share my sentiment). I want a school that brings competition and excitement to the Big Ten. I want a school that feels like a Big Ten school. Rutgers? Excitement? Competition. No. I have fond memories of good times in NJ, so no rips on the state from me. It's just a terrible fit for the Big Ten.

The Big Ten should be setting its sights high, not low.


March 4th, 2010 at 1:15 PM ^

Their endowment is only $500M. The smallest Big Ten endowment is around $1.1 Billion(according to Wikipedia), which is Illinois/IU/MSU.

Rutgers is fraying around the edges. Take Texas. And A&M.


March 4th, 2010 at 1:21 PM ^

It's already on a lot of peoples' packages, and it's because of Penn State, which even right next to Rutgers' campus is more of a draw than is Rutgers itself.

The NY Times many seasons seems to regard PSU as the local college team in their sports section, or at least they did way back when I read.