The Big Ten is opening a new Eastern frontier with the additions of Maryland and Rutgers as its 13th and 14th members. When it comes to expansion, however, this is getting to be old hat for the league.
The conference just went through the expansion process three years ago with Nebraska, and commissioner Jim Delany and many of his senior staff were in place when Penn State gave the Big Ten its first Eastern toehold in 1990. So league officials expect smooth sailing when the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins come aboard on July 1.
"I think we’re in a pretty good place," Big Ten senior associate commissioner Mark Rudner told ESPN.com. "We've sort of approached Rutgers and Maryland as we approached Nebraska three years ago: we acclimate them, help them, welcome them and integrate them. And then, we really go forward and don’t look back."
Rudner said constant communication is a big key in making for a pain-free transition. Since the two schools received their official invitations in November 2012, their coaches and administrators have attended every major conference meeting and have had a voice in such things as football scheduling and division alignment, though neither school has a vote yet. Maryland and Rutgers sent their coaches and athletic directors to Big Ten meetings that were held this week in Chicago.
"It’s been a pretty intensive period of trying to acclimate them to a new culture, a new system," Rudner said. "There have been lots of questions, lots of answers and lots of collaboration."
The biggest difference in this round of expansion vs. the addition of Nebraska, Rudner said, is just that the schools are in the East this time. The Big Ten learned a lesson when it added Penn State but left the Nittany Lions on a metaphorical island. That's part of the reason the league is opening an East Coast office, which is still in the works.
Another key difference lies in the football pedigree of the two schools. Nebraska and Penn State entered the league as established powers. Rutgers and Maryland still have a lot to prove in that regard. Many doubt whether the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights will do much, if anything, to boost the Big Ten football reputation, but this move is about more than just what they bring on the field.
"In the last 10 years, both teams have certainly had measures of success in football," Rudner said. "It's hard to evaluate what kind of impact they’ll have in the short term. But I think in the long term, absolutely, it will have an impact on our football. We’re going to want to have that strong East Coast presence, and it just opens up another valuable recruiting area for Big Ten football."
Maryland fans will still have to get used to life outside the ACC, while Rutgers will be making a major step up from the American Athletic Conference. There are bound to be some bumps in the road. But Rudner doesn't think those will be hard to overcome.
"I really don’t see a whole lot of overwhelming challenges facing either them or us," he said. "Both institutions are very Big Ten-like."