In a quick turn of events, the 12-team Big Ten is planning on expanding to 14 teams with the additions of Maryland and Rutgers. The expansion is a reminder of what happened over a year ago when the SEC added Texas A&M and Missouri. There are a few comparable aspects of the expansion and several differences.
Similarities: Maryland is leaving the ACC and Rutgers is leaving the Big East because the Big Ten is a better football conference with more economic opportunity. The ACC is becoming a top-heavy conference competitively and the Big East commissioner might need a crash course in American geography after the football additions of Boise State and San Diego State. Texas A&M and Missouri left in 2011 for the most competitive football conference in America. The Big 12 was poorly run by former commissioner Dan Bebee and the Aggies and Tigers were the third and fourth schools to leave the conference in a year and a half.
There is another similarity between Maryland and Texas A&M. Notre Dame recently moved to the ACC for every sport other than football, and part of the deal was the Irish would play five ACC opponents per season. Maryland may have thought Notre Dame was threat as a school that will get most of the attention in the conference. Getting out of the shadow of a bigger program is why Texas A&M departed the Big 12. Texas was becoming even more powerful with the Longhorn Network and the Aggies jumped at the opportunity to create a new identity.
Differences: The SEC added two above average football programs in Texas A&M and Missouri. The Aggies are proving it this season with a 9-2 record, currently ranked No. 9 in the BCS. There’s a chance they will be even better next season. Missouri is having a subpar season in their first year in the SEC, but have done well in recent years. It was just five years ago that the Tigers were ranked No. 1 in the BCS going into the Big 12 Championship Game. Between the four-year span of 2007 and 2010, the Tigers accumulated 40 wins. Maryland and Rutgers are mediocre football programs. It will take better recruiting and a great coaching job at each school to make them competitive in the Big Ten.
The SEC added Texas A&M and Missouri for athletics – it was a bonus that they were able to get increased coverage in markets like Houston, St. Louis and Kansas City. For the Big Ten, one of the main purposes for inviting Maryland and Rutgers was to get a footprint on the East Coast. Maryland is close to Washington D.C. and Rutgers might gauge interest from people in New York City. Both Washington D.C. and New York City are big time professional sports markets, so it will be intriguing to see if the Big Ten would get a large increase in interest from those areas.
What’s next: When Texas A&M and Missouri left, the Big 12 replaced the two schools with TCU and West Virginia. What is the next domino to fall with the Big Ten expansion? Will UConn or Louisville get a look from the ACC? How about the SEC continuing to add and bringing in Clemson and/or Florida State? Does this latest piece of conference expansion make four 16-team super conferences inevitable? Only time will tell.