There are two Top 30 television markets on the East Coast that the Big Ten does not have an entry point in – #7 Boston and #30 Hartford/New Haven.
Television markets are but one aspect of college realignment. It is too simple to say the Big Ten should add UConn and Boston College due to market size. If that were the only factor, the ACC would have chosen UConn over Louisville without debate.
No, there are more reasons why the Big Ten should add the former rivals and complete the most ambitious East Coast invasion since Hank Scorpio.
With its television contract soon up for bidding, the Big Ten is poised to become the dominant player in college sports. Despite the arrival of the Pac-12 and SEC Networks, the Big Ten was there first and paved the way. They have been printing money from its network longer and, with the recent additions of the NYC and Baltimore/DC markets, will print even more money.
This is where you ask – why would the Big Ten expand? Because you can never, ever have too much money. The league has clearly mapped out its eastward path, stemming from the fact it ignored overtures from a potentially lucrative member in Missouri for years. Commissioner Jim Delany has his eyes set toward the Atlantic Ocean and only New England remains to fall.
"What we're trying to do is live in the new region of our conference," Delany said. "We're not visiting."
Why it works for UConn
I put this first because it is so obvious: every single aspect of joining the Big Ten appeals to UConn. The answer would be, “Yes,” before Jim Delany finished asking the question. When the last realignment wheel stopped turning, UConn was clearly the biggest loser – a school with 13 basketball national titles and a Fiesta Bowl in the past 20 years was left in the mid-major American Athletic Conference.
The story here is not why it works for UConn. It’s why it makes so much sense for the other parties.
Why it works for Boston College
After the Big East saved itself in 2005, it appeared Boston College joining the ACC may have been a mistake. When the initial excitement wore off, the school found itself isolated. Maryland was the closest conference rival. Virginia Tech and Miami, who joined BC in jumping off the Big East ship, found itself surrounded by closer opponents and natural rivals in Virginia and Florida State, respectively. BC was left alone.
For a full decade, BC operated as the ACC’s lone northeast property and it affected the athletic programs. The football team, post-Matt Ryan, fell off to irrelevancy. The basketball team, following its delightful introduction of Big East basketball to Tobacco Road, declined to one of the worst major basketball programs in the country.
For years, Boston College officials seemed to revel in isolation despite the erosion of its programs, excepting hockey. The recent additions of Syracuse and Pittsburgh gave them back some traditional rivals but they still lacked the hated rival necessary that is the essence of college sports.
It should come no surprise that the thawing of the UConn/Boston College relations – borne out of a lawsuit and Jim Calhoun being Jim Calhoun – has become a recurring theme in New England. In late 2013, the two schools played in basketball for the first time in ages, turning a routine November game in Madison Square Garden into a tribute to the Big East Tournament. It wasn’t your ordinary early-season basketball game.
It continued with UConn’s addition to Hockey East, which made the schools conference rivals again. The two games were played with such intensity – and did so well at the box office – that even the normally UConn-phobic BC fans were pining for the rivalry to be resumed.
In these pleas, the conclusion is UConn should join the ACC. In fact, the two schools joining up in a raid by the Big Ten has been rarely, if ever, mentioned.
If the Big Ten asked, how could Boston College say no? The ACC is in a good position now, but it makes far less money than the Big Ten. Without a network, the ACC is always vulnerable to attack – the rumors of North Carolina to the SEC or Florida State to the Big 12 may seem farfetched, but they are unending. There are no such rumors about anyone leaving the Big Ten.
Furthermore, the Big Ten’s logical football setup – geographic divisions as opposed to the ACC’s nonsensical splits – means annual visits from Ohio State and Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State. Would BC fans rather see those four schools every other year or the mish-mosh of Wake Forest, Clemson, Florida State and N.C. State? Rutgers and Maryland are both far closer for road trips and a Thanksgiving weekend game with UConn would finally give the school a traditional, neighboring year-end rival.
Why it works for the Big Ten
Where to start? As mentioned in the lede, it instantly adds 2 Top 30 TV markets. That would give the Big Ten penetration in 11 Top 30 markets, a ridiculous haul. The addition of UConn would solidify its foothold in New York City and, as evident by its future conference tournament in MSG, that’s important.
Furthermore, both schools play hockey – undoubtedly, adding Boston College hockey would be a huge boon to the league. You think Minnesota/BC games would do well? The Big Ten hockey league would jump to 8, providing better scheduling and far more interesting inventory for the network.
The addition of the UConn women’s team would be another huge get for the Network. Let’s be honest – the only women’s basketball games that attract eyeballs involve UConn.
By bringing in the schools together, the Big Ten can further its East/West alignment in football and solve quite literally its only scheduling quirk. Indiana and Purdue are currently split, which necessitates a single permanent cross-over. Indiana and Purdue can both be placed in the West division and, with 9 conference games, every school could rotate opponents to play every other school at least once every four years. Unlike the SEC or ACC, schools wouldn’t have to wait 6 to 8 years to play a conference opponent. The bizarre non-conference games scheduled between UNC and Wake Forest would never happen in the Big Ten.
To recap, UConn and Boston College would bring the Big Ten more money, more viewers and more scheduling options while upgrading men’s basketball, women’s basketball and hockey.
Will it happen?
The Big Ten has no impetus to expand. The conference is making money hand over fist. Ohio State just won the national championship in football. The next TV deal from Fox, NBC and/or ESPN could change college athletics forever.
But eventually, the Big Ten will get to 16 because money talks. Maybe the conference will continue to wait for Notre Dame’s sweetheart deal with the ACC to implode. Maybe Duke and North Carolina decide to leave NC State and Wake Forest behind. Maybe Texas and Oklahoma get tired of dragging around 8 others schools. Maybe the lack of football talent forces the Big Ten south rather than east.
There are a million maybes in college realignment and few certainties. One certainty is adding UConn and Boston College would be a home run for all three parties. In my opinion, the question is not “Will it happen?” but rather, “When will it happen?”
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