Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Take Two: Nebraska vs. latest expansion
By Brian Bennett and Mitch Sherman
Our crew of Big Ten reporters will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. They'll have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which one is right.
Maryland and Rutgers officially joined the Big Ten on Tuesday. That prompted celebrations in Piscataway, New Jersey, and College Park, Maryland, but more of a collective shoulder shrug elsewhere. One school's fan base seems particularly unhappy about the latest additions: Nebraska. So today's Take Two topic is this: Does Nebraska have a right to be unhappy about Maryland and Rutgers coming on board?
Take 1: Brian Bennett
You can sum up the displeasure of Huskers fans by simply pointing to Big Red's conference home schedule in 2014: Illinois, Rutgers, Purdue and Minnesota. This is not the Big Ten that Nebraska backers thought they were joining back in 2011. They thought that leaving the Big 12 for Jim Delany's league meant plenty of games against Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. Instead, they're in a division without any of those teams, and none of those three come to Lincoln before 2017 (when the Buckeyes visit Memorial Stadium). Was it really worth leaving the Big 12 for this?
Does Nebraska have a right to be unhappy about Maryland and Rutgers coming on board?
Of course, as Don Draper might say, "That's what the money is for." Then again, Nebraska doesn't receive a full share of the Big Ten's overflowing coffers until 2017, and the school couldn't have been happy to learn that Maryland would get a front-loaded deal that included much more cash right away for the Terps' strapped athletic department.
The Maryland and Rutgers move was aimed at opening up new territory for the Big Ten, to serve recruiting, future population growth and alumni along the East Coast. But as the westernmost school in the league, Nebraska stands to benefit far less from this expansion than other conference members. The Huskers haven't traditionally recruited a lot of players from the East Coast, and the school's alumni base isn't as large there as it is for other Big Ten teams.
Still, don't forget that the Big 12 was basically crumbling when Nebraska left. The Huskers will become far more financially secure in the Big Ten than they would have in the Big 12, especially when the league's huge new TV deal comes rolling in. Nebraska has been a good fit culturally in the Big Ten.
Yet I don't blame Cornhuskers supporters for being at least a little upset, especially given the scheduling distribution. The Big Ten's future parity scheduling should help a little, and hopefully a robust rivalry with Wisconsin will develop in the West Division, along with a growing interest in the Iowa series. Nebraska should enjoy what looks like a slightly easier path to the Big Ten title game every year (assuming the West Division remains less top heavy than the East), and the occasional Eastern exposure could help expand the school's brand and recruiting reach.
The Huskers actually need to win a Big Ten title in football before deciding the rest of the league is beneath them, after all. And if all else fails, Nebraska fans, remember this: at least you no longer have to mess with Texas.
Take 2: Mitch Sherman
Interesting, Brian, that you mention Texas, which still draws the ire of Nebraskans more than a lackluster slate of Big Ten home games ever could.
And the only thing as frustrating to Husker fans than Texas' hold on Nebraska from 2002 to 2010 -- six wins in six games for burnt orange -- is the Longhorns' 16-11 league record since the Huskers left for the Big Ten. Yes, Nebraska fans salivated over the sight of Texas as it hovered near .500 in Big 12 play in 2011 and 2012; they wanted nothing more than to kick UT while it was down.
In some convoluted way, perhaps, they blame the Big Ten for robbing the Huskers of that chance. Now, the entry of Maryland and Rutgers has taken from Nebraska the chance to kick Michigan while it's down -- something the Huskers, their fan base and their Ohio State-bred coach enjoyed in 2012 and 2013.
It's not that simple, though. If Ohio State or Iowa want to get nostalgic and hold a grudge against the Big Ten newbies for disrupting their fall festival, go for it. But Nebraska has no room to groan.
The Huskers landed in this league, way back in 2011, as an agent of change. The Big Ten secured Nebraska's financial future. Three years later, you might say the Huskers sold their soul to Delany. Sure, they're making lots of money and poised to make even more.
The football team continues to win nine games annually, but when is an October meeting with Rutgers or Maryland going to feel natural?
Look at a map. It's Nebraska, not the newcomers, that is most geographically isolated in the Big Ten. Delany planned all along that the addition of Nebraska marked only the start to his new era of change.
Did he sell the Huskers and their fans false hope, with the promise of every-other-season trips to the Big House and the renewal of a once-bitter rivalry with Penn State? Not anymore than Rutgers or Maryland wrecked it all.
This is an age of change in college athletics. More is coming, even if conference expansion has halted. Programs and their fan bases can't cling to the past. They can't cling to the present, either.
The opportunity exists to play Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State more often than the schedule dictates. Just win the West. One of them is likely to often await in the Big Ten championship game.
Maryland and Rutgers don't figure to soon disrupt any of those plans.