Quick Bit: If you think you know where college athletics is headed now that the Big Ten has expanded to include UCLA and USC, you’re one of the few.
INDIANAPOLIS – Nearly three years ago, back when Kevin Warren was running the Minnesota Vikings and still just a candidate for the position that has made him one of the most powerful people in college sports, he already was pondering what the future might hold for the Big Ten conference. Because that’s what one does when pursuing a prominent position in business. Nobody gets a job by saying they’ll keep the lights on. It’s about what’s next.
“Even before I accepted the job, even in my materials that I prepared to accept the job, expansion was in there,” the Big Ten commissioner told The Sporting News at the opening of Big Ten football media days. “And I think we had to be forward thinking as far as what we needed to do.”
So Warren has brought us the bigger Big Ten, with the recent additions of USC and UCLA, but he is not willing to tell us it is the biggest Big Ten it ever will be. He is not saying the conference has further plans to expand. He is telling us what so many in college athletics have not been willing to admit since the B1G moved Westward on the final day of June.
“Where expansion goes, I don’t know,” Warren said. “Where our conference realignment – I mean, look what’s happened over the last year. It’s morphed and grown in a different direction.
“I do know this: It is important for all of us in business to recognize that we’re in a time of change. And I think there’s two different kinds of people in the world. They look at change as it’s a problem, or they look at change as an opportunity. I’m one of those people that when change occurs, I get excited about it. It’s an opportunity for us to do a lot of things that people have thought about but maybe have been a little bit reticent to do. So I’m embracing change.”
If the commissioner of the Big Ten doesn’t know what is next for conference expansion, and if not a single media person really even hinted at the possibility of the Trojans and Bruins joining with the Huskers, Hawkeyes and Hoosiers until the day it became official, why should anyone in the media presume to know what’s next?
In the past couple weeks, we have seen the impending death of the Pac-12 and the Atlantic Coast Conference foretold by various members of the media. One voice declared every member of the ACC is trying to extricate itself from the league, even though each signed a grant of rights agreement with the league that is binding until 2036 – and even though just a few of the 14 all-sport members would find the Southeastern Conference or Big Ten with even a remote interest in adding them. It would be like riding on the ocean in a seaworthy cabin cruiser but jumping overboard in hopes the million-dollar yacht zipping past will fish you out of the water. Most would be left to drift out to sea.
“Regarding expansion, I get asked every single day: What’s next? It may include future expansion,” Warren said. “But it will be done for the right reasons, at the right time, with our student-athletes’ academic and athletic empowerment at the center of any and all decisions that we will make.
“We will not expand just to expand. It will be strategic. It will add additional value to our conference.”
If you need me to spell it out for you, that means if they can get N-O-T-R-E D-A-M-E, they’ll be delighted.
That is entirely in Notre Dame’s control. Their contract with NBC for the rights to its home football games will expire in 2025, which is good timing for the position in which the Irish now find themselves. They’ll need to receive an overwhelming raise, or they’ll need to reconsider their independence. If they choose to take their football into a league, the Big Ten would be the most obvious option, and probably the most lucrative.
The declaration by so many of my colleagues that college football is obviously headed toward wholesale expansion of the two most powerful leagues, the SEC and Big Ten, is backed neither by Warren’s words or precedent. Every significant expansion in the past 15 years has been driven by one notion: more money.
The SEC was interested in the approach by Texas and Oklahoma last summer because it would mean greater revenue for league members. That’s what drove the ACC’s dramatic expansion between 2003 and 2013. It’s at the core of the motivation for the B1G to add UCLA and USC.
There aren’t many programs, now, that can add value to leagues that are growing revenues in the way the Big Ten and SEC are. Warren responded to a question from UCLA beat writer Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times that the Bruins and Trojans will receive equal shares of media revenue when they enter the league. It seems unlikely given this circumstance, anyone in this conference or the SEC would desire expansion that dilutes either the value of those shares or the exclusivity of membership.
Why would the Florida Gators want to elevate in-state rivals Florida State or Miami if it would not mean significantly greater revenue in Gainesville? Or, relative to the league in session, why would Penn State want to welcome Pitt as a partner?
Warren responded to questions about the negative implications of coast-to-coast athlete travel or Big Ten games starting on Pacific Standard Time by emphasizing there are positives, as well, to these issues.
“One of the things that caught my eye when I was interviewing for this job back in 2019 — I studied every one of the universities across the country — and one of the things that jumped out about USC and UCLA and even the market of Los Angeles, is that we have the largest section of Big Ten alumni, other than in the Midwest, is in Los Angeles,” Warren told TSN.
“And so I spent a lot of time before I came to the Big Ten … and even these last couple years always analyzing each and every school and what it means to college athletics, what it means to the Big Ten conference and to make sure that any time we have an opportunity to add incredible value that we are prepared.
“We always are in a perpetual state of analyzing the fit for any institution that would come into the Big Ten conference.”
By the time USC and UCLA arrive, it will have taken 35 years for the Big Ten to grow from the number reflected in its name to 16 members. Each step was undertaken with care, and with an understanding of how value within the league would grow. Rushing blindly into an era of two “super conferences” will not occur, no matter how often it is repeated on Twitter.
As SEC commissioner Greg Sankey rightly said last week at his league’s media days, “This is a super league.” Warren didn’t say the same, but he could have.
Originally found on Sporting News Read More