While Rutgers is the birthplace of college football, the Scarlet Knights have had a bumpy ride into bigtime football going from the Big East to the AAC and finally to the Big Ten. The Big Ten was always the goal for Rutgers, not just for what it could do for the Rutgers brand, but also for the revenue and prestige that it would and has brought to our university.
But for us alumni who still can remember Rutgers having the reputation as a quasi-Ivy league school, retaining its reputation as a first-rate academic institution and football program that does things the “right way” still means a great deal. And that is why for so many of us, the Big Ten was the perfect landing spot.
But now in a closely guarded secret that rivaled the Manhattan Project, Texas and Oklahoma are moving over to the SEC, a conference that in many ways is antithetical to the Big Ten. This is a tectonic move, that no doubt has set the college football world on its heels and makes the SEC the unquestioningly premier college football conference. It might now be argued that this move sets the SEC on a level of some divisions in the NFL.
And while the college football world must begrudgingly give the SEC its due, many fans of other schools and conferences have an uneasy feeling about these recent events. Personally, many fans who do not live and die by the SEC have watched some of the things that go on in that conference with a vague sense that they need to take a shower after observing some of their practices.
So now that the SEC is forcing the Big Ten’s hand; so, what direction should the Big Ten go? The clearest and best choice is of course Notre Dame. Love them or hate them, the Fighting Irish check all the boxes. But as most pundits have pointed out, the chance of Notre Dame joining the Big Ten is small at best. They are committed to the ACC until 2035 and seem to ultimately want to maintain its football independence.
So does the Big Ten look to Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Baylor? While Kansas and Iowa State fit the requirement of being members of the Association of American Universities (AAU) that is composed of America’s leading research universities, none of these programs give me a warm and fuzzy feeling. They are possibly revenue producers, but do they strengthen the Big Ten brand?
So how does the Big Ten retain its reputation while remaining competitive? I would argue that if the Big Ten must expand to a minimum of 16 teams, some out-of-the-box thinking is in order. If Notre Dame turns the Big Ten down, what about North Carolina and Virginia? Like Rutgers, their football programs would have to be built up, but other than that, they do check most of the other boxes. Some other possibilities could be Colorado, Stanford, and Vanderbilt?
Yes, all these suggestions come with their own issues such as poaching, geographical proximity etc. But with the recent change to college athletes now being able to benefit monetarily from their efforts and the Texas and Oklahoma moves, the college football landscape we have known it is soon to be a thing of the past.
The name of the game is money and maybe it has always been that, but now it is out in the open. As a Rutgers alum and fan, I hope whatever direction the Big Ten goes, that it somehow does not lose its soul in the process.