SI - Big Ten Aggressive Because Of Weakness

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Delaney has played a bad hand brilliantly, but it's still a bad hand.

Over at SI.com, Stewart Mandel has a piece posted about Maryland and Rutgers' move to the Big Ten which underscores what we've been saying for a while now: from the Big Ten's point of view, it's a move not borne out of confidence but rather out of weakness. Populations have changed, and the Big Ten's base is not what it was. Nor for that matter, is it's recruiting base.

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It's a bit more complicated than that, however.

If you look at the census data, you'll see that the ACC region (Indiana excluded and we haven't looked at Kentucky) has multiple states with double-digit growth that's expected to continue.

The Big Ten's growth is much, much less, and if you look more closely at the data, you'll find something interesting, but likely not to the Big Ten: population growth in the Big Ten region since the last census is almost entirely Hispanic.

Obviously the Hispanic population in the U.S. has grown tremendously, which probably has a lot to do with the huge numbers the recent U.S.-Ghana match in the World Cup drew.

You can discern a lot from the census data, but we didn't have time to see how many of the people who moved to the Big Ten area were native born or how much English and Spanish is dominant, although one can reasonably expect that a significant percent are recent arrivals.

Marketers can tell you that, though, to an astonishing degree of specificity. And we're pretty sure that when the Big Ten looked at the data, this is what it saw: soccer fans are moving in and football and basketball fans are moving out.

And even that's hard to pin down. What are the biggest pro sports teams in the Big Ten region? The Packers? The Bulls?

As American kids may embrace soccer - those 16 million who watched the World Cup match were not all Spanish speakers - kids who come from other countries and cultures will embrace basketball and football.

Things change over time and there's no way to know what people will like in 50 years, much less 20. Who knows how technology will affect sports?

Even now, very much under TV's radar, competitive gamers are gathering mass audience online and the best competitors are making very good livings.  It's not NBA money yet, but very good by comparison to most jobs, and let's face it, being played to pay video games is not the worst fate imaginable for most kids today.

Who's to say that a future technology couldn't capture 3-D holographs of great athletes, give them autonomy, and project them onto your eyeballs? What happens if Michael Jordan can compete against LeBron James and Jerry West and it's all in a headset that puts you in the front row? What if the script constantly changes? What if you can make trades and new teams?

If you don't think this sort of thing is possible, check out some Oculus Rift videos on You Tube. Those people are living in a created world. You can't see what they see, but you can see how much they believe it. The technology coming - and very soon - is absolutely extraordinary. And it's not even been released to the general public yet.

Any way you look at it, though, The Big Ten sees population growth fueled almost entirely by Hispanics who may or may not have brand loyalty while the Eastern Seaboard is growing far faster and with much more diversity.

The Big Ten is competing now, primarily, with the ACC, the SEC, pro teams in various sport and, increasingly, international soccer.

Moving East is a necessity. That doesn't make it popular.

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