By Chris Emma-
ROSEMONT, Ill. (CBS) — News of Big Ten expansion sent shockwaves through the conference’s Midwestern base and new Eastern home. Less than two years later, Jim Delany’s vision has become a reality.
Kadeem Jack was just a freshman at Rutgers when news broke of the Scarlet Knights’ move to the Midwest. He was crushed by the news.
Growing up in the Queens borough of New York City, Jack had dreams of playing in the Big East Conference — for two decades, the home of premier college basketball. Its identity was centered on powers like UConn, Georgetown and Syracuse, all culminating in a week of basketball at Madison Square Garden for a conference tournament that was high on drama and unlike anything else.
It’s what drew Jack to Rutgers — like it did so many East Coast kids to Big East schools — and it was all being taken away.
“It was very disappointing,” Jack said. “You’re going into school thinking you’re going to be playing the (Big East schedule), then the world goes topsy turvy, and the Big East is gone.”
Evan Smotrycz can relate to the shock factor. A Masschusetts native, he was was hoping for a change of scenery back to the familar Eastern Corridor upon deciding to transfer from Michigan. Just six months later, it was announced that his new program, Maryland, would join the Big Ten.
“It’s pretty random if you think about it,” Smotrycz said. “Maryland is obviously kind of historic ACC team.”
The 2013-’14 school year that would follow saw Rutgers in the American Athletic Conference for one sad season, while fellow newcomer Maryland battled the ACC in lawsuits. Through adverse times came a fruitful transformation — Maryland and Rutgers joined the Big Ten, which has a new Eastern base.
“Adding New Jersey, New York, D.C., Baltimore, it’s obviously going to be great for the league — for all parties,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said.
Out of tradition-rich conferences and into another, the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights now have a new home. Now, each must grow acclimated with the unfamiliar territories in basketball.
Maryland enters the Big Ten with a great history on the hardcourt. Its national title in 2002 marks the most recent of any current Big Ten member.
Because of its tradition, Turgeon isn’t going to change the Terrapin’s identity, even in joining the Big Ten’s brand.
“We’re Maryland,” Turgeon said. “We’ve won a national championship, played in Final Fours, we’ve had a lot of pros. We’re going to be who we are, no matter what league we’re in.”
Added Smotrycz: “There’s a ton of tradition in the Big Ten. I know at Maryland, we’ve got our own.”
For Rutgers, it’s a different story. The Scarlet Knights’ history is lacking, with just six NCAA Tournament appearances to its name and none since 1991, one year before Eddie Jordan entered the coaching business.
It’s Jordan’s task to bring his alma mater to relevancy. The Scarlet Knights finished 12-21 in his first season at the helm, and they haven’t had a winning season since 2006. First, Jordan must bring some semblance of stability to Rutgers.
“We’ve been in three conferences in three years,” Jack said. “It’s definitely crazy.”
Jordan is using the resources at hand in recruiting. Rutgers has the backing of the Big Ten brand, the league’s television network and the top media market in America.
When asked about recruiting to the Big Ten, Jordan said it boggles his mind that a recruit could turn down Rutgers’ offer.
“It’s the best exposure you can get, New York and Big Ten,” Jordan said. “Nobody can top that. No other school can say that but Rutgers.”
Change has reached the Big Ten, what its commissioner planed a little less than two years ago. The conference’s footprint expands out to the East and adds two vital media markets. Each of the league’s 14 schools will make $45 million in television money, with that number increasing each year.
But Maryland and Rutgers hope to be more than just pawns in this game. In leaving tradition-rich basketball conferences, a new opportunity arises — competing in the powerful basketball league of the Big Ten.
First comes the challenge of finding familiarity in a new home.
“It’s unique, it’s different,” Turgeon said. “It might not feel so different in 10 years, but right now, it’s different. But I think it’s great for the league.”
Chris Emma covers the college sports scene for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.