As Rutgers Rejoices in its Big Ten Status, Connecticut Left to Wonder What If

By Kyle Rowland on July 2, 2014 at 8:30a

Tuesday marked the beginning of a new fiscal year, ushering in a newfangled era for the Big Ten. Maryland and Rutgers became the 13th and 14th members of the century-old conference that’s seen tremendous expansion the past 25 years.

But did the league swing and miss on Rutgers? A definitive answer won’t be known for years. What’s evident at this point is Penn State, Nebraska and even Maryland’s entry into the Midwestern-based conference is a success. Might Connecticut have been a more suitable addition than Rutgers, though?

Since the conference realignment musical chairs began five years ago, one school – UConn, located 140 miles from New York City – has evolved into the attractive girl no one wants to approach. The Big Ten and ACC always lurked, with UConn believing it was destined to join one of the power conferences, but the leagues opted for Syracuse and Rutgers when it came to adding East Coast pieces and penetrating the New York market. 

Nate Silver, one of the most highly regarded stat gurus in the country, compiled data and put a number on the divided New York City market. In the city where pro sports are king, Rutgers has 607,000 fans, followed by Notre Dame (267,000), Penn State (186,000), UConn (150,000) and Michigan (144,000). Ohio State’s 65,000 fans rank ninth.

Overall, a minuscule 11 percent of people in the New York area consider themselves rabid college football fans. Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State’s appeal in Gotham is more meaningful than Rutgers becoming New York’s Big Ten team. With the Big East football conference dissolving and the AAC lacking star power, the opportunity for the Big Ten to claim New York as its own is real.

Jim Delany’s goal in adding the Scarlet Knights is to gain a foothold in the New York market – the biggest in the country. By location, Rutgers fits the bill, considering its football stadium is 40 miles from Midtown Manhattan. But the program generates little enthusiasm in the bustling metropolis of eight million people.

When UConn and Syracuse come to town, they take over the city. The most recent example was the East regional, when Husky faithful gave their team a home-court advantage at Madison Square Garden. The New York Times made a bold statement in April, criticizing the Big Ten for blowing its opportunity to make an impact in the city.

“Beyond the misguided belief that it was buying its way into the New York City market, what was it thinking?” the Times opined.

Just as no one hides the fact that money is on top of the decision-making chart, the same realization exists regarding football’s importance in all things realignment. And Rutgers and UConn are similarly irrelevant. The Scarlet Knights consistently appear in bowl games and the Huskies played in the Fiesta Bowl, but both teams move the national needle the same amount – none. And Rutgers provides nothing in basketball, whereas UConn is a powerhouse.

“Football takes time, and it depends how the new staff is doing with the system that is in place,” UConn athletic director Warde Manuel said after the school’s basketball sweep in April. “My hope in the next 10 years is that we have reached the point where we are consistently competing for championships, which will drive more demand and higher ticket prices.”

Delany and Co. would never admit to a miscalculation, even after the spring yielded mountains of evidence in UConn’s favor. The men’s and women’s basketball teams won national championships yet again – four for the men since 1999 and eight for the women since 2000. In the past 20 years, athletic programs at UConn have won 15 national championships. Rutgers has won one NCAA title in its history – men’s fencing in 1949.  

As the Huskies became front-page news for positive reasons, Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann became a public relations nightmare – again. This was already on top of the Mike Rice fiasco and basketball coach Eddie Jordan’s resume snafu. But money – and football – talks.

Athletic department revenue occurs because of football. That’s even true at a basketball school like UConn, which brought in $11.1 million in 2012-13 because of the football program. Rutgers’ football stadium seats 10,000 more people than UConn’s far off-campus Rentschler Field.

The Big Ten and its network found the quickest – not the best – avenue to New York’s massive TV market, and acted. Rutgers has quadruple the amount of alumni in New York City than UConn, and it’s New Jersey location is in fertile football recruiting ground. UConn does not offer that same perk.

When Nebraska joined the Big Ten, the conference valued quality over quantity (TV eyeballs). The same didn’t occur when an invitation was extended to Rutgers.

“I respect certain teams,” Manuel said. “I don’t respect conferences. A lot of teams playing in big-time conferences haven’t won a damn thing in their careers. So I’d rather be in our conference and win them all instead of being in another conference.

“I am always going to put UConn in the best position possible.”


Comments Show All Comments

Northbrook's picture

My guess is UConn is in the next round of expansion. I understand they are working hard for AAU status which is an important factor. Certainly not the only factor but important. A program like Oklahoma could get in without AAU status but they would need to show a plan to achieve it.

mh277907's picture

Unfortunately, UConn made Michigan's "Do not allow in the B1G" list. Along with Akron, Toledo, Utah and Appalachian State among many others.


+7 HS
livinthedream's picture

So, makes me wonder what schools (besides Loiusville) does tOSU have on its list of "Do not allow in the B1G"?

Edit: BTW - Nice piece of journalism Kyle.


UConn's football facilities are what's kept them from joining a major conference, at least that's what I've read. Their No. 1 issue is they have problems filling the stadium they already have let alone trying to fill a stadium expanded to 40,000-50,000 needed to join the B1G. Not sure what the ACC's seating requirements are for football but it can't be much less than that. UConn couldn't sell enough tickets for that Fiesta Bowl they went to a few years ago and took a huge loss from it.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

+1 HS
Alpo's picture

The stadium already holds 40,000, and It was built with expansion in mind. Filling it however, has been a problem that you pointed out. I think the reason for that is the schedule. Every week, crappy teams come in and offer sub par football. If the B1G had brought the huskies in, I have no doubt the stadium would be filled on Gameday. It was packed this past season when we almost knocked off TSUN, where I proudly wore my #5 Braxton Miller jersey in a sea of yellow aka the visitors section.

+1 HS
HattanBuck85's picture

This meme that NYC is not a college town is false. As a Manhattan-ite, the bars are PACKED every Saturday. I can't get on a subway without seeing people rock Notre Dame, Penn St, Rutgers, M!chigan or Ohio State gear. This is a town of transplants- the B1G footprint can definitely be felt in the 5 Boroughs.

And Rutgers DOES have a following in NYC. Folks here are excited about them joining the B1G. It's going to be an interesting first year...

"The height of human desire is what wins, whether it's on Normandy Beach or in Ohio Stadium." - Woody Hayes

+6 HS
BucksFan2000's picture

Football attendance numbers aside, I'd feel a lot better saying we were adding UConn instead of Rutgers.

Plus, they win championships.

+1 HS
BuckeyeJ's picture

I agree. Rutgers brings nothing IMO, at least uconn would bring good bball

+1 HS
Poison nuts's picture

I don't like UConn's mascot. Looks like one of those damn nitney lions...

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

+1 HS
sb97's picture

Collectively, we have made Maryland and Rutgers feel very unwelcome.  Its kid of sad really.  In terms of comparing UConn and Rutgers...

I suspect Rutgers has a higher ceiling in football than UConn.  New Jersey has more talent than Connecticut (as noted in the article).  Now that Rutger's will be making regular trips to the 'Shoe, the Big House and Happy Valley plus playing host to the hordes of fans associated with Big Ten teams I think the atmosphere around that program is going to change.  I suspect they will be able to keep more of their local talent and improve accordingly.  The same doesn't hold true for basketball but football is what drives expansion

jBarnes's picture

Great read Kyle!

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”  ― Douglas Adams  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Jpfbuck's picture

things working against U Conn

1) hoops don't matter football drives the bus and their team is very weak

2) they play in what would be the smallest stadium in our conference if they were allowed to join as noted it holds only 44,000 people and even Ryan Filed in Evanston holds 49K with every one else above 50K including Rutgers at 52,500 (ie nearly 20% bigger than U Conn) and MD who holds 54K (almost 23% bigger

3) not an AAU member and does not appear they will be anytime soon, not noted for research either

4) poor attendance - they drew only 30,900 per game last year, compared to Rutgers at 46,500 and MD at 41,300, considering that without expanding their respective stadiums, UConn cant out draw what Rutgers already brings in and cant outdraw what MD's current capacity is, that is terrible

5) U Conn football wise is no more of a draw in NYC that Rutgers is and go back to #1, football drives the bus, hoops are an afterthought

6) their main campus has only 16K undergrads(which other than private NW would make it by far the smallest main campus in the conference and is fairly remote, ie it 25 miles outside of even Hartford, which is about the same as saying it is 25 miles outside akron, ie no built in local fan base to grow with, sorry but NYC residents are not going trek 2/3rds of the way to Boston to a tiny town to watch a mediocre college football team, but they might go across the river to NJ to watch one

7) it is actually more identified with Boston than NYC, as it is only 86 Miles from Beantown and 141 from NYC

if the B1G wants to consolidate its NYC market hold and make some limited inroads on Boston then maybe U Conn is in the next round, but at some point you end up with negative returns for the current schools, ie would U Conn add enough to pay for itself let alone net increase the other schools? my guess is no regardless of what their hoops teams do

+2 HS
Jerry27's picture

JPFBUCK, Just to address some of your points here;

1) Hoops does matter just not to the extent football does

2) Our stadium is designed to be expanded up to approx. 55,000, the foundations were put in place when it was built. While this would not come close to The OSU or other major programs in the B1G it would put us on equal footing with the others.

3) The school is not AAU but is working toward that very goal and are much closer than you may think. Also the school is a member of Universitas 21, you may have heard of it,, seems to me we share somethng in common on that member list.

4) Of course we can't outdraw them now but yes we can in the future - see #2, and don't be misled by last years numbers, the fanbase was torn apart by how far AD Jeff Hathaway, Paul Pasqualoni and George Deleone drove what momentum Randy Edsall built so far into ground it will be a minor miracle if it sees light in the next couple of years, but the fans are feeling the energy of the new coaching staff and responding in kind.

5) Actually, UConn does draw in NYC, ask Delany himself how the favored Michigan St. team felt at home there, you can discount basketball all you want but in NYC basketball is huge, and we matter. 

6) Your numbers are a little low, and don't take into account the added faculty and enrollment push the school has been making. And the stadium for lack of wanting to explain the geography is in East Hartford so the campus would not play into the trek you describe.

7) I live in the Boston area and while UConn does make some waves up here it hardly identifies with Boston more than NYC. If you ask, many Massholes would prefer to kick Connecticut out of New England all together.

I don't think you looked into the impact UConn has on the NYC market at all so maybe this lead will help you change from just a guess to an educated one, check what SNY had to do; they created a separate feed to serve the demand when they bought the 3rd tier rights for UConn Men's BB, Women's BB and Football and the carriage fees in CT more than doubled, which if you know the southwestern part of CT is actually in the NYC market

Granted we are not the old guard when it comes to football, but don't kid yourself, Rutgers was not brought in for football, they were brought in to get on cable systems in the largest TV market in the country, and by themselves would not get it done or else their value would have been greater to the Big East, they were sold with the B1G plain and simple. And they are no better than us in regards to football, but as a school and total athletic department they are so far beneath us its rediculous. While we are upgrading programs, they are cutting them, but maybe with the B1G money they can recover, time will tell.

Now, can I guilt you into scheduling a home and home in FB? I mean you don't want it to be said that the Michigan was wiling to come to our house but The OSU wouldn't right? Nothing to lose really! 

+1 HS
Sparty_Cyclone's picture

Rutgers was invited to the B1G, not for their athletic prowess, but for their eyeballs.  And since Time-Warner, Cablevision, and Comcast have all signed on to the BTN, mission accomplished.  At this point, UConn would be redundant.  There is no point in adding the Huskies.  CT is not that big of a television market or recruiting hotbed to make it worthwhile.  Lack of AAU membership is another nail in the coffin.  No offense, I'm sure it's a fine institution, but it seems destined for the ACC (if BC ever forgives them).

+1 HS
Jerry27's picture

Sparty_Cyclone - Agreed on why Rutgers was invited, their golden ticket was found, good for them. The one thing you should check however is the Hartford/New Haven market is the #30 largest market in the country, and a very significant portion of CT is in fact in the NYC market, to brush it off as redundant is foolish quite frankly, there is opportunity to be had in that market, first to shore up NYC, second to lock in another market as well as bridge into the the #7 Boston/Manchester market as well. Try not to think of CT on it's own, think of the entire region of New England, no it's not FL or NJ or TX as it comes to recruiting but we have watched schools come into this area and take the talent that is here. We alone have put many kids in the NFL that came from this region so there are players to be had, try not to buy to much into Rivals etc. who don't always base a kids talent on their talent if you get my meaning. There is no other school in this region BC included (who by the way are so scared of UConn they are doing their damnedest to keep football from making them irrelevant in the region like our basketball program did) that has the potential to achieve anything remotely close to the B1G expectations than UConn has.

The list of the Top 100 TV markets is linked below for you.

-1 HS
livinthedream's picture

"Lack of AAU membership is another nail in the coffin."  ???  Then how is it that Nebraska, which also promised to work toward that goal, was allowed to join in the first place?  Their name still is not on the list.  Just curious - how long does this process take?  I seem to remember it was a hot topic when PSU was admitted and WVU was supposedly under consideration.  The stories went that WVU refused to join and as such were rejected by the other B10 schools, yours and mine included.

potts.125's picture

I seem to remember that Nebraska was an AAU member but lost membership only after the B1G offer was made. 

PasadenaBuckeye626's picture

I think UConn is more intriguing than Rutgers.  UConn is good at basketball and would help fill an east coast B10 conference tournament arena.  Rutgers doesn't really bring any excitement to the conference.  It is easy to understand why they took Rutgers, but it's a boring addition as a fan.

Go Bucks!

MikeTheBuckeye's picture

What I'm most worried about here (even though Rutgers relevance at, well, anything is certainly a problem in itself) is Rutger's inability to stay out of the headlines for the worse. I mean before, and since, they joined the B1G all I've heard from them is about Coach Rice verbally abusing and launching basketballs at his players or how they managed to stiff arm their inspirational, handicapped ex-football player. While I would love to see our football teams begin to rival the likes of the SEC, I certainly don't want the B1G to be associated with any of that mess that Rutgers seems to always looking for.

potts.125's picture

As an alumni of Ohio State and UConn, I think UConn would be a terrific fit with the B1G.  Their fans are knowledgeable, dedicated, fiercely loyal, and know how to support their teams at home and on the road.  Women's basketball frequently sells out games.  Women's basketball! There is a big interest in football as well and fans are just looking for an excuse to become a two sport school.   

Rob from NJ's picture

Cutting to the Chase, it's about one word: location, location, location. BTN deals with Comcast, CableVision and TW in the NJ/NYC marketplace are done and Silverman is on record stating rates are comparable to other B1G areas. Media and fans said it could not be done without a fight due to lack of interest. Not so. I'm sure Delany and Silverman analyzed this to death and prepared for negotiations diligently. Rutgers with the support of B1G alumni in the NY metro area will pay for itself and then some.

To MikeTheBuckeye, other than the Rice scandal which resulted in the firing of the Rutgers AD, the other headlines are a bunch of nonsense created by the local media and run with nationally to sell newspaper and advertising. Do you really care if the Rutgers AD tells a Journalism class that the local newspaper should die due to an outdated business model? She has a valid point. These small PR blips make for good one day reading and then its forgotten until the next one-day story which typically rehashes all the old news. In summary, nobody really cares for more than a short period of time. Remember how the media vilified Pryor. It was like watching a funeral on ESPN. A short time later, Johnny Football is out there selling his autograph and all of a sudden it's ok and acceptable. ESPN talking heads come out and support the guy for similar actions of taking benefits by OSU players.

As for Rutgers viewership, if and when they should win, the ratings in the NJ/NYC marketplace will be good. Rutgers has 4 out of the 5 top rated ESPN games in the metro area, all in 2006 and 2007, (OSU has the other), and top ratings for ESPN2. In the NY metro area, you win and the fans love you, however, if you don't nobody cares, except the diehards. Rutgers has the largest alumni in the NY metro area and winning will spark an interest. It always does.

For the author, success of this move to add Rutgers to the B1G is defined in many ways. Delany was clear that this was about a marketplace (not Rutgers winning on the field) and with the support of the B1G alumni base in the area, this would result in financial success. At this point, nobody has proof otherwise that this is not a success based on initial reports of agreements with the cable companies. For Rutgers, its about the long term. Eventually Rutgers will get a full cut of the revenue and build just like the rest of B1G Athletics. In time, Rutgers has excellent recruiting grounds with new found exposure. In time, Rutgers will find its way and become competitive, whether that means a middle-pack team or better. 

As for UConn, I wish them the best of success. I'm sure they will find their home whether they remain in the AAC or join another conference.