Rutgers University announced on Nov. 20 its departure from the Big East Conference for the Big Ten Conference, a declaration made on the heels of the University of Maryland’s decision to join the Big Ten. The move, which will take effect in 2014, will expand the Big Ten to 14 teams and leave the Big East and Atlantic Coast Conferences looking for teams to fill the new voids. Rutgers students and athletic fans were ecstatic at the news, and the Empire State Building even lit up red last Thursday to cheer the Scarlet Knights for their home game against the University of Louisville Cardinals.
However, the New Jerseyan university’s decision is a mistake because it is fueled mostly by greed and ignores college sports tradition. It will only spark the departure of other universities from their conferences for unscrupulous reasons.
Rutgers’ move only makes it harder for college athletes and fans, who are already stressed with busy schedules. Nearby trips to Big East schools, such as St. John’s University in Queens and Villanova University and Temple University in the Philadelphia area, will turn into long journeys to face off against Big Ten schools, such as the University of Iowa and the University of Nebraska. The school’s football program already has charter planes, which make the thousands of miles less daunting, but other squads — the women’s soccer team, for example — have far fewer resources.
Athletes burdened with so much travel time will have less time to study, feasibly resulting in a substantial drop-off in the graduate rates of collegiate athletes. Fans will also have to suffer, as attending away games will cause a major strain on their time and resources.
Furthermore, the Scarlet Knights’ level of competition does not warrant a departure from the Big East. The football team has reached a bowl game six times since 2005, but former head coach Greg Schiano, who completely transformed the team, left for the NFL last year. Other teams, especially the basketball squad, have performed considerably worse. The men’s basketball team has not had a winning season since 2006 and has not reached an NCAA tournament since 1991.
Rutgers will have to pay an exit fee of about $10 million, but the departure still makes sense financially. The Big Ten rakes in about $18 million more per year from television deals than the Big East. That amount is predicted to increase each year until the conference’s television contract expires in 2017. For a cash-strapped Rutgers, whose athletic department lost $26.8 million last year, the deal is alluringly lucrative. The school may, however, increase its athletic budget even more than the projected increase in revenue. As a result, subsidies to Rutgers’ athletic program may increase and taxpayers may have to pay even more to support the school’s athletic program.
SB Nation sportswriter Jared Smith said, “Rutgers is being used as a sacrificial pawn in a very expensive game of TV market chess.”
Rutgers’ transition to the Big Ten will not help its athletic program achieve more success on the field. It was a calculated move to simply increase revenue.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Dec. 4 print edition. Karthik Ramakrishnan is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.