Trouncing The Newbies

Yesterday Ohio State crushed Rutgers, 56-17, in a game that was out of hand by the second quarter.  Ohio State rolled up more than 580 yards of offense, had a 35-7 halftime lead, was ahead 56-10 after three quarters, and then took its foot off the gas pedal.

IMG_4991The game was an important win for the Buckeyes, and not just because they need to win every remaining game by convincing margins if they hope to have a chance to play in the first college football playoff this year.  No, the game also was important for one of those reasons that sports fans understand intuitively, but non-sports fans will never fully grasp:  Rutgers is a new member of the Big Ten, and therefore it was essential that Ohio State crush them like a bug on their first visit to the Horseshoe.

You see, there is such a thing as conference pride.  The Big Ten has become a whipping boy in the national press for laying eggs in big out-of-conference games, but we can only imagine the sneers and snickers and sarcasm from the ESPN talking heads if one of the newbies won the conference championship during their first year as a member.  We simply can’t let that happen.  Ohio State has held up its end of the bargain, administering thorough beat-downs to both Rutgers and Maryland. Now we’ll hope that the other members of the Old Conference follow through, too.

The New Big Ten

Today I was invited to Ohio State’s homecoming game.  What traditional Big Ten team is the opponent this year?  That’s right — Rutgers.  Wait, what?

Oh, yeah.  Ugh.  This is the year the Big Ten adds the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the Maryland Terrapins to the conference.  I don’t know whether Ohio State will be any good this year — I’ll write something about that later this week — but I know that Rutgers and Maryland aren’t likely to increase the Buckeyes’ strength of schedule any.  Last year the Scarlet Knights were 6-7 in whatever conference they were in (was it the Big East?) and the Terrapins were a hardy 7-6 in the ACC.  Will they be any better this year?  Heck if I know, but I do know that a homecoming game against Rutgers doesn’t exactly get the blood pumping.

I get what the Big Ten is doing.  College sports these days is all about money, and money flows from TV revenue.  The Big Ten wants the Big Ten Network to be carried on the cable packages in the big media markets on the East Coast, and it also hopes to increase sales of jerseys, hats, and other paraphernalia.  Does that mean lots of New Yorkers and inside-the-Beltway types will decide to watch Big Ten football this year and wear Big Ten gear?  I doubt it — unless they’re alums and were going to be watching the games, anyway.  I’m not sure that New Yorkers pay any attention whatsoever to college football, and the main sport in D.C. is politics.  But there’s probably enough Big Ten alums in the two markets to make cable companies include the Big Ten Network, and that’s what matters.

I think adding Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten is lame, and when I see the devious looking Maryland Terrapin sporting the Big Ten logo, as in the illustration accompanying this post, I cringe.  They may make a lot of money through this expansion, but they’ve really undercut the tradition in a conference that had a tradition second to none.  No amount of money is worth that.

 

Big Ten, Big Money, Big Changes

This week the Big Ten announced that, beginning in 2014, Rutgers and Maryland will join the conference.  That will bring the number of schools to 14 — and many people think the Big Ten is likely to add two more teams to end up at an even 16, with two eight-team divisions.  The pundits are talking about North Carolina, Kansas, Georgia Tech, and other schools as potential candidates.

One of the traditional Ohio State fight songs — Across the Field — ends with the line “so let’s win that old conference now.”   Thanks to Commissioner Jim Delany, it’s not the old conference anymore.  With the addition of Nebraska, and now Rutgers and Maryland, what used to be a northern, Midwestern conference now stretches from Nebraska to the Atlantic Ocean and from northern Minnesota to below the Mason-Dixon line.  Everyone knows, too, that the expansion is all about money.  The Big Ten wants access to the New York City and Washington, D.C. TV and fan base markets and believes that adding Rutgers and Maryland will provide that access.  Rutgers and Maryland are joining because they will get far more money from the Big Ten than they would from the Big East and the Atlantic Coast Conference, respectively.

What does it mean for Big Ten fans?  Sure, it means Big Ten teams will play schools who aren’t traditional powerhouses or traditional rivals — but Ohio State already does that, with its preseason schedule and with perennial Big Ten doormats like Indiana.  Rutgers and Maryland may not be top 20 football programs, but neither are most of the teams the Buckeyes play in their “pre-season” schedule.  If the addition of more teams means that the Big Ten schedule gets extended  and Ohio State loses a few games against the likes of San Diego State, I’m not going to cry about it.  The only problem I would have is if expansion causes Ohio State to not play Michigan every year, or puts the Buckeyes in a division featuring a bunch of new eastern teams.

What does this mean for college football?  I wonder how, with everyone chasing the almighty dollar, NCAA members can continue the pretense that college athletics is just about sacred concepts of amateur competition.  College football and, to a lesser extent, college basketball generate huge amounts of money — amounts so huge, in fact, that universities will abandon conferences they’ve belonged to for decades to get a bigger piece of the pie.  College football is saturated with TV money, product tie-ins, merchandising deals, sponsors, and other revenue generators.

So how can the NCAA justify suspending student-athletes who (in the recent case involving Ohio State) sell memorabilia for a few thousand dollars or a few free tattoos?  At some point, will someone choke on the hypocrisy?