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Rutgers football’s move to Big Ten sells hope and hype

rutgersR092411_optBY JOE FAVORITO
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
ON N.J. SPORTS MARKETING

Make no mistake, the announcement of Rutgers to the Big 10 this week was a boost for athletics, especially football, from a brand standpoint.

The distressed inventory the school has for games like Howard and even Cincinnati will be filled with the local groups of Big 10 alumni who rarely would get to see their alma mater locally, while premium prices for elite games against Ohio State and Michigan will also bring in much needed revenue to balance the bottom line.

The biggest windfall will be in the TV money, which will also flow through the coffers as part of the Big 10 Association and the upcoming bowl playoff system. Marketers in athletics will now be able to sell opponents, hype and hope of national titles to recruits and alumni, much like professional teams do. There will also be more brands interested in Piscataway events now, as more potential companies can get consistent and larger national exposure due to the volume of coverage outside of what was generated on a regular basis outside the Big East.

All of that is well and good, and the current administration, as well as the former administration and coaches should be congratulated for positioning the school correctly from an athletic standpoint when the Big 10 finally came calling. It also probably gives the University stability and a clear vision that until recently was lacking in the evolving Big East.

That’s the good news.

Now here’s some additional reality, none of which is bad, but it presents the huge challenges Rutgers will have to fully realize the projected millions this move will have.

Rutgers spent more money than any public university in the country on athletics from a school budget that was $28 million in the hole. They have yet to win a Big East football championship in football and have appeared in the top 20 twice in 30 years (including their place this season). The men’s basketball team has not appeared in the NCAA Tournament since 1991, before the school even joined the Big East.

As for the schools that have gone elsewhere looking for national exposure, most have fallen off the competitive map. Boston College was a nationally ranked football team and had a basketball team that advanced to the Final Eight in 1994 before it left for the ACC in 2005. Miami won a national championship in football as a member of the Big East in 2001, has yet to win an ACC title since it left. West Virginia, which played in two BCS games and was picked to contend for the Big 12 championship, is 5-5 after losing five straight games. Virginia Tech is struggling, and Pitt and Syracuse are nowhere near where they were in football during their best Big East years as they transition out of the conference. More money and some bigger stages? Yes. But not a whole lot of equity for any of the schools that went elsewhere.

Then there is the academic side. A good deal of talk this week was about Rutgers aligning itself with better academic and research institutions in the Big 10. So will a great deal of the money flow to science and math and music programs, ones which have had huge cuts over the years while athletics spent? Hard to say. It is also insulting and inaccurate for Rutgers to imply that Big East schools like Georgetown and Marquette and Louisville are somehow inferior.

At the end of the day, this decision is not about tradition. It is about athletic branding and dollars that are available. Will it work? 17 years ago school officials heralded the move from the A-10 to the Big East as the great move that would change the school. Now it is a markedly bigger step to the Big 10.

It will be exciting for sure on some Saturdays, but it was exciting for most Saturdays this fall as coach Kyle Flood took the players he and Greg Schiano recruited to the brink of what could be their first Big East title. If the projects of big dollars and attention lead to greater opportunities for the University as a whole, it could be a salve to even quiet some of the greatest academic critics who have seen athletics as a waste of time.

However, beware the steps of your predecessors Rutgers. The wake of disappointment and lost jobs in Boston is hopefully an exception, not the rule, as another school with big dreams makes its biggest and grandest brand jump yet.

Joe Favorito has over 24 years of strategic communications/marketing, business development and public relations expertise in sports, entertainment, brand building, media training, television, athletic administration and business. Visit him at JoeFavorito.com.

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