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Adam from Houston writes: From my perspective, the rest of the B1G "Fandom" accepts the addition of Rutgers and Maryland, but is not overly thrilled about it. For the 2014 season, both play arguably the top 5 teams in the Big Ten. Rutgers gets Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin at home, and Maryland has Ohio State and Michigan State at home (Iowa is the wild card here). Overall, I see Rutgers' schedule as much more brutal than Maryland's. The B1G did the same thing to Nebraska in 2011, and stacked the top five teams into its schedule. Do you think the B1G is trying to set precedents here? That "were going to test your mettle" attitude?
Adam Rittenberg: No, I think these are separate cases, and the new division alignment has a lot to do with Rutgers' and Maryland's schedule. Nebraska's tough initiation was done in part to feature a new brand-name program against as many of the existing brand-name programs as possible. Leagues not named the NHL want to maximize their best product, especially for television. Rutgers' and Maryland's schedules are more a result of the East division, which includes three traditional powers (Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State) and an emerging power in Michigan State. Sure, Rutgers' slate looks harder, but both teams will be tested mainly because of the division.
Tim from Rochester, Mich., writes: Adam, as a 35-year MSU season ticket holder, I think one reason for shrinking attendance is -- despite AD's comments to the contrary -- the LAST person that matters is the the person who is actually sitting in the stadium. Let's face it: TV controls college football. Not just kickoff times, but kickoff DAYS! Long commercial breaks, etc. I'm not naive -- TV revenue had made most programs and conferences -- but please, ADs: Don't provide lip-service that you're concerned with the fan experience when you'd schedule a game at midnight in subzero temps if you thought it would increase viewer ratings.
Adam Rittenberg: Some fair points, Tim, although the Big Ten is less tied to TV-controlled kickoffs than, say, the Mid-American Conference or even the ACC. I agree that game days certainly lag, and that the in-stadium experience wasn't what it used to be 15-20 years ago. But athletic directors are paying attention and trying to do things to help the fans in the stands. I hope as an MSU fan, you share your concerns and suggestions with Mark Hollis, one of the best athletic directors in the business.
Justin from Madison, Wis., writes: As a student at UW-Madison, I think the main problem is that being asked to stand for 3-4 hours straight for games that are usually lopsided is unrealistic. When our home schedule includes Tennessee Tech, UMass, Indiana and Purdue, I know I would much rather enjoy the tailgates, arrive late and leave after "Jump Around." Shouldn't poor B1G scheduling be responsible for poor attendance and not the students themselves?
Adam Rittenberg: Justin, you're absolutely right that weak non-league scheduling has diluted the game-day experience for many Big Ten fans. Wisconsin has been one of the worst violators, but the Badgers have upgraded their future schedules to be more competitive for the College Football Playoff. The Big Ten's move to nine league games in 2016 also will create fewer unappealing matchups for students and other fans.
Bret from Lincoln, Neb., writes: With the discussion of student attendance, I wanted to note one of the main problems at Nebraska. The athletic department decided to issue tickets electronically on each student's ID. If a student wants to transfer a ticket, it must go through a website in which the recipient has to pay the difference between the student-priced ticket and a regular-priced ticket. This is a bit cumbersome and takes away the element of selling tickets close to game time. Therefore, if a student can't make it, they might not go through the hassle of having to sell the ticket online. The old standard paper ticket worked far more effectively.
Adam Rittenberg: Bret, I've heard from Iowa fans expressing similar complaints about the school's student-ticket resale policy. Schools would like to see students sitting in the student section, but empty seats look bad, too. Isn't someone sitting there -- student or no student -- better than no one, even if it costs the school an extra cut? Given the amount of money Big Ten schools will make from the next TV contract, I wonder if the stadium revenue will matter just a little less.
James from Memphis writes: Adding a school near New York City and another near Washington, D.C., will make the Big Ten national in a sense. But as almost nobody in the South respects Big Ten football, and the South dominates the sport, and as neither Maryland nor Rutgers has a snowball's chance in hell of averaging even 50,000 fans per game (unless, perhaps, Penn State and Ohio State visit in the same season), isn't this expansion likely to make the Big Ten fall even further behind the SEC in football quality and national respect? Is that the reason we have seen a rather desperate flurry of (often new) Big Ten posters on the Internet swearing that the ACC is a dead man walking and then the Big Ten will move fully into the South, and then the SEC will tremble?
Adam Rittenberg: I don't think much can make the SEC tremble, James. I also don't think the Big Ten expansion rumors regarding ACC programs, however unfounded, are going away. Maryland and Rutgers in all likelihood won't help the Big Ten catch the SEC. It's still about the existing product and programs such as Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska recapturing their old form. Maryland and Rutgers broaden the league footprint, expand the brand and possibly boost recruiting in fertile areas. But it still comes down to the bigger programs getting it done when it matters most.