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Thursday, June 17, 2010
Recruiting must be bigger factor in Phase 2

By Adam Rittenberg

Let it be known that I'll have no objections if the Big Ten ends its expansion study tomorrow.

The Big Ten already improved itself with the addition of Nebraska, and a 12-team structure provides the chance to have a championship game while maintaining the intimacy of a league built on long-standing rivalries. If commissioner Jim Delany and the Big Ten presidents and chancellors decide 12 is enough, so be it. I'll go back to blogging about actual football, and we'll all survive.

But the Big Ten says it will continue to examine expansion for the next year or so, and Delany could "act and act again," he said earlier this month.

So here's some advice to the league: If Phase 2 of expansion becomes a reality, make recruiting a top priority.

Nebraska adds a lot to the Big Ten: great football tradition, great fans, a program that matters nationally. But what Nebraska doesn't bring is a new area rife with recruits. According to an in-depth study by SI.com, the state of Nebraska produced only 43 BCS-conference players between 2004-08.

The Big Ten's recent recruiting challenges have been well documented, and Delany has listed the shifting population to the south as a driving force for the expansion push. The Big Ten wants alums, but more importantly, it wants access to recruits.

Texas obviously would have been a great addition for recruiting. Every Big Ten team spends some time in the Lone Star State looking for prospects. But the Longhorns aren't leaving the Big 12.

So where should the Big Ten look to improve its recruiting? Here are two possibilities:

Rutgers: Besides its location near the nation's top media market -- a potential huge boost for the Big Ten Network -- Rutgers would help the Big Ten get a better foothold in New Jersey, a very good state for high school prospects. Plenty of Big Ten programs already recruit in New Jersey, including Penn State and Wisconsin (primarily during Barry Alvarez's tenure). Having a permanent presence in the Garden State would boost Big Ten recruiting efforts there.

Maryland: The Washington D.C. and Baltimore markets appeal to the Big Ten Network, but the real benefit here could come in recruiting. Penn State has plucked top prospects from Maryland for many years, and Illinois built its recruiting success in 2006 and 2007 on a pipeline to Washington D.C. that landed players like Arrelious Benn and Vontae Davis. By adding the University of Maryland, the Big Ten would have a greater chance to reel in recruits from the state and the Beltway.

Again, the Big Ten doesn't need to add any more teams. But if there's a move to be made, it must be strategic and keep recruiting very much in mind.