College athletics is now a game of Risk. Instead of chasing game pieces, conferences are in pursuit of television viewers.
In this game, New York City is the biggest game piece out there. It is the unattainable piece, for Rutgers, for Syracuse, for UConn, or for any college by itself. The battle for New York City is on and it is unwinnable.
In the not too distant past, conferences stayed within their own region. Despite some overlap – think Iowa and Iowa State, or Clemson and South Carolina, in two different conferences – there were no blitzkriegs under the cover of darkness.
mocked for their decision to isolate themselves from the Big East.
Then Jim Delany got tired of scheduling around 11 teams and all hell broke loose. If you think the carousel has stopped forever, you haven’t been paying attention.
College football is a business now – heck, even the players may soon be considered employees. College football and conference commissioners are now no different than, say, the CEOs of AT&T and Sprint battling over subscribers or Pepsi and Coke fighting for soda drinkers. It’s all about the bottom line.
The Big Ten, in its never-ending quest to add zeroes to spreadsheets, swiped Maryland from the ACC and Rutgers from the Big East.
Maryland was a good move. Rutgers was not.
At the time, I mocked both moves. As I have been many times before, I was wrong. I believed Maryland would not command Washington, D.C., having fallen on hard times in sports. I discounted the fact that Maryland has a national championship in basketball and an Orange Bowl in football – two feats that immediately separates itself from Rutgers.
I discounted the relatively small sphere of sports here in D.C. What else is there to talk about? All the teams almost always suck, whether it’s crushing Capitals defeats in Game 7s, the Wizards eternally struggling with .500 or the endless Washington Football Team name debate.
On the day the Big Ten announced its basketball matchups for next year, the local news here – NBC Washington to be exact – did an entire segment on it. They were giddy at the thought of playing Michigan, Michigan State and Indiana, even after 50 years of playing Duke, Virginia and UNC. Maryland fans were pumped and thrilled to get out of the ACC’s Tobacco Road shadow. Maryland is a sleeping giant.
Why do I feel like WCBS did not devote 6 minutes of the 6 p.m. news to Rutgers’ 2014-15 basketball schedule?
Here are the facts: The Big Ten Network will not be on basic cable in New York City next year. Rutgers is not the most popular college football team in New York City – that would be Notre Dame. Rutgers is not the most popular college basketball team in New York City – that would be Syracuse or UConn.
The Big Ten is in for a long, protracted fight to get the Big Ten Network in New York City and that is the only reason why Rutgers was added. If it happens, the Big Ten will be printing money every day from every single one of the nearly 8 million folks in the NYC market. If that happens, every Big Ten school could add 8 figures to its bottom line instantly every year.
That’s the pipedream. The reality is that the Big Ten, already in a public relations battle over its football prowess, is saddled with another Minnesota. Rutgers is an average to good football program, capable of 6 to 8 wins and a decent bowl game. Its best season ever ended in the Texas Bowl. How will that move the needle in the playoff discussion?
The Big Ten foolishly believes by having Michigan and Ohio State show up every year, that it can magically turn New York City into a college football stronghold. And, well, that’s the rub. And yeah, I buried the lede again.
Rutgers is the Big Ten’s mistake for the same reason they were invited to join the conference – location, location, location.
The Yankees couldn’t get YES Network cleared at first. The Mets had a similar battle with SNY. It took the NFL – the big, bad NFL – nine years to get its network on Time Warner Cable in New York City. Reread that last sentence if necessary. Nine years!
As the tickets for UConn’s game on Friday proved, New York is a basketball city. It is also a baseball city. It is not really a football city. Much was made of the fact that when the Super Bowl came to town, most of New York City shrugged its shoulders and moved on.
Therein lies the biggest problem with Rutgers as a way into New York – Rutgers sucks at basketball. And it’s only one school.
The Big East controlled New York City for 30 years because it had every possible school, including Notre Dame, as part of its affiliation. There are too many people and too many allegiances to control a city as vast as New York with one team – unless that team is Notre Dame football.
There are two ways to look at Rutgers to the Big Ten. It could be a long-term ploy the establish a foothold in the city to convince Notre Dame if/when the day ever comes they have to give up independence that the Big Ten is the only place to go. That is probably the exact same reason the ACC Tournament will be in Brooklyn for two years.
It could also be a short-term ploy to make a quick $150 million every year from NYC cable subscribers. That’s not going to happen.
The Big Ten, and the ACC, have entered a NYC gun fight wielding a dull knife. Syracuse by itself doesn’t control New York City. The same goes for Rutgers, the same goes for UConn and the same goes for St. John’s.
The fight isn’t over. It’s just futile. And it’s going to lead to a summer and fall and potentially years of bad press for the Big Ten and Rutgers.
Have fun, Mr. Delany.
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