Big Ten moves east

Adding two East Coast schools to the power conference this season will likely bring more revenue.

Big Ten moves east

Jack Satzinger

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When the University of Minnesota joined the Big Ten more than a century ago, the league was called the Western Conference. Now, the 14-team group may as well be called the Eastern Conference.

Within the past year and a half, the Big Ten has put its stamp on the East Coast by adding new teams and announcing offices in New York and Washington, D.C. — the nation’s capital will host the men’s basketball tournament in 2017.

Rutgers University and the University of Maryland joined the Big Ten over the summer, and the Eastern seaboard is now an integral part of the Big Ten — bringing with it added revenue, more travel for student-athletes and likely more spending.

“You’re seeing this effort with the [Big Ten] Network and the conference to really treat New York, New Jersey and the Maryland/D.C. area like they are part of the Big Ten,” said Big Ten Network President Mark Silverman.

And at the University of Minnesota, adding Maryland and Rutgers will likely bring even more money to an athletics department that has already benefited from the conference’s progressive business decisions.

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More revenue

The Big Ten’s eastward expansion will bolster the conference’s TV revenue, increasing the size of the pot all member schools draw from.

The conference’s current television deal with ESPN, reportedly worth $1 billion over 10 years, ends in 2017. But the addition of the New York and Washington, D.C., markets could push the contract’s value far beyond the previous number.

“I think it expands your footprint for television, for one thing,” Minnesota athletics director Norwood Teague said of the conference’s expansion. “That’s a very populated corridor, and now we’re in the thick of it.”

Gophers head football coach Jerry Kill said in June that he thought the new television deal would bring in an extra $40 million over four years for each conference school.

The University’s athletics department couldn’t confirm that projection, but the number is similar to an April report from the Lafayette Journal and Courier, citing a projected increase in television revenue from $23 million per school in 2016-17 to $33 million in 2017-18 when the new deal kicks in.

“Financially, it certainly helps all the schools and helps the Big Ten,” Kill said.

The Big Ten was the first conference to launch its own network in 2007. Since then, every other Power Five conference — the Big 12, Pac-12, SEC and ACC — has followed suit.

An extra $10 million annually would help Minnesota keep up with some of college sports’ royalty. The department brought in roughly $98.2 million in revenue in 2012, according to Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act reports filed with the U.S. Department of Education.

But revenue increases for the athletics department are nothing new.

In fact, the $98.2 million mark from 2012 is almost twice as much as the department’s revenue a decade earlier, when former athletics director Joel Maturi took over the program while it struggled to keep some sports intact.

Before Maturi was hired, the University’s Board of Regents announced its decision to cut three sports: men’s gymnastics and men’s and women’s golf.

But Maturi spearheaded a fundraising campaign that kept each sport afloat.

“We were given a period of time to raise $2.7 million,” Maturi said. “Obviously there were challenges, and thanks to a lot of people, that was successful.”

Five years later, fears of Minnesota losing some of its smaller sports dissipated. Since the launch of the Big Ten Network, the athletics department has increased its revenue almost every year.

“I think it was beneficial for Gopher athletics and certainly all of the programs in a lot of ways,” Maturi said.

It’s clear that conference expansion comes with big monetary gains, but Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was reserved at Big Ten Media Days in July when asked about the future of TV in college sports.

“We’ve been very busy over the last year in the television area to go from a 12-university conference to 14 and to make that seamless from a television perspective,” Delany said. “As far as what might the future hold on TV, it’s hard to predict.”

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More travel

Besides the two new East Coast schools boosting revenue for member schools in the Big Ten, traditionally a Midwestern conference, student-athletes will face a more taxing travel schedule.

Now, athletes in the sports that head to Maryland or Rutgers will trek hundreds of extra miles for conference games.

The Gophers volleyball team will travel 6,506 miles for conference play in 2014-15 — a 14 percent increase in mileage from last season.

“It is what it is. We just have to travel, and I think it’s one of those things you don’t assign an emotion to,” said head volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon. “You just get on with it.”

Rutgers and Maryland will also face more demanding schedules, as member schools in their previous conferences were closer to home.

Rutgers football has to make three trips to the Midwest for its Big Ten schedule this season, playing at Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan State.

But the Scarlet Knights don’t seem too concerned about the extra miles.

“Last year, we traveled to California. We’ve been all over the country before,” said Rutgers fullback Michael Burton.

Cross-country trips aren’t as taxing for football teams, which typically fly in chartered jets to their games. But for sports that play on weekdays, extra travel during the crucial conference schedule could be more of an inconvenience.

Last season, the Gophers men’s basketball team traveled about 4,981 miles to conference games. In 2014-15, with a game at Maryland, the Gophers will have to go 5,552 miles — about an 11 percent increase.

The women’s basketball team plays at Rutgers this year and will travel 1,075 more miles than last season — that’s more than the length between Minneapolis and Denver.

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More spending

Even though Big Ten schools will see a boost in revenue in the coming years as a result of the eastward push, Rutgers and Maryland each paid steep prices to leave their old conferences.

Maryland paid a $31.4 million exit fee to the ACC, while Rutgers left the AAC at a price of $11.5 million.

Some critics have accused the Big Ten of being greedy with its addition of Rutgers and Maryland. Others have questioned the new schools’ place in an ultra-competitive league.

Despite those concerns, Big Ten players are adamant the old schools won’t overlook the newcomers.

“Every college team is a big program. You can’t overlook nobody,” said Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller. “I think every team is a big team.”

Rutgers will get a chance to make its case this Saturday, playing Penn State in its first Big Ten conference football game. And on Sept. 27, Maryland will travel to Indiana to kick off its Big Ten slate.

And even though the Gophers won’t play Maryland or Rutgers in football until 2016, the schools’ addition is already making a mark on Minnesota’s athletics department.

But in the college sports arms race, more revenue comes with more spending, whether it’s salary raises for coaches, renovations or new facilities altogether.

“When the budget was $56 million, you spent everything you had. When it was $70 million, you spent everything you had,” Maturi said. “You just kind of spent what you had, because there’s always some need. That’s the reality of big-time college sports today.”

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