A Growing Conference: How New Teams Will Impact Big Ten Swimming and Diving

By Elle Meinholz, Swimming World intern

The Big Ten is a conference that has always shown great depth in athletics and excelled in academics. With the recent addition of the Maryland Terrapins and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, it will be interesting to see what these two universities will contribute to the already great Big Ten Conference.

With Rutgers and Maryland joining the Big Ten, there are big expectations to follow. This transition is expected to financially improve and stabilize these two schools, hopefully improving their athletic and academic programs in the future. They also add a pair of television markets to the already powerful Big Ten Network, which is one of the reasons so many Big Ten programs are now much better off financially than before the creation of the television entity.

Unfortunately, in the swimming community, the adding of Maryland and Rutgers do not look to have a significant impact as Maryland cut swimming and Rutgers is down to just women's swimming after cutting the men several years ago. Maryland, however, has been on record as potentially resurrecting sports that it cut last year depending on the financial impact of joining the Big Ten.

Minnesota head coach Kelly Kremer told Swimming World that he is hopeful regarding the addition of Rutgers and Maryland. He is particularly hopeful that the strength of the swimming and diving programs in the Big Ten will help reinstate the men's program at Rutgers and both the men's and women's programs at Maryland.

Wisconsin head coach Whitney Hite, however, does not share Kremer's optimism.

“Having been a part of a program that's been cut [at Washington], I don't see it happening,” Hite said. “I would absolutely love it if they did, I just don't think it is going to happen.”

The Big Ten, now sporting a total of 14 schools with the rumored potential of expanding to 16, could be becoming too large, but several Big Ten coaches don't mind the expansion with two being on record as supporting the growth.

Swimming World spoke with several Big Ten head coaches, and many believe there is actually room for even more swimming teams. However, with the addition of more teams, the issue of format for the conference meet is brought in to question.

“As a conference, we are already thinking about and discussing the impact on the conference meet,” Illinois women's head coach Sue Novitsky said. “Some of the items that we are looking at are championship meet squad size, quality of the facilities to host the championship, meet format and fan experience.”

Hite sees the potential of a combined men's and women's conference meet like the Southeastern Conference, that extends to a five-day format, instead of having a split men's and women's meet.

“I think that is advantageous for the [SEC],” Hite said. “I think the Big Ten is at a disadvantage and that's something we need to look at as a conference and be forward thinking.”

As a women's program, Illinois set up dual meets with the women of Nebraska upon their entering the conference. Now with the addition of Rutgers, Illinois anticipates scheduling competition with them as well.

When it comes to athletics overall, Rutgers and Maryland will definitely add more competition and ultimately step up the level of performance in the Big Ten. In addition, both schools are strong academically.

“The conference is so strong academically and athletically that opening up new doors can enhance the brand,” Novitsky said.

From a marketing and recruiting standpoint, this move will also greatly improve the Big Ten. The Big Ten has traditionally been a Midwest conference but is expanding into a broader region with the recent additions of Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers.

“Coming from the East, I think they can provide more visibility for the conference and each institution to fans and future recruits” Novitsky said. “I think that in time it will be good for the conference as a whole. There is a lot of history in the Big Ten Conference and I feel that it is important to honor those old rivalries and possibly forge some new ones as well.”

Kremer concurs with Novitsky in that the addition of Maryland and Rutgers serves to expand the recruiting territory for Big Ten members.

“It will expand recruiting territory making the conference more national and less regional,” Kremer said.

At the end of the day, it's safe to say that these new additions to the Big Ten are only going to enhance this prestigious conference.

“Having been in the SEC and the Big 12 as an athlete and coaching in the Pac 10, the Big Ten is a very strong conference and there is a lot of benefit to that,” Hite said.

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