One of the things I was most interested in when I talked to BTN President Mark Silverman on Wednesday was this: what were among the first things he did upon learning that Rutgers and Maryland would become the 13th and 14th members of the Big Ten at the start of this academic year. To get to the future, turns out he started off in the past.

“The first things you do is go through some of their classic games, determine what games we make sure we have on the network to give to their viewers and give to their alums that are most important across the spectrum,” said Silverman, making one of what will likely be many trips to New York, en route to BTN’s Saturday in Piscataway, New Jersey. The network will be presenting their studio show from Rutgers’ High Point Solutions Stadium all day leading up to the Scarlet Knights’ showdown with Penn State, in their first-ever conference game.

Next, besides finding talent specific to those schools (Eric LeGrand, Shawne Merriman and Shaun O’Hara have already appeared), was maybe more obvious. “We obviously had some distribution strategies to work out, how we would be able to bring in more viewers in the New York and Maryland/DC areas,” Silverman said. BTN has struck new deals with numerous cable operators, including Comcast, Time Warner and Cablevision in both areas (though DISH in Maryland has presented a problem), providing essential distribution to two enormous markets that the Big Ten has made no bones about wanting to penetrate.

It’s all part of a Big Ten Network that suddenly, at seven years old, finds itself diversifying a little bit. There is legitimate competition in the conference-affiliated network market with ESPN launching the SEC Network. They also have to deal with the perception of the conference, which has been on shaky ground in the past couple of seasons, and outside of Rutgers and Penn State, hasn’t really had a great start this season.

The goal from here on out is just making a Rutgers or Maryland event seem like any old Saturday from Ann Arbor or Champaign or Lincoln.

“We’ve been successful from a talent standpoint, I think now it’s just trying to help expand the Big Ten reach, so people get more comfortable with Rutgers and Maryland being in the Big Ten. It does sort of take a while, but what the network can do is we’re bringing these games across the country into traditional Big Ten areas. The more we can get the fans used to these two schools — knowing their history, knowing their famous players — that’ll help us integrate them into the conference more and that’s really a big focus of ours.

We’re in a big area now, and we have to familiarize people with the newer, bigger Big Ten. That’s tough, because people are used to ‘what was’ in the Big Ten. Doing something new is always more of a challenge, and it’s something I think is an important aspect of what we’re doing,” said Silverman.

As for Rutgers and Penn State, the game has the added significance of happening in the wake of a week in which Penn State regained the bowl eligibility it was denied in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, providing perhaps an even more bizarre angle to an already hyped-up game. They will talk a certain amount about that, but Saturday in Piscataway will be more about the spectacle.

“This game is a huge focus, but we have a triple header on Saturday. We’re really gonna try and take advantage of the buzz of the environment, we want to be there from early in the morning until all the way through game time and after the game as well. We’ve never really done anything on this scale,” Silverman said. Guests will include Franco Harris and LeGrand, among others.

“There’s a lot of focus on it, and I think you’re going to see the older Big Ten area gravitate toward a game like this, because the winner of this game is going to be in a big position.”

It’s part of one of Silverman’s other goals for the network: looking outward. Another thing Silverman wanted was for Big Ten Network to focus “on adapting on being a network with a larger geographic relevance. More nationalizing of the production we’re doing, and expanding it from where we were before.”

“What we’re trying to do now is really look to expand our roster. We do two live shows every day, we’ve tripled our roster. I really wanted to show different faces, different points of view. Not everyone’s a Big Ten-er who’s on our studio set these days. Guys who played in the SEC or other conferences. There’s a real opportunity. We’re obviously Big Ten-centric, but we’ve got to be watchable for a sports fan whether or not they have a Big Ten allegiance. We’ve really focused the last couple years on broadening our coverage, talking more about college sports, from a Big Ten focus, but making sure we have the national guys. We’re becoming more and more successful as we spend more time.”

That said, the network gets to focus on itself, between Penn State and Rutgers and an early showdown between West Virginia and Maryland. It’s a big Saturday for the Big Ten, and while the conference appears to be looking for an identity, the network dedicated to it seems to know exactly what it wants to be.

About Steve Lepore

Steve Lepore is a writer for Bloguin and a correspondent for SiriusXM NHL Network Radio.