Back in Dec., 1989, when Skip Myslenski and I broke the news in the Chicago Tribune that the Big Ten was adding Penn State, I reported on a conference memo about identifying a possible 12th school. Rutgers and Pittsburgh were tops on the list.
However, there wasn’t much enthusiasm for Rutgers. “They`re too far East,“ said one conference source back then.
The Big Ten finally made its move to the Atlantic by officially adding Maryland to the conference today, with Rutgers’ party imminent. And like the Penn State deal in 1989, Commissioner Jim Delany executed the moves under the radar, which I’m sure pleases him to no end.
As was the case back then, it’s mostly about television. However, the stakes are much higher now.
Back then, the Big Ten didn’t have its own television network. It does now, and the addition of Maryland and Rutgers allows the BTN to greatly expand its footprint. Currently, the network is in 53 million homes and available to 90 million.
Now consider the possible BTN boost from an estimated 15 million homes in the DC (Maryland) and New York/New Jersey (Rutgers) areas. With BTN subscriber fees at an estimated 85 cents per month, the potential windfall is huge. Do the math. Probably in excess of $100 million per year.
Of course, that’s if the BTN can land deals with the various cable operators in the area. A big challenge for network president Mark Silverman to say the least.
Rutgers doesn’t register much beyond its campus in New Jersey. Also, the New York cable operators played hardball about adding the Yankees YES network. So Silverman might not find them to be overly excited about hitting up their subscribers with another fee for a new channel. He will know he is in trouble if he has to explain to them where Rutgers is.
I can hear an NY cable operator now: “Nobody in Brooklyn cares about Iowa basketball.”
Maryland has a much more avid following in DC, but cable operators in that area also might have reservations about the expenses of adding the BTN.
Silverman is traveling today and unavailable for comment. You could be sure he already is in full talk mode with various cable operators.
As a child of the Big Ten, I’m not overly thrilled with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers. With 14 schools, it now means fewer games between the traditional opponents. Illinois-Rutgers doesn’t do as much for this Illini grad as Illinois-Indiana in basketball.
But it is what it is, and the potential money is too much to ignore. If Silverman can cut deals with the various cable operators, the BTN will be that much richer.