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Expansion helps, more than hurts, PSU

Commentary

November 20, 2012
The Altoona Mirror

In trying to put together an Eastern all-sports conference 30-plus years ago with the likes of Pitt, West Virginia, Syracuse, Boston College, Temple and Rutgers, Joe Paterno often said he thought Maryland could eventually be enticed to join.

It's taken three decades, but with the Big Ten's confirmation Monday that Maryland will join the league, effective July 1, 2014, Penn State and the Terps are finally becoming conference brothers.

The Nittany Lions are about to complete their 20th year in the Big Ten, and while there's no question some of their followers - myself included - are still getting used to it (and its officiating) and miss playing Pitt on Thanksgiving weekend, there is little doubt the conference has provided top-of-the-line competition and enormous financial stability.

Clearly, this is a business decision.

Nobody - even at Penn State - has been longing for a resumption of the Penn State-Maryland football series. And certainly no one is going to stop traffic for Maryland vs. Purdue. Ditto Rutgers, which is strongly rumored to be the next Big Ten addition and will balance the league at 14 teams.

Even though Maryland must swallow hard and say goodbye to its basketball rivalries with Tobacco Road, the move makes sense as it's become painfully obvious that football pays the bills and allows these athletic departments - and particularly the non-revenue sports - to function.

The last two additions, Penn State and Nebraska, are not in mega-media centers but boast rich football histories.

Maryland and Rutgers are not enticing football programs, but they definitely bring major markets that will help widen the Big Ten brand, largely through the outstanding Big Ten Network, into the Washington-Baltimore and New York areas.

The expansion will help Penn State more than it hurts.

The downside is the Nittany Lions will no longer be the only one selling Big Ten football in the East, although PSU never considered Maryland or Rutgers a rival as much as both were regional opponents. This expansion will allow players from the New York or Virginia areas - traditionally fertile territory for Penn State - to stay closer to home and play against Ohio State, Michigan and, starting in 2014, PSU.

On the other hand, especially during these turbulent times when the Lions will be closer to a 7-5 team than a title contender (when they become eligible for one in 2016), it will be far more desirable to make a driveable trip to Maryland or Rutgers than it will be to trek to Purdue, Indiana, Illinois or Minnesota - teams similar to Maryland and Rutgers.

This year's visit to Virginia, an easy four-hour ride, reinforced that as thousands of PSU fans showed up at Scott Stadium.

Then there's the history. There wasn't much with Rutgers; the Knights beat PSU twice in 24 meetings - once in 1918 and then in 1988 with Dick Anderson at the helm.

Though it only beat the Lions once, Maryland typically played Penn State tougher. From 1960-93, the teams met almost annually and, during one stretch, it was a one-touchdown game for seven straight games (1982-89).

Overall, Maryland and Penn State met 37 times. The Lions' most familiar Big Ten opponents are Ohio State and Michigan State. Both have played the Nittany Lions 28 times.

Finally, for Penn State, the Big Ten has gotten a little more local.

Too bad Pitt and Syracuse aren't next.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

 
 

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