By 2025, the Big Ten will have 16 members. The upcoming additions from USC and UCLA expand the competition from sea to shining sea. The obvious question is what, or rather, who is next.
Notre Dame is the main target, but it has been that way for decades.
The Big Ten has almost always wanted Notre Dame, but the Irish put them in the friend zone a long time ago. Thanks for asking, but we cherish our independence and the ACC is always there to meet our needs.
The Big Ten has remained undeterred, believing that maybe Notre Dame would see what it was missing and commit if it hit the gym a little more or made a few more jokes.
Well, this time the Big Ten sits up front in a Lamborghini, waving the keys to his new LA beach house and saying it’s now or never. While no one is sure what Notre Dame will do this time, let’s just say the Irish are at least taking a second look.
If the Irish say no again, then the obvious move for the Big Ten is simply to stay out of the west and take over the whole place.
If you have 16 teams, why not 20? Add Cal and Stanford for academic ability and Bay Area. Grab Oregon and Washington for some competitive teams and the Pacific Northwest. Be the league of the Midwest and the West. The Big Ten always loved the Rose Bowl. Now they can own it all.
The question is whether four more schools are worth it, and this is part of the media rights mindset that doesn’t get a lot of attention.
Industry sources said the Big Ten was on track to sign a deal that would pay at least $1 billion a year. Adding USC and UCLA will only increase that number, but not just because they are big brands from a large media market.
The real value, sources said, is that the Big Ten has coveted itself even more by knocking out the competition.
Fox currently owns half of the Big Ten television rights. Two other entities are expected to split the other half. The main candidates are clearly:
* ESPN (which has exclusive rights to the SEC).
* NBC (which wants to link games around Notre Dame).
* CBS (which just lost its SEC membership).
* Turner Sports (who would like to play college football).
* Several streaming platforms and tech companies (namely Amazon and Apple) that could jump in.
Until Thursday’s expansion news, all of the above stared at a college football media landscape where the broadcasting rights to Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12 were set to increase or be released shortly in the coming years.
The ACC, meanwhile, is signed through 2036. The SEC/ESPN deal will run through the 2033-34 college season.
The Big Ten was the big draw available, but if you were, say, NBC or CBS, the Pac-12 and to a lesser extent the Big 12, it was a nice consolation prize. If you couldn’t afford the lofty demands of the Big Ten, you could make a deal with the Pac-12 and move on from there. It was not a total disaster.
Well, that would be it now.
The Big Ten isn’t just the biggest fish in the pond. After decimating the Pac-12, it is essentially the only fish.
The Pac-12 no longer has its large national program (USC) or its largest media market (Los Angeles). The Big 12, who will lose Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC after the 2024 season, are in the same boat. The number of games with the remaining teams that can draw large numbers – 4 million or more viewers – is limited.
Not only are the Pac-12 and Big 12 now weakened, but the disastrous decision last January by the Pac-12 and ACC not to agree to a proposed playoff plan which included automatic bidding leaves the future in doubt.
Whatever playoff format exists after the current four-team system ends after the 2025 season is unlikely to include automatic bidding now. It is expected to be drafted by the Big Ten and SEC who, due to their strength, are likely to maximize access for their schools by favoring large selections. Or they can just organize a tournament among themselves.
The race to win the Pac-12 or Big 12 championship would have been of national importance (and thus a televised draw) among a 12-team playoff with six automatic bids. Now it might not matter at all. Weak gets weaker without access to the late season.
So in one surgical move – with only two Pac 12 schools – the Big Ten has not only floated the Pac 12, but has also created a reality in which it is the only attractive television package.
If NBC and CBS want to broadcast the sport, they have to pay for the Big Ten. There is no consolation prize. The Big Ten is the last house in the neighborhood for sale. That urgency alone is worth huge sums of money in providing offers that wouldn’t exist if the Pac-12 were still a viable Plan B.
There’s the added angle, according to SportsBusiness Journal, that Fox executives Mark Silverman and Larry Jones “take an active role” as they serve as advisers to the Big Ten in the league’s negotiations with other media companies. As such, Fox is part of driving up acquisition costs for some of its key media rivals, a broad win for the company.
So while more schools in the west might make sense, the Big Ten doesn’t need one now. Already gaining a foothold in California, it increased its value by becoming the only show in town.
If this is all about television money, and Notre Dame is still holding out, then 16 might be enough.