As the Big East turns

When Memphis hired former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese as a consultant several months back, I was immediately terrified that he'd use his nefarious Providence (ugh, the very mention of that albatross around the Big East's neck makes me shudder) connections to grease the skids for Memphis's entry to the Big East, despite them bringing nothing to the table despite vague promises of FedEx sponsorship. So on that note, it was ressuring to learn last week that Tranghese remains as ineffectual (ht: Pitt Blather) as he was during his regrettable tenure with the Big East. That was some money well spent. Good times.

After that dose of anti-Memphis vitriol, you may wonder how exactly Rutgers fans can turn around and talk about Big Ten expansion despite overwhelming public skepticism about their viability as a candidate? Good question. It was interesting reading all the reactions around the 'net to Teddy Greenstein's big story last week. It seemed like everybody else was going aploptetic, floored by the news that Rutgers was even under consideration, much less the leading candidate. On the flipside of that, Rutgers fans were almost nonchalant (which, certainly owed much to how frequently the topic has been debated to death on our side in recent years) and completely self-assured about it. "Of course Rutgers was the most desirable option. How could anyone possibly think otherwise?"

Here's why I and others reacted that way. The concept of Big Ten expansion has always been driven by money, and only money, and anyone dismissing Rutgers isn't grasping that point (and, are usually spouting an array of untruths and misconceptions that are driving me up the damn wall). Big television contracts depend on football and market size above all other factors. That's why I've always considered Rutgers to be the most appealing candidate if Notre Dame wasn't interested, and Teddy Greenstein and other journalists have suggested that the Big Ten is of the same mindset.

There's no need for any concern on the money front. If Rutgers is announced as joining the Big Ten in the near future, everyone can rest assured that the Big Ten Network will be carried on basic cable in New Jersey. That was always a given. Furthermore, I posit that if/when a deal happens, it'll coincide with the announcement that the BTN is going on basic cable tiers in Time Warner and Cablevision systems on the other side of the Hudson. If Rutgers can deliver NYC, they'll be joining, and if they can't, they won't. Here's Mike Reynolds from Cable trades mag Multichannel News (I recommend reading the entire article, and the other stuff I've posted here in the past about bundling and such):

"I think it would only enhance your payout if your were able to get Rutgers or another school in a decent media market into the mix. If you get the predominant cable operators there to pony up for an expanded fee? That [extra annual profit of] $4 million is going to jump."

There's some really great stuff in the companion piece to that in the Patriot News, regarding television ratings, and this juicy historical tidbit.

Few people outside of New Jersey realize it but Rutgers has been chasing this Big Ten dream for more than two decades now. Officials at the school actually got wind of Penn State's imminent invitation to the conference even before the league's athletics directors and coaches were told on December 15, 1989. They quickly prepared and stealthily distributed to Big Ten presidents a glossy brochure entitled: "Advantage: Rutgers," detailing advances the influential alumni, academic standing and New York media base of "The State University of New Jersey" could provide.

Need another source? Here you go, although it's at odds with the other one in a major respect.

When Penn State joined the conference in 1990, Illinois president Stanley Ikenberry tried to persuade other university leaders to invite Pitt, Syracuse and Rutgers as well, according to a highly placed administrator at one of the Big Ten schools.

Ikenberry was unavailable for comment, an Illinois spokesman said.

But chancellors and presidents rejected the other three schools because -- unlike Penn State -- Pitt, Syracuse and Rutgers were not considered academic peers to the other Big Ten schools when comparing research income, graduate programs, endowment, libraries and museums, the source said.

Now, I forget who exactly posted this 1994 article about the previous dalliance between Rutgers and the Big Ten last week on Rivals, but that's some seriously mind-blowing stuff when you look at it in retrospect (and that piece spurred me to do some further Google News digging yesterday). You can direct all the requisite blame towards Fred Gruninger and Terry Shea for letting football tank.

Yet, when conversation focuses on changing the map of college sports, Rutgers has become huge. Rutgers, in the words of one conference commissioner, has turned into the "prettiest girl at the dance."

If the Big 10 decides to expand, it is expected to look out East at Rutgers.

That was in the context over the ongoing power struggle between the all sports and basketball-only schools in the Big East. It eventually blew up in Mike Tranghese's face seven years ago, and those troubles continue to linger to this day. Yes, apparently the Big East was terrified of losing Rutgers to the Big Ten (RU was reported as the top candidate along with Pitt in 1989) which spurred invitations for RU and West Virginia in order to momentarily stave off the crisis. Temple and Virginia Tech would not be so lucky.

This is crazy. Seriously, look at all of the rounds of headlines from 1989 and 1994, which puts the current round of expansion hysteria to shame. All sorts of crazy rumors were abound, like Florida State and South Carolina joining a proposed Eastern Seaboard League, or the Big East dropping football entirely, with BC/Pitt/Syracuse heading to the ACC (essentially, Tranghese's aborted secret 1998 plan). I'm rocking myself back and forth here with my brains splattered all over the ceiling. If by some reason you're still sane and lucid after all of that, the only conceivable conclusion is that the Rutgers athletic department needs needs to be decisive about securing its future. That is, if only the hell-demons of Providence will let them.

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