PISCATAWAY, N.J. – As the Big East was being picked apart, Rutgers was looking for a way out and a new place to show off a football program that has been resurrected in the past decade.
Not only did Rutgers find that escape hatch, the Scarlet Knights ended up in one of the most desirable neighborhoods in college sports.
Rutgers joined the Big Ten on Tuesday, leaving the Big East behind and cashing in on the school’s investment in a football team that only 10 years ago seemed incapable of competing at the highest level.
The move follows Maryland’s announcement a day earlier that it was heading to the Big Ten in 2014. The additions give the Big Ten 14 schools and a presence in lucrative East Coast markets.
Rutgers announced its decision Tuesday at a campus news conference attended by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, Rutgers president Robert Barchi and athletic director Tim Pernetti.
“The Big Ten is really where Rutgers belongs,” Barchi said. “This is not just a good fit for us athletically, it’s a good fit for us academically and as an institution.”
Rutgers has been competing in the Big East since 1991. But the league has been torn up by conference realignment, losing three key members last year.
Pernetti had insisted all along that Rutgers would land on its feet, that being a member of the prestigious American Association of Universities and residing in the largest media market in the country would ensure the school wouldn’t be cast aside as the landscape of college sports changed.
The Scarlet Knights landed in the best possible spot. A spot that seemed unthinkable a decade ago when Rutgers football was a Big East cellar-dweller.
“It’s a transformative day for Rutgers University, and transformative in so many ways,” Pernetti said. “This is about collaboration at every level, the perspective the Big Ten institutions have, the balance between academics and athletics, proving over decades and decades that athletics at the highest level and academics at the highest level can coexist. It’s the perfect place for Rutgers.”
Rutgers left its entry date ambiguous, though clearly the Big Ten and the school would like it to line up with Maryland.
The Big East requires 27 months’ notification for departing members. The Scarlet Knights will have to negotiate a deal with the Big East to leave early, the way Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia have done.
“Although we are disappointed that Rutgers has decided to leave the Big East Conference, we wish them well,” Big East commissioner Mike Aresco said in a statement.
In an interview later, Aresco said that the conference would survive. “We’ll move judiciously to replace Rutgers, but we had already changed from the small, Northeast model,” he said. “We’re a national conference now. We became a bigger and better football conference.”
The Big East is trying to rebuild itself as a 12-team football league next season, with the addition of Boise State and five other schools. Now the conference is again on the defensive. Connecticut or Louisville could be next to go with the ACC looking to replace Maryland.
Aresco said he had been in touch with the newcomers and they were still on board. He declined to speculate on other members leaving.
Whenever Rutgers enters the Big Ten, it will be the culmination of one of the most remarkable turnarounds in college sports.
In 2002, the Scarlet Knights football team went 1-11 under second-year coach Greg Schiano.
The team, however, steadily improved as the university made the huge financial commitment necessary to support major college football.
Facilities were upgraded, the on-campus stadium was expanded and as Schiano started to win, his salary began to rise into the millions. Not everyone on campus embraced the idea of turning Rutgers into a big-time football school, and it did come with a price.
The expanded and renovated stadium cost of $102 million. The school had hoped to raise the money through private donors, but fell short. Rutgers scaled back plans for the expansion and issued bonds and borrowed money to complete the project.
In 2006, the school had to cut six varsity sports. As the football team has become a consistent winner — Rutgers has gone to a bowl six of the last seven years — the athletic department has received tens of millions in subsidies from the university.
Schiano left for the NFL last year, and Rutgers hired longtime assistant Kyle Flood, who has the Scarlet Knights poised to take make another big step. No. 21 Rutgers (9-1) is in position to win its first Big East championship and go to a BCS game for the first time.
In the Big Ten, the revenue Rutgers receives from the league’s television and media deals should triple in the short term and could be even more than that in years to come.
The Big Ten reportedly paid its members about $24 million last year, though new members generally do not get a full share of revenue immediately. The Big East’s payout to football members last year was $6 million.
In exchange, the Big Ten gets a member in the largest media market in the country, with Rutgers and Maryland as north and south bookends.
“You know, it was a factor,” Delany said, referring to the New York television market. “I think it’s been a factor that’s been a little overplayed to be honest with you.”
Losing access to that market is yet another blow to the Big East. The conference is again facing an uncertain future and at the worst possible time. The Big East is trying to negotiate a crucial new television contract.
With the Big East on shaky ground, there has been speculation that Boise State and San Diego State could renege on their commitments to the Big East and stay in the Mountain West.
San Diego State AD Jim Sterk told the North County Times that the Aztecs are not looking to bail.
“It’s not great to lose UConn or Rutgers, but if that happens, it gives us an opportunity to have less travel in the Western division,” Sterk told the newspaper. “We pick up someone further west, and we’re in better shape than yesterday’s Big East.”
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap