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Big Ten's Empire state of mind

After reaching deals with two cable giants, the Big Ten is well on its way to locking down New York and additional revenue.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

For decades, Big Ten decision-making has always accounted for tradition — the backbone of the conference’s 120-year lineage. Yet this unwavering persistence, even in the face of categorical change within the college athletics framework, leaves Big Ten officials re-evaluating their decidedly antiquated motivating factors.

The conference has accordingly undergone quite the face lift in recent years, beginning with Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and the Board of Presidents unanimously approving the addition of Nebraska in 2010. And while college football purists shuddered at the unprecedented change, the impetus behind the deal was simple: to bolster revenues and reap the windfall from the conference’s newest golden goose, the Big Ten Network.

That’s why it should come as no surprise that the Big Ten is set to expand again, adding Rutgers and Maryland to the conference’s existing 12-school roster. From a purely sports standpoint, the deal is peculiar — not only does it water down competition with two middling programs, but it also creates a geographic headache by adding teams outside of the conference’s long-established stomping grounds.

But to knock the realignment strategy misses the ultimate goal: dollars. And more specifically: New York City dollars, which is exactly what the addition of two east coast programs accomplishes:

“Mark Silverman, president of the Big Ten Network, confirmed Monday that the network had reached a deal with Time Warner Cable and Cablevision to broadly distribute its channel to the millions of homes in the market. . . . Silverman also said he is optimistic that a deal will be reached with the third cable giant – Comcast – before the football season.” –The New Jersey Star-Ledger

The sheer size of the New York metropolitan market alone ensures the Big Ten will pocket tens of millions of dollars through this strategic expansion. And those estimates may be just the tip of the iceberg, as the Rutgers/Maryland additions could potentially unlock the entire Eastern seaboard for Big Ten Network penetration. Unwavering tradition and the folklore surrounding the timelessness of sport will always have their place. Yet even the Big Ten Conference, one of the most change-resistant entities in all of college athletics, knows an offer it can’t refuse when it sees one.

After all, we’re talking about New York City. And if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

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