Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Feeling Secure

When TigerBlog heard that Rutgers was going to the Big 10, the first person he thought of was Harvey Yavener, his longtime colleague, mentor and friend from his newspaper days.

Way back when, Yav was always saying that the Big 10 was the perfect league for Rutgers, a thought which got him essentially mocked by everyone in the newsroom back then.

And when Yav would elaborate on why Rutgers should be in the Big 10, he always said the same thing: academics. Rutgers, Yav always said, had much more in common academically with the Big 10 schools than it did with the schools in any other league, especially the Big East, given its status as a highly competitive land-grant state research-oriented institution.

This, of course, drew more mocking.

As an aside, TB doesn't like the "B1G" logo.

Meanwhile, the news last week that Rutgers was on its way to the Big 10 was another indication that Yav was simply a few decades ahead of his time.

TigerBlog heard Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti on during the Scarlet Knights' football game Saturday and again thought of Yav when Pernetti spoke about the academic fit for Rutgers in the Big 10. And the student-athlete experience.

These days, it's easy to mock not Yav but those sentiments when they're repeated by ADs and college presidents, because they're never the actual reason for making such a move.

The student-athlete experience? Remember, this goes beyond football (the decision-maker) and basketball (not the decision-maker) and trickles down to all sports, creating the possibility of, say, soccer or field hockey games 2,000 miles away on a weeknight.

No, those reasons are clearly money and fear.

If you're Rutgers, how could you not go from the great uncertainty of the future of the Big East (fear of being stuck without a major conference) to the Big 10 and its network (money, lots and lots and lots of it)?

It couldn't have gone better for the school if it had won the Powerball lottery.

Rutgers, by virtue of its proximity to the New York City market, is as big a winner as any school in the realignment in college athletics in the last few years and one of the only schools that can actually stand there and talk about academics with a straight face.

Of course, the money the biggest factor. According to one story TB read, Rutgers will go from receiving $6 million annually from Big East television money to early $25 million in the Big 10.

Another issue for Rutgers is the absence of a true rival in football. In men's basketball, TB supposes that the Rutgers-Seton Hall game is huge, but it's not one of the great rivalries in its league. In football, RU has no huge game circled every year.

Rutgers' home football schedule this year was this: Howard, UConn, Syracuse, Kent State, Army and Louisville. Which is the game that a Rutgers' alum circles and says "yes, we have them at our place this year?" Or next year, when the home league games are against South Florida, Temple, Cincinnati and Pitt.

Imagine replacing those games with some combination of opponents like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin, Nebraska or others? If you're a Rutgers fan, you can't ask for more.

TB has read about the possibility that all of this realignment results in four 16-team mega-leagues. That's clearly the direction all of this is going.

And everyone else?

Denver, whose men's basketball team is coached by Princeton's own Joe Scott, announced today that it'll be leaving the WAC after one year to join the Summit League. This would make three leagues in three years for the Pioneers.

But what is a school like Denver supposed to do? It can't sit around and hope that its current league hangs on, because what if it doesn't?

These days, athletic directors at schools like Denver need to be proactive and not get caught up in worrying whether or not your school is the domino that destroys an existing league filled with longtime rivals. In other words, there is no room for loyalty - especially when nobody is being loyal to you.

Hey, for that matter, ADs can't please all of their own programs. Look at Maryland, who like RU will be joining the Big 10. The Terps advanced to the last two NCAA championship games in men's lacrosse.

There is no Big 10 men's lacrosse, at least not yet, and the other Big 10 schools that offer the sport are Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan and Rutgers. It's a far cry from the traditional ACC rivals Maryland has always played.

While all of this chaos goes on, TB always asks the same question: Is there any way the Ivy League would ever lose a member or add members?

The security in the currently insecure world of intercollegiate athletics that Ivy League schools enjoy is unrivaled anywhere. The Ivy League brand also benefits each of the eight schools way beyond athletics.

So for the league to lose a member, it would have to be a school that felt that it didn't need the academic affiliation with the Ivy League and wants to get in on the money, presumably in the name of modeling its athletic program after what Stanford has done (winning big in football, winning the Directors' Cup every year).

Certainly there would be nothing wrong with that. Would Princeton ever make that decision? Another school?

TigerBlog thinks no way. For starters, it would be such a risky endeavor. For another, alums would be probably revolt.

Would the Ivy League ever add schools? TB thought that if the Patriot League fell apart that some of its stronger academic schools could fit in nicely should the Ivy League want to expand, but there is nothing to indicate that it does. Better fits would be Army and Navy, at least in all sports other than football.

Still, TB can't imagine that the Ivy League is going to change. Or, for that matter, would even have serious discussions about changes in membership.

These days, in the current climate, that's about as good as the news can get.

Besides, in the Ivy League, it really is about academics and student-athlete experience.

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