In case you haven't heard, the Connecticut Huskies won two basketball championships last week. This revelation, along with the fact that the school is reasonably close to New York, and currently resides in what's considered to be a secondary conference, has lead some to question if maybe the Big Ten picked the wrong school. Why grab Rutgers to deliver the proverbial NYC market, particularly when UConn is right there?
These concerns left the message boards and Twittersphere and jumped to a major newspaper, with the Toledo Blade posing the same question here. Are they right? Should the Big Ten have gone Maryland and UConn instead?
Let me go ahead and answer that: No.
Before I explain why, let me first say that I am not on Team Rutgers. Nothing against the fine people of the Garden State personally. After all, these guys gave us Saint Bruce Springsteen. But like most fans, I was against the idea of expanding the Big Ten outside of the Midwest unless it was adding a dynamite school, like a Texas or something, and even a fan looking at the situation with the most Scarlet-hued glasses would have to admit that Rutgers isn't such a case.
If I had my way, the Big Ten would still be at 12 teams next season, and if that meant Purdue got a little less TV money, well, I'm comfortable sleeping at night with that sacrifice. However, that's not the world we live in.
If we're going to look at this from Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany's eyes, we need to look exactly what each school brings to the table. What do they have facilities wise? What can their football program, by far the most significant property for TV, deliver? Can they deliver the proverbial NYC market? Are they even any good?
Let's break it down:
UConn Stadium Capacity: 40,000, which is nearly 10,000 smaller than the smallest field in the Big Ten (Ryan Field, at Northwestern High School, er, University).
Rutgers Stadium Capacity: 52,454. That's also on the low end of the conference honestly, but it's comparable to Indiana, Illinois and Maryland.
UConn Football W/L over last five years: 29-33. In the interest of fairness, this time period did include a BCS bowl bid (though in one of the most down BCS leagues ever). In the interest of fairness, this time period also included a loss to Towson.
Rutgers Football W/L over last five years: 37-27
UConn's proximity to football recruits: Poor. The state of Connecticut failed to produce a single consensus four-star or better football recruit last season, and only produced seven three-star kids. In fact, Connecticut has only produced three four-star recruits since 2010, and none more recently than 2011. The mythical NYC media market may be important, but nobody really cares about getting access to Connecticut.
Rutgers proximity to football recruits: Strong. The State of New Jersey produced twice as many elite (four-star and above) athletes in 2014 (10) than Connecticut did in four years. Big Ten schools have also made it a priority to recruit New Jersey. In just 2014, Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, Maryland, Northwestern, Michigan State and Iowa (and of course, Rutgers) all signed at least one three-star or above prospect from New Jersey. Establishing recruiting footholds in new territories is critical for the success of the league, and there is plenty of talent in the Garden State.
From New York City, could you get to UConn's stadium without a car (Per Google Maps)?: Not easily. Using trains and a little bit of driving, I am told this trip would take about five-to-six hours.
From New York City, could you get to Rutgers' stadium without a car (Per Google Maps)?: Yes. Assuming everything lines up,
the trip would take two-to-three hours. UPDATE: several Rutgers fans have told me that you can now get from Midtown to Rutgers in about an hour via train. Even better.
UConn's Men's Basketball record over last five years: 122-57. That span includes two national titles, five winning records and one postseason ban (for some very un-B1G APR scores).
Rutgers Men's Basketball record over last five years: 71-89. That span includes zero postseason runs, zero winning records, three coaches, and one embarrassing coaching scandal.
# of UConn College Football Fans in NYC, per Nate Silver's Geography of College Football, 2011: 150,150, or roughly 5.1% of the market.
# of Rutgers College Football Fans in NYC, per the same study: 607,151. or roughly 20.9% of the market.
UConn average attendance, 2013 season: 30,931. This would have easily been last in the league, but again, UConn also has the smallest stadium.
Rutgers average attendance, 2013 season: 46,549. This would have been 10th in the league, ahead of Indiana, Illinois and Northwestern.
UConn enrollment: 30,474
Rutgers enrollment: 58,788
If you are a league determined to add a school in the Northeast, and you're deciding between Rutgers and UConn, the only advantage the Huskies could claim is a vastly superior basketball team. And even so, if UConn had lost in the Elite Eight this season instead of winning the title, is this still considered enough of an advantage to push for their inclusion? Did two weeks of basketball games provide enough data to demand a referendum on this decision?
In terms of pure, New York City, ahem, footprint, if the Nate Silver study is to be believed, there are four times as many Rutgers fans in the area, and given the terrible performance of UConn on the football field as of late, there is little reason to suggest that has dramatically changed. Given that football revenue vastly outpaces that of basketball, the Huskies' domination in basketball wouldn't be enough to justify a bump up in league. By virtually every other metric, the Huskies lag behind.
Does that mean that Rutgers to the Big Ten will be some smashing success? Not necessarily. In fact, I kind of doubt it, mostly out of skepticism that the great New York football market can really be delivered at all. If it can though, it certainly wouldn't be because of UConn.
You can blame Jim Delany for a lot of things, but if the choice was Rutgers or Connecticut, he didn't screw up here.