Big Ten Expansion Talk Veers Towards Rutgers, For Some Reason

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↵To date, Big Ten expansion has undergone two distinct phases. Phase I: ↵Missouri ↵and Pitt seem like reasonable combinations of academics and ↵athletics. Let's add them! Phase II: Let's ↵annex Texas. And Notre Dame. And the Big East. And Canada. ↵

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↵As of a few days ago, Phase II officially ended with a leaked ↵study in which a consulting firm evaluated five choices and gave a ↵general thumbs up to the idea of adding a 12th team. None of the candidates ↵were Texas or the entirety of South America. One was long-term pipedream ↵Notre Dame. The others were the usual, fairly boring suspects: Missouri, ↵Pitt, Syracuse, and Rutgers. How does this ↵differ from Phase I? ↵

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↵⇥The consensus among Big Ten sources, officials from other conferences ↵⇥and TV executives is that Rutgers offers the best ↵⇥package. Missouri is second and Pittsburgh third. ↵⇥

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↵Rutgers is now the media favorite based on this. Penn State fan bete noir and grudge-holding columnist David Jones goes back to a ↵1992(!) column about adding the Scarlet Knights: ↵

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↵⇥Rutgers, I was told with some condescension, was in a pro area full ↵⇥exclusively of pro fans. That people in New Jersey didn't even care ↵⇥about Rutgers, let alone the sought-after New York City metro sports fan ↵⇥of my rationale. ↵⇥

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↵⇥Well, more than 17 years later, the idea seems to be gaining some ↵⇥steam. ↵⇥

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↵It's early yet, but in the next week or so expect a half-dozen more ↵articles like this, each of them pitching Rutgers' "potential" ↵based on the 2006 Louisville game, which drew an 8.1 rating. It's the ↵crux of Jones' argument. ↵

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↵That's a big rating. It, however, is exactly one game. Rutgers lost a couple late that season and has settled down into a respectable, if ↵uninspiring, program. Their ratings are now in the tank. Jones' own ↵newspaper provides a damning look at how Rutgers draws when it's not having a historic Cinderella season, ↵playing an undefeated opponent, and provided an exclusive Thursday night ↵window. The four non-ND schools in this report ranked by average ratings ↵for nationally televised games: ↵

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    ↵⇥
  1. Pitt: 3.31 (7 games)
  2. ↵⇥
  3. Missouri: 2.04 (7 games)
  4. ↵⇥
  5. Rutgers 1.51 (6 games)
  6. ↵⇥
  7. Syracuse 1.31 (1 game)
  8. ↵
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↵Obviously, Pitt's successful season made their games more compelling ↵but Missouri was a bleh 8-5. Rutgers was 9-4. Other schools on that list ↵who did not have much in the way of season but still killed RU in the ↵ratings: ↵

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  • Nebraska: 3.57 (9 games). The Cornhuskers went 10-4 and made the Big ↵⇥12 Championship game, so that's not surprising.
  • ↵⇥
  • UConn: 2.23 (4 games). UConn was 8-5 and plays in the same ↵⇥conference as Rutgers.
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  • Aaaand most damningly, Colorado: 2.02 (5 games). Colorado was 3-9. ↵⇥
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↵So Rutgers did a huge number once when it was a temporary media darling for fighting against 130 years of incompetence deep into that one season when the Big East was relevant. That is a one-time event that will never be replicated. And the 8.1 that game got isn't astounding for a late-season game between undefeated opponents. Michigan-OSU 2006 did 14.3. Texas Tech-Texas did ↵a 7.5 in 2009. ↵

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↵Rutgers is basically equivalent to the other schools under ↵consideration academically. They are not a good geographic fit. The ↵closest school is Penn State four hours away. Everyone else in the ↵conference is ten or more hours distant and will have to fly. They have ↵no historic rivalries with anyone in the Big Ten, unlike Missouri and ↵Pitt, and their basketball program may be the worst in the BCS ↵conferences. They haven't been to the tournament since 1991. They bring ↵only one thing. ↵

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↵And they probably don't even bring that. The only reason to add ↵Rutgers is if the Big Ten Network can get on a basic tier in New Jersey ↵and New York, and it's here that the basketball program is a killer. No ↵one on the entire planet cares about Rutgers basketball, which means ↵that an extremely small proportion of the New York metro area will have ↵to head to a bar a few times a year to catch Rutgers against some Big ↵Ten team. One game in 2006 does not change the basic non-notability of ↵Rutgers athletics in the New York market. The Big Ten will be taking a ↵huge, probably unsuccessful risk if they add them. ↵

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↵There's only one way adding Rutgers makes sense: sign the cable ↵company contracts first. Given the year-long war the BTN prompted in ↵areas where the local college is the main attraction and not competing ↵with the Nets to be ninth-most popular, that will happen the day after Notre Dame drops ↵all this Catholicism business and joins the Big Ten as an Indiana state ↵school. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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