College football has been on a wave of non-stop realignment over the last two years, and the dominoes continued to fall with the Big Ten’s addition of Rutgers. Maryland was announced as the Big Ten’s 13th team on Monday, while the Scarlet Knights will join as team No. 14 in 2014.
Just as the Big Ten did with Maryland, picking up Rutgers adds another team in a valuable television market. The Scarlet Knights won’t completely bring in the New York City television market but it certainly helps to have a team within 100 miles of the city.
In addition to a prime location, another reason Rutgers was an attractive candidate for Big Ten expansion has the improvement on the gridiron. The Scarlet Knights went 15-63 from 1996-2002 but are 65-34 in their last eight seasons. Former coach Greg Schiano did a good job of rebuilding the program, while new coach Kyle Flood has done a good job of maintaining that success in 2012.
What’s Next for the Big East?
Rutgers’ decision to leave is another blow for the Big East. The conference is losing Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the ACC in 2013, while West Virginia left for the Big 12 for the 2012 season.
To offset the losses of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, the Big East added UCF, Memphis, SMU, Houston, Boise State, San Diego State and Temple as its new football members. Temple joined in time for 2012, while all of the others were scheduled to join for 2013. Navy is expected to join the Big East in 2015.
The conference was planning on going with a 12-team alignment in 2013, with UCF, South Florida, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Rutgers and Louisville in the East Division and Boise State, Houston, Memphis, San Diego State, SMU and Temple headlining the West Division.
However, all of those plans are on hold after Rutgers’ departure.
Not only is the Big East losing another member, the departure of Rutgers will be felt in the pocketbook. Although the Scarlet Knights may not completely capture the New York City market, it’s an important bargaining chip in television contract negotiations.
Before jumping into realignment scenarios, this is an important question to consider: Can the Big East stick together?
It’s no secret the ACC is going to expand to a 14th team. Is that Louisville or Connecticut? Could the ACC take both and Cincinnati to get to 16 teams? Nothing is off the table at this point.
If the Big East loses Louisville or Connecticut, the conference isn’t finished but it could force Boise State and San Diego State to rethink its future. The Broncos and Aztecs could head back to the Mountain West, which would be a huge blow to the Big East.
Here’s a few possible replacements for Rutgers in the Big East, as well as any team that leaves for the ACC:
Army: The Big East has expressed some interest in the past in getting the three service academies into the conference. However, the Black Knights would likely struggle to be consistently competitive in the conference.
East Carolina: The location is a negative, but the Pirates have good fan support and has five winning seasons out of the last seven years. Although the Big East needs to add to its Western footprint, the Pirates would be an addition to replace Rutgers in the East Division, provided the conference doesn’t want to move Temple.
UMass: The Minutemen are just in their first season of FBS play but would help to replace some of the Northeast presence lost by Rutgers. UMass would need some time to be competitive in football and plays its games at Gillette Stadium.
Or…More Western Expansion?
If the Big East wants to keep Boise State and San Diego State in the conference, adding more teams out west is probably a must.
How about UNLV or Fresno State? Both programs would probably have to find somewhere to park its non-football sports but would help to add to the Western footprint of the conference. Outside of UNLV and Fresno State, Air Force and Tulsa might be the only two other viable candidates to pickup from another conference.
There’s no question the biggest prize is BYU. However, the Cougars seem to be happy with their independence, and the instability of the Big East has to be a concern for BYU. Although the money and access to bowls would be better in a conference, it’s hard to see the Cougars giving up their independence anytime soon.
Needless to say, the Big East has to be concerned about the departure of Rutgers and the potential loss of Connecticut or Louisville to the ACC. The conference can survive if it loses two teams. However, losing San Diego State and Boise State back to the Mountain West would be a significant setback.
Needless to say, college football realignment isn't going away anytime soon.
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