The Big Ten might expand east, and for Penn State that means a potential change to an region they still claim to be the flagship of despite playing many of their games in the frontier. It's helpful to see where eastern football talent comes from, how much of it is Penn State's, and what additions from the east mean for the current "balance."
It's more fun with a map.
*Preemptive issues with the data. Because there's always "issues" with the data. For starters: the Top-By-State lists are not all equal-a guy who lands at the bottom of the Connecticut list might not make the cut on the Pennsylvania list, for example. But as a ballpark overview I don't think this is a major issue except to perhaps slightly inflate the commits landed for Boston College and UConn who often seem to be cleaning up those two-stars left behind.
You also might consider that border schools (in the context of being "eastern") like Penn State and Maryland have more draw in non-eastern states than a more centralized school like UConn and Rutgers. These outer schools are somewhat cross-regional, if that term exists.
Bullets that mostly start with questions...
- Well first, how about a chart:
School Eastern Recruits Penn St. 22 Maryland 15 Pittsburgh 14 Rutgers 9 Florida 9 Ohio St. 8 Michigan 8 Notre Dame 6 Boston Coll. 6 North Carolina 5 West Virginia 4 Virginia 4 Stanford 2 California 2 Syracuse 2 Georgia 1 Mississippi 1 Nebraska 1
- So how about Florida? No other foreign program is getting anywhere near that kind of pull—the Gators have finished in the top 6 in 4+ star recruits landed in each of the past four years, including a second place finish last year-and what do you know they're also one of the most successful programs in recent years. I don't have the capacity to do a roster breakdown of another team in another conference, but you have to think there's a major advantage to being in one of the top three recruiting states and pulling in a large amount of talent from the slow, cold, northeast.
- What about Notre Dame and their "national" recruiting presence? The Irish has not done anywhere near the damage out east you would expect or have been lead to believe they can. They landed just six 4+ star recruits in four years from the area.
- As far as "eastern recruiting" goes for Ohio State and Michigan: OSU is pulling primarily from Pennsylvania and occasionally Maryland. Michigan is split primarily between Pennsylvania and New Jersey for whatever reason. Also, the DC-to-Illinois connection that was a big part of their rise seems to have dried up.
- Remember that infamous "How do leftovers taste, Penn State?" article? Yeah, not so much. Sure 2008 was a down year, but it was also a tiny class and therefore punished by the recruiting services. Penn State took the most 4+ recruits the year before, and they've taken the top number every year since.
So what does this all mean for expansion? Well the three realistic players—Rutgers, Syracuse and Pitt—pulled a combined 25 players from these lists over a four year period. Penn State pulled 22. Only Pittsburgh is pulling a respectable number, and Rutgers is only one recruit ahead of Ohio State and Michigan in terms of top recruits from the Region. Syracuse had been GERG'd for years and at least has an excuse.
Would Rutgers, Syracuse and Pitt pick up more or less eastern recruits as Big Ten members? These things are always impossible to say for sure. A lot of people who follow recruiting or comment on the general direction of the program make wild sweeping comments about recruiting that aren't backed by the data (the "Penn State Who?" article above serves as a prime example). My goal is to not suggest what I'm saying is inevitable in any way.
So logical although not necessarily inevitable thoughts: Well if you apply reverse Penn State basketball recruiting issues, which is that Penn State can't recruit basketball players out east because players want to play in their home region, you might suggest that joining the Big Ten would actually hurt the schools out east as ACC and non-jumpers now can provide something Rutgers and Pitt can't when they have to play west of Chicago every year. However, the more teams join the less of an issue this is.
The other potential issue, however, is that the door is now open for other Big Ten schools to get more exposure. I wouldn't think Ohio State or Michigan would get much of a jump as they're already super-national, but a school like Illinois or Minnesota would probably get a much larger net-increase in exposure which may or may not mean more recruits, although it certainly couldn't hurt.
This is probably less of an issue depending on divisions, however, and the size of the conference. If we have 14 schools, the western one's (or, if you please: the one's that won't include Penn State, Pitt and Rutgers) are going to be playing at any given eastern school one or two times a decade.
What would Penn State recruiting look like for a more-eastern facing Big Ten? Under the same qualifications as above, of course: probably the same. Penn State is already the biggest fish in this pond and they can't expect to lock down the east because no one, in any part of the country, is able to do that in the current recruiting environment.
The good news is I don't think adding eastern schools hurts Penn State recruiting. While they are already a national brand and well-represented out east because of alumni migration, they also can now advertise more games played near eastern towns where these recruits leave behind family and friends. If the logic goes that Penn State is boxed out of eastern basketball recruiting because of their league, then there are probably football recruits that reject an offer for the same reason. How many it's hard to say—Penn State's football traditions mitigate this substantially—but again, it doesn't seem as though it would be a harmful shift if eastern schools were added to the Big Ten.
And more importantly, it doesn't seem to present an opportunity for any school, current Big Ten member or new addition, to overtake or even gain substantially on Penn State's current pole position though expansion.