Outside of making the Big Ten gobs and gobs of television money, one of the more popular arguments for the Big Ten adding Rutgers and Maryland was that it would be a boon for the conference's football recruiting. After all, New Jersey and the Washington D.C. metro area are both talent rich areas, certainly more talent rich than much of the Big Ten's western footprint. After several years of getting passed by the SEC and other power conferences, an infusion of talent would do the conference well, the argument went. And it wasn't a bad argument.
We already know that the move was a smashing success financially, at least in the short term. And a recent ESPN article suggests that the conference is already getting big dividends on the recruiting trail as well. Since the league added Rutgers and Maryland (starting in the 2014 recruiting class), the B1G, per ESPN, has overtaken the ACC as the dominant conference in terms of grabbing ESPN Top 300 talent in the NY-NJ-DC-MD-VA corridor.
But are the additions of Maryland and Rutgers the key reasons for this? And does this benefit the entire conference?
One thing is clear, whether you use ESPN's data, or defer to the 247Sports Composite, it is clear the Big Ten is certainly recruiting New Jersey and Maryland much harder. Ten of the top 12 prospects in New Jersey are excepted to go to a Big Ten institution. Last year was a similar story, with six of the top ten heading to Big Ten schools (Rutgers, for what it's worth, did not sign a single one). The Big Ten's domination of Maryland wasn't quite as complete, but B1G schools still took the biggest chunk of the top talent.
But can be we sure that the addition of Maryland and Rutgers were the primary factors? Let's take a look at what else happened around 2014.
For starters, Penn State hired a new coach. Their new headman, James Franklin, was a highly charismatic, recruiting focused coach who also previously coached at Maryland, and had been recruiting the I-95 Corridor for a while. After bringing in a staff that shared that focus, combined with his energy, it would make sense that Penn State would hit those markets very hard. And they did.
You know who didn't get that Penn State head coaching job? Defensive line coach Larry Johnson, a former Maryland high school football coach who spent most of his career building relationships around the DMV metro. He left Penn State in 2014 to join Ohio State's staff, greatly boosting their recruiting efforts in Maryland and along the East Coast.
In January of 2015, Michigan added Chris Partridge to their coaching staff, now headed by Jim Harbaugh, an exceptionally dynamic recruiter in his own right. Partridge was a very successful high school coach in Paramus, NJ, and helped improve Michigan's influence within the state. Partridge is now a position coach with Michigan, and is listed by 247Sports as one of the 25 best recruiting assistants in all of college football.
So it isn't a surprise that the biggest recruiting forces in Maryland and New Jersey haven't been the local schools, but Penn State, Michigan, and Ohio State (along with Michigan State). The fact that those three schools, already armed with powerful brands and success, have had success in those markets around the same time that they brought on coaches with specific relationships in those markets is no accident. Recruiting is a relationships business, and those schools, combined with their on the field success, were built to succeed along the East Coast, if they wanted to.
The gains of Ohio State, Michigan etc also exist because of what has happened with other programs. Maryland and Rutgers both had a rocky transition to Big Ten play, coupled with institutional instability and coaching staff changes. That's true for many of the other schools that have recruited the area recently. South Carolina, for example, had success recruiting NJ in the early 2010s, but changes in the coaching staff and on the field success would make that harder as B1G brands pushed in. The same thing happened with Al Golden at Miami, and numerous coaches at Pitt.
So sure, Maryland and Rutgers joined the Big Ten in 2014, and that undoubtedly had some impact, but it also coincided with a storm of the Big Ten's elite adding East Coast focused coaches, instability and changing priorities at other institutions, and what was happening on the field.
And if the addition of Maryland and Rutgers is, in fact, providing a boost to B1G recruiting, it's certainly not being shared by everybody.
This cycle, five teams in the Big Ten have signed blue chip (four-star or higher rated) prospects from the NY-NJ-DC-MD-VA window. All five are in the Big Ten east (Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Maryland). The same disparity was true in the class of 2015 as well. If there is a benefit bump associated with the B1G newcomers, it's mostly going to the schools that don't need a recruiting subsidy, further widening the talent gulf between the two divisions.
It isn't hard to see why this is the case. Part of it is related to the coaching staffs from Big Ten West schools, who do not have the same reputation as recruiters compared to the Big Ten East peers. It's also a matter of geography. If Nebraska were to sign a kid from New Jersey, he might only play in his home state once during his Big Ten career. He may only play a small handful of games within driving distance of his house. Unless there is a previous coaching relationship with those high schools, breaking into those markets becomes very difficult.
That isn't to say it's impossible. Nebraska recruits kids in California, in part because of a coaching staff connection to the region. Wisconsin does this for Arizona. Others do it for Florida. But for whatever reasons, the eastern pipeline has not borne much fruit for the western side of the division.
When you add in the inherent advantages of many Big Ten East schools, that talent divide may only get wider. Right now, Ohio State has twice as many blue chip prospects signed in 2016 than the entire Big Ten West. When you add in the Michigan schools and Penn State, the disparity becomes even more stark.
Geography plays a role in recruiting, as does one's schedule, but it isn't necessarily the biggest factor. Being near prospects doesn't mean grabbing them (just ask Maryland and Rutgers), and building relationships, having recruiting skill, and smart evaluation, not to mention success on the field, can overcome geographic difficulties.
Right now, the Big Ten heavyweights are cleaning up along the I-95 Corridor, and that's a big reason why there is optimism around the future for many of their teams. Whether this is primarily because of Rutgers or Maryland, the data isn't nearly as clear.