July 2016

The Big Ten Becomes Drivable

I’ve long thought the Big Ten—and its academic counterpart, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC)—was the perfect conference for Penn State, athletically and more so academically. Here are world-class research universities, global leaders in so many academic fields, with storied athletic traditions and nationally competitive programs across the board.

But the downside, from my standpoint, has been two-fold: 1) we play in a geographic region where few Penn State alumni live and, 2) the physical distances between schools are daunting. Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska are half a country away and—with apologies to Bobby Knight—Indiana, Purdue and Illinois are “camping trips” for anybody trying to fly in there.

In fact, Penn State has more alumni living in Allegheny County (27,015), Pa., than in all the eight other Big Ten states combined (26,259).

But things are changing, fast. With the recent additions of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten, there is now an Eastern counterweight to our Midwestern cousins. The “East,” as it were, now comprises more than one-fifth of the conference’s membership.

That means the bulk of Nittany Nation alumni—315,000 of whom live in the Keystone State—now have an easy road trip to College Park and New Brunswick. And it means that thousands of other Penn Staters can easily hop the metro or take the train to these away games.

More than 90,000 alumni live in Greater Philadelphia. Some 33,000 alumni live in the Washington–Baltimore metro areas, and about 27,000 more live in the New York City metro area. New Jersey, in fact, is our second most populous state, with 25,000 alumni. New York and Virginia each have more than 21,000 alumni, while Maryland has 20,000. Connecticut has 5,000 and Delaware nearly 4,000.

So, it’s great to see that the Big Ten, in its efforts to capture monster media markets, has finally turned its attention to the East.

Academically, Maryland and Rutgers are superb universities, a perfect match for the Big Ten. Both are elected members of the Association of American Universities (AAU), the most prestigious of all higher education associations, with an elite membership composed of the 62 leading public and private research universities in the United States and Canada. Membership in AAU is by invitation and is based on the high quality of programs of academic research and scholarship and undergraduate, graduate and professional education in a number of fields, as well as general recognition that a university is outstanding by reason of the excellence of its research and education programs. 

All Big Ten institutions, including the University of Chicago, are members of the AAU, save Nebraska, a former member initially elected in 1908. Maryland was voted to membership in 1969 and Rutgers in 1989, on the strength of the recommendation of a study group chaired by then-Penn State President Bryce Jordan. Penn State was elected to membership in 1958.

In terms of research and development expenditures in science and engineering for FY2009, according to the National Science Foundation, Maryland was ranked 41st with $409.2 million while Rutgers was 54th with $351.6 million. Penn State was ninth that year, with $753.4 million.

In the recent Times’ (of London) Higher Education World University Rankings for 2012–13, both schools were named to the Top 100—Maryland at 97th, Rutgers at 99th. Penn State was 61st.

Both Maryland and Rutgers bring comprehensive intercollegiate athletics programs to the mix, Maryland especially with its storied men’s basketball and Rutgers with its strong women’s basketball.

But football will be a different story. Over time, Penn State has owned these great universities. Penn State’s first game with Maryland came in 1917, and since then our record with the Terrapins is 35-1-1. Penn State’s first game with Rutgers came a year later, in 1918, and since then the series stands at 22-2.

And so, welcome to Maryland and Rutgers, for three great reasons—geographic proximity, academic quality and our historical success on the gridiron. Let the games begin!

For the Future,

Roger L. Williams ’73, ’75g, ’88g
Executive Director