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The Big Ten's National Footprint—and What It Says About Chicago

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The Big Ten's National Footprint—and What It Says About Chicago

Crain's Chicago Business July 3, 2018
EconomicsOther
EducationHigher Ed

A reader with the pen name Frank the Tank is a frequent commenter on my blog and a guru about many aspects of universities and athletic conferences. Recently, he took some Wall Street Journal data and used it to create an extremely interesting analysis of the Big Ten. It's highly recommended reading even if your interest is non-Big Ten schools.

Here Frank notes that the "big four" cities of New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco have a major Big Ten alumni presence:

There are only four markets in the entire country that drew more than 1 percent of the graduates from every single Big Ten school: New York, Los Angeles, Washington and San Francisco. None of these metro areas are located in the Midwest. Not even Chicago, the heart of the Big Ten, covered every single conference school, albeit the two sub-1 percent exceptions are the latest East Coast additions of Maryland and Rutgers.

Big Ten, Superstar Effect, Chicago, University

Frank the Tank's boildown of the Wall Street Journal's data

To be sure, the Wall Street Journal notes that those four particular markets draw from a much wider range of colleges across the country. The sheer sizes of the New York and Los Angeles markets swallow up a lot of college grads and all four of the cities have strengths in industries that attract a national talent pool: finance in New York, entertainment in Los Angeles, tech in San Francisco, and government and politics in Washington.

The Big Ten's top-to-bottom presence in those four markets is noteworthy because the only other Division I conference that has every member in those same markets is the Ivy League ... and all of the Ivy League schools are in relatively close proximity to New York and Washington.

The Big Ten is the only conference with a truly national base of alumni, though the Ivy League is national where it counts:

The Wall Street Journal database shows that the Big Ten has the most nationalized alumni base of the Power Five conferences from top-to-bottom. As noted previously, the only other conference where every school has at least a Tier 3 connection with New York, Los Angeles, Washington and San Francisco is the Ivy League. More than half of the Big Ten has at least a Tier 3 connection with Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Denver and Seattle. There are four or more Big Ten schools with a Tier 3 connection with Houston, Miami and Phoenix, too.

Within the Midwest, Chicago is the dominant destination. But other than Chicago, no other Midwest city has a Big Ten draw outside of their home state universities.

Putting aside Maryland and Rutgers, Chicago is still the market with the deepest ties to the Big Ten by a large margin. It is a Tier 1 market for six schools, Tier 2 market for two schools and Tier 3 market for four schools. No other metro area has more than 2 Tier 1 Big Ten school connections. This isn't exactly surprising with the annual migratory pattern of new Big Ten grads taking over apartments in Lincoln Park and Lakeview every summer (while the older Big Ten grads like me move on to places like Naperville). Big Ten schools also send a lot of grads to the largest metro areas within their own home states. Every Big Ten school has a Tier 1 connection to at least one market located in its home state.

...

What's stunning to me, though, is the utter lack of Big Ten grads going anywhere else in the Midwest other than Chicago or a metro area that has a presence in their school's state. Detroit is the second largest metro area in the Midwest, relatively easy driving distance from most of the Big Ten schools, and larger than both the Seattle and Denver markets. Yet, the only two Big Ten schools outside of Michigan and Michigan State that have even a Tier 3 connection to Detroit are Northwestern and Purdue. Meanwhile, 10 Big Ten schools have a Tier 3 connection with Denver and eight of the league's colleges have a Tier 3 connection with Seattle.

...

If Midwestern metros want to have any chance of changing their slow growth compared to the rest of the country, it's clear that they need to do a better job of attracting the college grads that are just beyond their own home state universities. There really isn't a great reason why Indianapolis isn't drawing at least 1 percent of grads from neighboring state Big Ten schools like Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State ... and Indy is one of the healthier Midwestern economies. Essentially, the Midwest metros with the exception of Chicago have completely ceded their "home field advantage" for Big Ten grads to the coasts and other high growth locations (e.g. Dallas, Atlanta and Denver).

...

It has been fascinating to go through the grad destination profiles of the Big Ten schools along with other colleges across the country. Once again, in matters more important than conference realignment, Midwestern cities in particular need to review this data and understand that they are giving up their home field advantage of nearby Big Ten grad talent to coastal cities that are providing such talent with more professional and economic opportunities. This is sobering data for every Midwest city outside of Chicago. They likely knew that this challenge was happening at some level, but the results are actually even worse than expected.

Chicago not only has a strong Big Ten presence, as Frank notes, "Interestingly enough, all of the Ivy League schools have at least a Tier 3 presence in Chicago, too." It's weaker than the big four coastal cities, but it's there.

There's a ton of other information in Frank's post, including about the implications of expansion and analysis of future Big Ten conference moves. Click through to read the whole thing.

This piece originally appeared at Crain's Chicago Business

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Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor at City Journal. Follow him on Twitter here.

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