The Big Ten is now a conference of Legends, Leaders and East Coasters.
The league on Monday added Maryland, and Rutgers will join Tuesday.
At a news conference on Maryland’s campus, league commissioner Jim Delany welcomed the school by saying that Big Ten presidents and chancellors were “giddy” and unanimous in their support.
“Maybe some people fear the turtle,” Delany said, in reference to the school’s former slogan. “We embrace the turtle.”
They embrace it because of what Delany sees as a paradigm shift in college athletics, where a bigger conference means more fans, more TV viewers and more money.
“We watched different conferences move out of their region,” Delany said in a telephone interview with the Tribune and ESPN.com. “The SEC moved into Texas (Texas A&M) and Missouri, the ACC moved into Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh) and Indiana (Notre Dame) and New York (Syracuse).
“It made us think: Are we vulnerable? What has been our advantage over time? Great institutions, great demographics. We started to think: What are the possibilities? We came to the conclusion: If there were opportunities there, we should explore them.”
Delany said the talks with Maryland “heated up” about a month ago, resulting in Monday’s announcement.
The Big Ten belied its name in 1990 by adding Penn State. Nebraska joined in 2010. Both have upper-echelon football programs.
Maryland has won one ACC title since 1986, and as the Washington Post’s John Feinstein wrote, the football program “hasn’t really mattered on the national stage since the 1950s.”
“This is a long-term play,” Delany said. “There’s no reason that Maryland can’t be a prominent football program. They have great recruiting and great markets. And good competition makes everybody better.”
Delany spent Monday in Washington before going to College Park, Md., where he competed in basketball while playing for Dean Smith at North Carolina.
He’s clearly aware that many Maryland alums cherished being a charter member of the ACC – and that some Big Ten fans believe their product has been watered down.
“I know there is some ambivalence,” Delany said, “and I know there may be some anger. But I hope that over time, we can embrace you, that you can learn to be our partner and that together we can become much better than we are without each other.”
Delany would not confirm that his next stop would be Rutgers’ campus in New Brunswick, N.J., about 30 miles from his hometown of South Orange, N.J.
“I’ll be home for Thanksgiving, I know that,” he said.
Delany said Monday was reserved to “celebrate” Maryland.
But the commissioner made it clear that the league will consider even more expansion. With the Big Ten eager to boost its television reach, some think 16 teams are inevitable.
“We will see what happens around the country,” Delany said. “If the shift continues, we will be strategic about responding to it.
“In 1990, we could not have envisioned where television would be now. I don’t know where television will be in 2030. What I do know is having communities with fans and alumni and friends is a good thing when you are trying to move your games in front of a national audience.”
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