BY EVAN WEINER
THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
For the foreseeable future, Rutgers University will not be dropping out of the Big East and join the 12-school (along with the University of Chicago — which doesn't field big time football or basketball teams) Big Ten. The Midwest-based conference announced on Monday that their "expansion" mode has been put on hiatus and the conference isn't looking to add any school for the time being.
"I think, we will continue to look for expansion for another year," said Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez. "I think everybody was thing (last May) as schools were moving and looking that may be the direction (a 16-team conference). Our commissioner and our league decided to study it for a year."
There seem to be some whispers that college presidents and chancellors are becoming gun shy about conference expansion and that the industry wants to see the issue quiet down somewhat. The Big Ten seemed to have Rutgers, Syracuse, Maryland, Missouri and Notre Dame as targets along with Texas. The Big Ten did take Nebraska. The Big East added Texas Christian University, the Pacific-10 plucked Utah from the WAC and Colorado from the Big 12, which now has ten schools after losing Colorado and Nebraska.Of course as television needs programming and is ready to throw money into big-time college sports, there will be further realignments to please the barons of TV. Television runs the show no matter what college officials say, at least in football.
"I'm thrilled we have Nebraska," said Alvarez who oversees a 23-team, $90 million enterprise at the Madison, Wisconsin school. "It's a great fit for us and the thing that is exciting for me being a Nebraska graduate and having some many friends in Nebraska, how excited they were and how open they were to come to the Big Ten. You think there is loyalty there but as they say it is not the Big 8. The Big 12, they don't play Oklahoma every year, there is not that tradition, they weren't losing anything. So they are very excited to come and it really is a good fit for us."
Alvarez wasn't surprised that the Fort Worth, Texas-based TCU took a Big East spot despite not being close to any Big East schools.
"TCU has to look for what is best for them," said Alvarez. "Obviously getting into a (Bowl Championship Series) BCS Conference, it makes sense. If it makes sense for them, I have no problem with it. I don't think it is all about TV (the Big East has some major markets in New York and now the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and some midsized markets in Tampa, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati for football). TV is part of it. Aligning yourself in a conference with an automatic berth in the BCS is important. You have to balance the budget. If you are in charge of it, you make decisions that are best for your school. In my case (Wisconsin), I have 23 sports and football is the engine so whatever you can do in football to allow everyone else (the other sports at the school) to compete. You make the best decision for your program."
The Big East was a basketball conference that morphed into a football conference because that is where the money is. Seton Hall, Villanova, Providence, Georgetown, St. John's, Marquette and DePaul don't have big time football programs and Notre Dame remains an independent even though the school competes in basketball and other sports in the Big East. Former National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is helping the conference with expanding the football playing schools. TCU will be the ninth football playing school and in all probability, the Big East will add a 10th school in the very near future.
Wisconsin will not play Rutgers in the Big Ten anytime soon, but that doesn't mean Alvarez is ruling out any New York metropolitan contests. Alvarez has had some conversations with the New York Yankees brass about playing a game at Yankee Stadium under "the what's best for the school financially" guise.
"I have talked to the Yankees, we have a great alumni base here (in the New York-New Jersey area)," said Alvarez. "If it makes sense and it would have to be early in the year, it would have to be in September that's the issue. I have talked to them about that and the Commissioner of Baseball (Bud Selig, Wisconsin alum) told him he can arrange them to be out of town for 10 days.
"We are looking at those (neutral site games) but I have to have seven home games and that is a mandate from my people. We have to have seven home games and if we can do something on a neutral site that makes sense and helps us in recruiting and satisfy some of our alums, we would look into that."
So is the turmoil of earlier this year with conferences beefing up over? "It appears to be," said Alvarez.
The key word there being "appears". But no one has shut the door on additional movement. Television money is flooded Big Ten schools as each is getting more than $23 million annually because of various deals. The Big East despite having some big markets is getting about one-third of the television dollars going to Big Ten schools.
When Comcast does take over NBC, the Philadelphia-based cable TV giant could rebrand the Versus network as some sort of NBC cable sports network and then go after major conference contracts and any conference that is adding or has added key markets could help pry more money out of ESPN, FOX or whatever Comcast plans to call Versus in the future. Rutgers may be a New Jersey school, but the football team's TV market is the New York metropolitan area, the nation's top market. That alone makes Rutgers a major player in the conference shuffle.