The Big Ten's East Coast push is back in the spotlight this week, with the announcement that the conference will move its yearly basketball tournament to Washington, D.C., for the 2016-17 season. Tuesday, commissioner Jim Delany proudly explained the league's goal to "live in two regions."
This is okay, I wrote. It might be a little more inconvenient to travel for the Big Ten Tournament once every three years. But turning D.C. into Big Ten country and subsequently raking in television revenue would make it all worth it. That sparked an interesting debate with ESPN's Adam Rittenberg and the Omaha World-Herald's Sam McKewon. More money is great and all, but can it lead to winning?
At this point, the evidence strongly suggests that the Big Ten's move to the East Coast will pay off financially. Starting in 2017-18, each Big Ten school will reportedly bring in $44.5 million per year. These deals are renegotiated at different times, so it's tough to compare them between conferences, but for reference, each SEC school is projected to bring in $34 million a year starting in 2014-15, the first year of the SEC Network. And regardless of the comparison to other conferences, it is still a huge jump from the roughly $27 million a year that each Big Ten school currently brings in.
Logically, more money means better facilities and more resources, and more resources generally lead to more wins. However, once you get to the level where everyone's rich — like the SEC vs. Big Ten situation — more money can no longer buy wins.
That's why, from a competitiveness perspective, the Big Ten's biggest reward in its eastern expansion will come from recruiting gains.
It's no secret that the Big Ten schools have struggled to recruit, mainly because so much of the talent is in the South. Why would a four-star player from Alabama go play in a league that his family can't regularly watch on TV? And moreover, why would he even become interested in a school that he was never exposed to growing up?
Right now, there are only 38 players in Big Ten states with four-star-or-higher ratings, according to the 247 Sports Composite ratings for the class of 2015. Contrast that with SEC country, where there are 160 prospects with four-star-or-higher ratings (that's not even counting Texas, which — with one SEC school and four Big 12 schools — balloons the number to 207).
The SEC is clearly the barometer for success. Delany mentioned the SEC's success as a reason there are so many Big Ten-SEC bowl games. Since success is so closely tied to recruiting, the Big Ten needs to find a way to close that gap.
Enter Maryland and Rutgers. Okay, not really. Enter New Jersey and the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia). Together, these two areas have 37 prospects rated four-stars-or-higher — just one fewer than the entire current footprint of the Big Ten. If the league's schools can dominate on their current home turf and in the new regions, plus continue to take some of the surplus of recruits in Florida, Georgia, and Texas, they can feasibly become more competitive on the national stage.
The Big Ten's highest-rated 2014 freshman, Michigan cornerback Jabrill Peppers, hails from New Jersey. Kim Klement, USA Today
By using 247 Sports' Class Calculator to add just one four-star from the DMV and New Jersey to each of the Big Ten's top four recruiters (Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State), and also to Wisconsin and Iowa, the latter of which has made a big recent push in the area, all six schools see improved classes. (We also took away the lowest-ranked player in each class to keep class sizes the same.)
|Team||Real score||Real rank||Projected score||Projected rank|
This map from Corn Nation of four-star-or-higher recruits from the ACC, Big Ten and SEC shows that there is a major hub of talent on the East Coast, but the Big Ten's footprint has largely been in the Midwest. By making the DMV and Virginia part of its home, that footprint can expand.
Of course, the Big Ten can't just announce that it has arrived, then never come back. There's a reason the Big Ten Tournament is going to DC, and a reason (beyond the money) that the conference is so set on getting the Big Ten Network to every cable provider on the corridor from New York to Virginia. Delany wants players in the area growing up watching Big Ten teams play and thinking they live in Big Ten country. If they build that familiarity, there's a better chance those players end up in the Big Ten in the future.
The new recruiting pitch has already begun. While Penn State, Rutgers and Maryland have always had success in the area, Big Ten West schools have moved in, as well. That's evident by comparing the recruiting classes of 2009 and 2010 ...
... to 2013's and 2014's:
Of course, the integration of the DMV and New Jersey into Big Ten territory still must continue to evolve. For instance, Nebraska will be reluctant to shift from its traditional recruiting grounds of California and Texas. However, Big Ten West schools Iowa, Northwestern, Illinois and Wisconsin have all found success in the area in recent years, and that should continue as the conference gets more integrated into the region's sporting culture.
There are challenges that conference realignment can't fix. For one, as top prospect Jashon Cornell described, the Big Ten schools simply need to recruit harder. But when it comes to neutralizing the Big Ten's geographic disadvantage, the acquisition of the East — and the subsequent integration with a TV channel and basketball tournament — can give the Big Ten a lift.
Can Rutgers and Maryland help the Big Ten buy a championship? No. But their locations can put the league in a much better place to compete for one.