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Big Ten Expansion Motivated By Fear Of Losing Penn State

Wisconsin A.D. Barry Alvarez claims part of the reason the Big Ten added Maryland and Rutgers was because they feared losing its easternmost member to an unspecified "league somewhere on the East Coast?"

Patrick Smith

The Big Ten Conference re-started the latest round of conference musical chairs back on November 19 when the conference poached Maryland from the ACC. Rutgers followed a day later on November 20. The moves -- which a majority of Big Ten fans seemed to hate -- were quickly spun as a pure financial play. The conference's ability to get the BTN carriage in two of the country's largest TV markets seemed to be the primary driver; much moreso than anything either Maryland or Rutgers have done athletically in recent years.

But wouldn't you know that part of the reason the Big Ten added Maryland and Rutgers was because they feared losing its easternmost member to an unspecified "league somewhere on the East Coast?" According to Wisconsin A.D. Barry Alvarez, anyway:

"Jim felt that someday, if we didn't have anyone else in that corridor, someday it wouldn't make sense maybe for Penn State to be in our league," Alvarez told the board, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "That they would go into a league somewhere on the East Coast. By doing that, it keeps us in the Northeast corridor."

Turns out the cat was already out of the bag. Delany seemingly backed up Alvarez's comments a month ago when asked about the prospect of losing teams to other conferences.

"But I do think that you need to build, and this build really solidifies the expansion we've done in the past. We've done one in the East, we've done one in the West [Nebraska in 2010]. I would say the driving force is demographics, but when you look at it, you can't help but think this is good for Penn State as well."

While I don't think Penn State was an immediate flight risk to jump to another league somewhere on the East Coast -- Patriot League? Big East? -- the announcement of Maryland and Rutgers joining the Big Ten was preceded by a week of internet rumors that Penn State could be looking at the ACC.

One has to appreciate the strategy behind Delany's move here. He solidifies his easternmost outpost in State College by adding two football lightweights in top 10 media markets; all while leaving the door open for future expansion (if anything, likely southeasterly in nature). This move also comes at the expense of another power conference. Specifically, one who just very publicly took Delany's Great White Whale off the board (for all sports except football and hockey).

However, Alvarez's statement on the latest round of Big Ten expansion seems to expose some flaws in Delany's logic. At the very least, it seems that the possibility of losing Penn State to the ACC forced Delany into action sooner rather than later. Had the ACC managed to convince Penn State -- as difficult a task as it may have been with the B1G's grant of rights -- the Nittany Lions would have effectively cut Delany off from future eastern expansion. Combined with Pittsburgh, the ACC would have had the Pennsylvania market on lock and made it difficult for the B1G to expand eastward without throwing any sort of geographic continuity to the winds.

Jim Delany is perceived to be a master tactician when it comes to being out in front of conference realignment; always one step ahead of everyone else. I don't see it the same way. With Alvarez's quote, it would appear that Delany's most recent moves are at least in some ways a reaction to trying to keep Penn State happy (even at the expense of other Big Ten programs). Nebraska was a solid add from a football perspective, but it wasn't like the Cornhuskers were desperately trying to escape the shadows of Bevo or anything. Add to all this Missouri's very public flirtation with the conference when Nebraska left, Notre Dame's rebuffing the conference multiple times and uncertainty about how to proceed going forward. It's hardly seems like an expansion strategy that's all that forward looking.

I say that knowing full well that Delany could snap a finger and poach two more programs from the ACC. Strong programs that you'd actually miss having around. That said, when this whole conference realignment wheel started spinning again when Colorado and Nebraska up and left the Big 12, I doubt Delany already had Nebraska, Maryland, Rutgers and two of Virginia / North Carolina / Duke / Georgia Tech / Florida State penciled into the conference.