While pondering Bill OBriens noncommittal answers regarding his future at Penn State, the following story surfaced across multiple media outlets:
Maryland and Rutgers are in discussions to join the Big Ten.
Theres around $24.6 million reasons why adding the Eastern schools makes perfect or little sense. The above total is the amount 11 member schools receive from the conference. Nebraska, which joined the conference in 2011, isnt yet eligible to receive a full share of revenue.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delanys name incites varied responses in central Pennsylvania. Whether one loathes, detests or respects Delany, the man does more homework than a 10th-grader taking four advancement placement courses.
He has studied the Baltimore-Washington television market. He knows New York City Nielsen ratings tendencies as well as he knows Midwest airports and interstates.
If Delany thinks his conference can draft 14 checks exceeding $25 million without one bouncing, then Maryland and Rutgers join the league.
But does adding Maryland and Rutgers strengthen the Big Ten? Several media outlets are reporting Maryland Regents will discuss the matter today.
Any discussions involving conference expansion begins with football, so lets examine the conferences recent moves.
Penn State joined the conference as a football member in 1993. Adding the Nittany Lions raised the leagues profile, bringing a school with major fan, academic, alumni and media followings to the mix.
The move also marked a step toward the creation of the Big Ten Network, which launched in 2007. The BTN isnt as lucrative, or viable, without a Pennsylvania presence.
Penn State quickly combined with Ohio State and Michigan to form a powerful triumvirate. The programs are among the sports biggest draws, regularly leading the nation in attendance and television ratings.
Adding Nebraska further boosted the leagues football profile. Watching the Cornhuskers represents entertainment options 1a, 1b and 1c throughout the Great Plains, thus a remarkable sellout streak that reached 235 consecutive games this past weekend.
Scoring Cornhuskers tickets might be as difficult as stopping the offenses coach Tom Osborne developed in the 1990s. Osborne falls into the same legendary coaching category as Joe Paterno, Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler. The quartet gives the BTN a chance to create engaging programming to keep viewers interested from January to July.
The football numbers, both in their stadiums and record books, dont suggest adding Maryland and Rutgers changes the football landscape.
Marylands all-time record is 617-552-43. Rutgers is 626-608-43. Neither school ranks among the nations top 40 in average attendance this season. The schools are averaging a combined 84,489 fans per game. Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska average more than 85,000 fans per game on their own. Rutgers, which improved to 9-1 this past week, is playing at 92.4 per capacity, but its stadium holds just 52,454 fans.
Both schools own pedestrian football traditions.
Bear Bryant coached Maryland in 1945 before leaving for Kentucky. His lone Maryland team went 6-2-1, a sample so small nobody in the BTN offices will consider making Bryant a part of its Big Ten Icons series.
H.C. Curly Byrd leads Maryland with 119 victories, and Ralph Friedgen won 75 games from 2001-10. Successful coaches? Absolutely. Are they people that viewers in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Decatur, Ill., want to spend a Wednesday night learning more about? No.
Rutgers has less football history, although Greg Schiano reinvigorated the program before fleeing to the NFL after last season. But nobody in the Midwest wants to spend weeknights hearing stories of past Rutgers clashes with Temple and Syracuse.
The initial thought when Blue White Illustrated publisher Phil Grosz first reported the possibility of Maryland joining the Big Ten: Does the Baltimore-Washington market care enough about Maryland football to make this worthwhile for the conference? The same question exists with Rutgers in New York City.
For Penn State, the additions would eliminate its geographic isolation and give fans a chance to attend an away conference game without too long of a drive. Football recruiting might become tougher because Penn State offers Maryland and New Jersey prospects a chance to play on some of the sports biggest stages. Maryland and Rutgers will begin selling the same thing if they join the Big Ten.
Fewer checks to cut and television time to split has separated the Big Ten from other conferences jostling to remain viable. Extending invitations to Maryland and Rutgers might produce little football buzz, especially considering both schools are lodged in pro markets.
The financial reward must be awfully high if Delany is considering this move.
Guy Cipriano covers Penn State football for the Centre Daily Times and co-host of Inside The Huddle from 8 to 9 a.m. Fridays on WBLF 970. He can be reached at 231-4643 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @cdtguy on Twitter.