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College athletics expansion involves many factors

Steve Politi thinks the Rutgers football program deserves some of the blame for the athletic department still seeming to be stuck in limbo (unless the Big XII comes calling) in conference reshuffling. It's correct that if Rutgers hadn't underachieved the past few years, they would be in a much better position. They clearly do not have total control over their own destiny. However, Pittsburgh and Syracuse haven't exactly lit the league on fire during the same time span. Syracuse has been, on average, the worst football team in the Big East post-ACC raid. Rutgers was more successful than Pitt in league play from '05-'08 (17-11 vs. 14-14), and in fact won the second-most league games after WVU in that period. Tthe regrettable Kirk Ciarrocca tenure skewed things in Pitt's favor (21-21 vs. 24-18) when adding in the past two seasons.

Rutgers football has technically been around longer than anyone else, but the program wasn't competing at the equivalent of the FBS level until the late 70s. Like it or not, they're more at the mercy of small-sample size blips than most other programs around the country are. Football is driving conference expansion, but that is as a proxy for television contracts, and different leagues have different priorities. Pittsburgh was clearly an attractive expansion candidate in a vacuum, but added little value to the Big Ten due to Penn State already being a member. West Virginia makes some sense for the SEC (as would Louisville, if not for Kentucky blocking their path to membership.) If the Big East's all-sports programs didn't hold inherent value, there wouldn't be so many television dollars up for grabs. Contrary to public perception, everybody isn't merely jockeying for the last warmed-over steak at the local Sizzler's buffet here.

The Big Ten added Nebraska because it fit their model of guaranteed revenue growth, with 100% certainty that every cable company in their state would add the Big Ten Network. The Big Ten chose Nebraska over gambling with Rutgers. Then, as (possibly) now, the Big XII deciding to stick together at the eleventh hour diminished RU's. If the super conference scenarios come into play, Rutgers not only is a valuable commodity, as Tim Pernetti articulated to Mike Francesa yesterday, but also is a player if only by default to give the ACC and Big Ten leverage for their other desired goals (forcing Notre Dame's hand, capturing the New York City television market, etc...) Yes, Rutgers athletics has been a perennial underachiever since 1869we know. They haven't been total rubbish either, and anyone who thinks otherwise hasn't been paying attention. Ceiling and potential still matter even if yet unrealized, as should be evident to anyone who has even spent a modicum of time following any level of sports.

The ACC has certainly not devolved into Big East-style disarray, but basketball is a little bit higher on their priorities list than it is for the Big Ten. They acknowledge that factors like football and television revenue play a vital role, but basketball isn't a complete afterthought for them. Ultimately, Tobacco Road couldn't resist adding a national power in Syracuse, or one of the winning-est programs of the past decade with Pittsburgh. Rutgers fans certainly have reason to be optimistic for the future under Mike Rice Jr., of finally realizing the program's long-dormant promise, but that's certainly a long ways off from Syracuse's dominance or even Pitt's sustained success on the court. For now, the guys in Scarlet will have to manage with fending off Providence's zebras any way they can. Someone has to pick up the physical slack with Pitt and Cuse heading for the door.