When a conference expands, there are always many factors at play. Rutgers and Maryland will join the Big Ten in 2014, and a major reason for their addition is the East Coast television market. Neither offer much in terms of competitive sports programs, though Maryland usually fields good basketball teams. The Terrapins have had a storied tradition in basketball, but recent teams have failed to advance past the second round of the NCAA tournament after a National Championship and Sweet Sixteen appearance in 2002 and 2003. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney also mentioned the chance to help the floundering athletic departments of each respective university, while gaining a market back.
The Big Ten has moved further and further away from its Midwestern roots. It is a sad moment for traditionalists who view Big Ten football and basketball as an extrapolation of their life values: hard-working, blue-collar teams that went out and got the job done.
Penn State, despite its distance from the other schools, was a reasonable addition back in 1993. The school fit academically and had the same general vibe as the other universities. Nebraska was another logical step, a school that was actually in the Midwest, instead of the center-east of the country that colleges like Michigan call home.
But there is one major problem with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland, one that goes far beyond whether they fit into the Big Ten or not.
This problem lies within a fundamental change in Big Ten basketball. As reported by the Iowa City Gazette, the Big Ten basketball schedule will no longer feature protected rivalries. These rivalry games have previously been guaranteed at least two games a season, but this will no longer be the case.
This means a world where Michigan and Michigan State could only play once a year. Other big games like Purdue-Indiana will now look to the luck of the draw in terms of playing each other twice a year.
This is especially prevalent when talking about the upcoming game between the Wolverines and the Spartans at Crisler. For Michigan State, it is a chance to right the wrong that occurred on their home floor. For Michigan, it is a chance to sweep the in-state rival to claim supremacy for the year.
This isn’t like Big Ten football where teams have to wait 364 days to play each other again. Basketball is a longer season that is propelled by revenge stories, the reason ESPN features a week called Rivalry week. If you lose one game, you are guaranteed a second chance. Taking this away means agony for college hoops fans, as anyone who has attended a Wolverines-Spartans matchup will attest that it is the best atmosphere of the season. No fan base is going to get very riled up to play Maryland or Rutgers, because there is no history of bad blood there.
The trip out to the new schools is another problem to deal with. John Beilein recently mentioned the frustration of having to play four games in 10 days, with three of the games being on the road. He has worked to address his concerns with the Big Ten office, but the league has to try and accommodate every coach.
It will be a tough day for the Wolverines when they have to travel to Maryland, and then come back and play their only game of the year against the Spartans at the Breslin Center. One can only hope that someone has the sense to tell the Big Ten that if they want a television draw, having rivalry games twice a year is the way to do it.