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Joe Paterno is free.

More precisely, he's at the point in his career where he is no longer bound to the will of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney, or even his own half hearted denials from last week.

Paterno said he'd like the Big Ten to add an Eastern school, especially one that plays in the New York media market. That would seem to favor Rutgers.

"If I had my choice, someone that can give us the biggest TV exposure in the East," Paterno said, offering as possibilities "Syracuse, Pitt, Rutgers. Not in that order."

It could always be Army.

I haven't posted much about the possibility of joining the Big Ten for two major reasons. The odds are still against expansion for one thing. That means a bunch of pointless speculation about something that probably won't happen, which will, inevitably, descend into a sparring match between fans of the three schools. Additionally, I despise the Big Ten, and am sickened by the fact that RU's perilous financial situation would probably force its hand in the unlikely case that this scenario would ever come to fruition. I like discussing this topic about as much as I like replaying game tape from last September. But hey, offseason, so here goes nothing.

If expansion were to happen, it'd be driven by the prospect of increased football television revenues. The way I see it, only Notre Dame (the team that Paterno specifically counsels against adding) or a team that has the chance to bring along a lot of television eyeballs translate into more green in Big Ten pockets, and more Northwestern women's volleyball on your screen. That's a quick lesson from following college football: it's a business, and the bottom line will ultimately drive decisions. B10 coaches may want to add a twelth team, and Delaney might too, but it'd have to make fiscal sense.

"Now, over the last four years or so, we've talked about it two different times. And we talked specifically about a couple of schools. But we didn't go any further than that. I know in one case a school showed interest and backed out. In another case, a school showed a little interest (in the Big Ten). But after discussion, we weren't very interested."

Make no mistake though: there is a miniscule chance of any of this happening. Rutgers is a member of the Big East, will continue to be a member of the Big East, and most importantly, belongs in the Big East. It's a joke that teams like Penn State and Boston College play outside of their geographic footprint. By computer models, Big East football has actually been stronger over the past few years, which makes me chuckle a bit when Penn State fans mock Rutgers and the Big East. It's been a lousy football conference ever since Michigan went to hell, and the notion that any Big East team (well, maybe Cincinnati) would instantly jump at a conference invitation demonstrates a profound level of unfounded arrogance.

You know the contempt the rest of the country has for New York and New Jersey? Well, two can play the cultural stereotypes game. From our perspective, the midwest is just a random scattering of cornfields, rust, and meth labs. They've got the CIC and a boatload of research dollars. Rutgers aspires more along the lines of Princeton, Columbia, NYU, and other snobbish East Coast schools in the BosWash corridor. What's the appeal of playing meaningless games against teams Rutgers has no history with for fake trophies (and letting those teams back into NJ for recruiting purposes)? Oh, right. Money.

Getting an invitation from the Big Ten is a little like getting an invitation from OPEC. Oh, it's flattering all right. It should also make you sick to your stomach. Don't get me wrong: the Big Ten isn't the SEC. Nor do they brazenly display Snidely Whiplash-levels of greed and incompetence as the ACC under John Swafford has. B10 schools (mostly) play by the rules, their athletes go to class, and they have fantastic fan support. The latter in particular translates into cold hard cash, and is why their teams (and Notre Dame) are overmatched every year in bowl games that they don't deserve to be in.

No, what I despise about the conference is that it is a cartel, with the primary intention of capturing as much revenue as humanly possible. This is not just limited to their fans; cable subscribers around the midwest all have to contribute whether they like it or not (just as anyone in the New York City area must regrettably subsidize the Yankees and Mets). A playoff system would distribute revenue more evenly, which is why Delaney and the Big Ten are the chief holdup to one, and why they're just fine, thank you, with the current convoluted bowl setup.

My message to the subset of Rutgers fans who continually fantasize about jumping to the Big Ten is to hold your guns. If you still have dollar signs in your eyes, give it a couple years and see where things are at down the road. The Big East was left for dead in 2004, and emerged stronger than ever as a result. The conference fell off a bit in 2008, but the future's still bright. A better bowl lineup down the road would quell a lot of Rutgers anger at the conference, as RU has continually drawn the short stick for the past three years.

As a side note, everything I've said here is null and void if the BE conference leadership continues to carry water for the basketball-only schools, and the role of commissioner seemingly continues to be reserved for the Providence College athletic department. Joining the Big Ten may be a rotten idea, but slaving away to preserve the current, absolutely broken sixteen team monstrosity setup is arguably much, much worse.