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Big 10 Creating Expansion Chaos Once Again

If you thought that college football was taking a breather from the hectic drama of conferences raiding each other -- think again.


As if the on-the-field chaos created by Baylor and Stanford Saturday night wasn't enough, there are reports that the Big 10 is ready to expand to 14 teams by poaching Maryland from the ACC and Rutgers from the Big East.

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I thought we settled this -- for at least a few years -- when Notre Dame agreed to join the ACC - while remaining independent in football.

So why is the Big 10 willing to make a mess of things in the middle of the football season?

Money of course.

Money from third tier rights (read Big 10 Network) and maybe just maybe, money to be made from becoming the first 16-team Super Conference.

First things first. This move makes little or no sense for on-the-field reasons. The Big 10's reputation as a league that struggles against other elite conferences hardly improves with the addition of these two programs. The two newbies don't bring any natural rivalries that will enhance the conference and current members are not going to be happy because the expanded schedule means fewer visits from the heavyweights like Ohio State and Michigan over the years.

And for what? A home game with Rutgers?

Maryland, a charter member of the ACC since 1953, is facing a potential buyout of $50 million to move. When Notre Dame joined the league (except for football) the ACC added the huge payout, with only Maryland and Florida State voting against the measure.

Rutgers will owe the Big East $10 million if they walk out, but that is a big hit for an athletics department that declared over $26 million in losses last year.

If this does happen the Big East is toast. Rutgers would be the 9th program to jump ship over the last 8 years - with six defections coming within the past year, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame to the ACC - TCU and West Virginia to the Big 12 and now Rutgers to the Big Ten. The dismantling of the league wouldn't stop there.

Connecticut would be on the first train out of the station, headed straight to the ACC. Remember Louisville? Their first call would be to the Big 12, who might suddenly think that maybe staying at 10 (without a championship game) isn't such a great deal after all. The Big East's attempt to stop the bleeding by bringing in an alphabet soup of new members (UCF, SMU, San Diego State, Boise State, Houston, etc), won't stop the bleeding.

Why Expand Now?

Big 10 Commissioner Jim Delany has never been accused of being reactive and Notre Dame's move made him nervous. There are some conspiracy theorists out there who believe Delany is trying to gut the ACC in order to put more pressure on Notre Dame to come in and help the Big 10 become the first 16-team Super Conference.

Who else would help reach that goal? North Carolina. The Tar Heels pride themselves on their overall program and academic status, and having a natural rival already there (in Maryland) might be tempting.

Like everything else, getting to 16 is about money, but it isn't about BCS money. It is about their third tier and increasing the value of the Big 10 Network. Right now the Big 10 is distributing almost $25 million a year to each member in media rights money. Over $100 million of that comes from the Big 10 Network. Adding Maryland and Rutgers adds about 15 million viewers in their states. While that doesn't mean a whole lot to their network partners since both areas are dominated by the pros, it can mean a helluva lot more money that goes straight to the Big 10 coffers.

The Big 10 network charges 10 cents per subscriber to cable and satellite carriers in the states where the Big 10 has teams. Adding New York and the Washington DC markets would be a gold mine. Adding even more inventory (especially quality basketball inventory) would mean that the monthly fee would no doubt go up. If the present rumors are true, the league would stretch from Nebraska to New Jersey and incorporate about 35% of the nation's population. Add a North Carolina and a Notre Dame to make is a 16-team league and the cable revenues would skyrocket.

Maryland is the school that must move first, and it has the most complicated avenue out the ACC door. There will be much wailing and moaning about the loss of basketball rivalries with Duke and North Carolina, but former Terp coach Gary Williams told the Baltimore sun that it's no big deal.

"I coached in the league (ACC) for 22 years, there's great memories there without a doubt, at the same time you have to look at what's best for the university," said Williams, who coached Ohio State for three seasons in the 1980s. "I'm familiar with the Big Ten, coaching there and working at the Big Ten Network last year, I think I have a decent perspective. If I was coaching at Maryland now, historically in football there's been good years (for the ACC) but the league has never been where it can pull your football program along a little bit."

Williams, who led Maryland to its only national championship in 2002, thinks a move to the Big Ten would allow the basketball team to get out of the shadow of Duke and North Carolina.

"Who's our rival in football? You can't come up with a name and neither can I," Williams told the newspaper. "Who's our rival in basketball? We can say Duke and Carolina, but we basically will be playing them once a year now. Duke and Carolina, that's the rivalry, they don't look at it as Maryland being their rival. The old ACC where you play everyone twice a year and see who's the best team at the end of the year, that's not happening anymore. The Big Ten, last I checked had five teams in the top 20 in basketball."

Supposedly Maryland could make up its mind to move as soon as Monday. If it happens it could once again set off a harried version of musical chairs throughout BCS conferences, and the Big 12 will find itself contemplating expansion a lot sooner than expected.