Published November 20, 2014
Rutgers doesn't have much of a championship tradition, to put it mildly. Its stadium doesn't seat 100,000 -- more like half that. And it's not exactly driveable to Iowa City, unless you've got 17 hours to kill.
But the school makes more sense in the Big Ten than you may think.
As the Big Ten Conference considers adding as many as five schools -- expansion will be the buzz surrounding the conference's meetings this week in Chicago -- a name that keeps coming up is Rutgers, the oft-derided state university of New Jersey.
At first glance, next to historically stronger sports schools the conference might consider, such as Nebraska, Pittsburgh and Missouri (let alone Notre Dame, the most natural fit), the potential choice of Rutgers seems misguided, even cynical.
Rutgers' attractiveness is based almost entirely on its proximity to the massive New York television market -- a notoriously pro sports-obsessed audience that won't necessarily tune in to Big Ten games just because Rutgers has joined the conference.
"Just because the Big Ten has a lot of appeal in the Midwest doesn't automatically mean they would in the Northeast," says former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, whom the Big East, Rutgers' current conference, tapped as a consultant in the wake of the Big Ten's expansion talk.
Even Rutgers boosters and partisans aren't totally sold on bolting for the Big Ten -- which, in terms of visibility and academics, should be a no-brainer.
They fret about the cost of moving (the Big East has a $5 million exit fee), the thought of conference games in irrelevant, inaccessible places and, of course, whether the Scarlet Knights would be out of their depth.
But the financial benefits -- both for the Big Ten and for Rutgers -- are overwhelming. Ratings aren't what's relevant, say TV-industry experts; it's the potential for the Big Ten Network, a cable network that shows conference sports, to extract subscriber fees from the roughly nine million cable subscribers in the tri-state area.
Those fees wouldn't equal the roughly 75 cents the network now gets for each customer in the Big Ten area, but even if it gets half that, the Big Ten could significantly enhance the $220 million in total revenue it currently shares among its members.
From the Big Ten's point of view, "adding Rutgers makes all the sense in the world," says Rick Gentile, a former CBS Sports executive producer.
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