A few days ago, the Land Of 10 explored a handful of expansion candidates for the Big Ten, should the 14-team conference explore the down-the-road notion of adding two more universities to its prestigious portfolio.
Today’s piece, in turn, focuses on five reasons why the Big Ten would never lose any of its existing members. There are no poaching fears in the Big Ten, and for good reason).
The Big Ten stands as the nation’s oldest Division I athletic conference. It’s also one of the richest and most influential entities in American sports, with the Big Ten posting $448.8 million of revenue for the 2014-15 fiscal school year.
Here are the five best reasons for staying status quo:
1. There are no other natural landing spots for the Midwest-based powers
Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, Indiana, Iowa and Michigan — minus the Wolverines’ 10-year hiatus from 1907 to 1917 — have been affiliated with the Big Ten since the 1890s.
That covers the tradition angle pretty well.
But there’s also a logistical component at play. For instance, there aren’t any obvious exit strategies for the above schools — plus Ohio State (member since 1912) and Michigan State (member since 1950). The possible exception might be Illinois, because of its close proximity to Missouri, an SEC member since 2012.
As we all know, if the SEC had plans to expand from 14 to 16 schools sometime in the near future, the conference’s first priority wouldn’t involve finding a regional-based partner for Missouri. Instead, it would undoubtedly go big-game hunting for high-revenue programs east of the Mississippi River, with the intent of conquering top 20 media markets.
And while the SEC, ACC and Big 12 would obviously covet Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Penn State, among others, these schools would have little motivation to leave the Big Ten family — short of being awarded monies that would rival a first-world country’s Gross Domestic Product.
Which brings us to this …
2. The Big Ten’s upcoming TV/media deal promises to be a real game-changer for the industry
It might not become official until the upcoming Kickoff Luncheon or sometime in the fall, but the Big Ten will reportedly reap about $2.64 billion with its next media-rights contracts, presumably doing business with Fox, ESPN, CBS, Big Ten Network and possibly Turner Sports. (The current deals with ESPN, CBS, BTN expire after the 2016-17 school year.)
That’s roughly $440 million in annual payouts to the conference, likely split 14 or 15 ways (including the league office’s cut).
The reported numbers would exceed that of any other power conference. In fact, Fox’s share of the reported package (at roughly 50 percent) will apparently eclipse the Pac-12’s entire TV/media deal, which boggles the mind at first, until realizing the following:
The Big Ten Network likely has the greatest national reach of any other in-house conference TV enterprise, in terms of accessing/entertaining Big Ten alums in every sports-loving pocket of this country. (The league would likely cede the South to the SEC.)
Now for the tricky part: It’s hard to quantify how transcendent the Big Ten’s reported deals will become in the marketplace, simply because the other four Power 5 leagues are locked into its respective contracts for a minimum of eight years (see below figures).
And as luck would have it, the new Big Ten contracts will only cover six years (2017 to 2023), meaning the conference powers-that-be will have the opportunity to negotiate another round of groundbreaking deals with major networks before the Big 12, Pac-12, SEC and ACC can arrange table sessions with the high-end channels.
- Big 12 (numbers courtesy of ESPN.com)
Tier I/II rights: 13-year, $2.6 billion deals with ESPN, Fox through 2024-25.
Tier I/II rights: 12-year, $3 billion deals with ESPN, Fox through 2023-24.
Tier I rights: 15-year, $825 million deal with CBS through 2023-24; the SEC and ESPN family of networks have a 20-year partnership through 2034 (believed to be north of $4 billion)
Tier I/II/III rights: 15-year, $3.6 billion deal with ESPN through 2026-27.
3. The Big Ten continually strives for perfect balance with football and basketball
On the men’s side, 11 of the Big Ten’s 14 teams have reached at least one Final Four in college hoops since 1970 (exceptions: Penn State, Northwestern, Nebraska).
Regarding football, since 1995, 13 Big Ten programs have notched at least one season of 10 wins, a conference title or major bowl victory (the lone exception: Indiana).
On the attendance front, for men’s basketball, nine Big Ten schools ranked in the top 30 for the 2015-16 school year: Maryland (5th), Wisconsin (6th), Indiana (7th), Nebraska (11th), Michigan State (13th), Iowa (19th), Purdue (20th), Illinois (27th), Ohio State (28th).
And for football, seven Big Ten powers cracked the top 25 in average attendance last season — Michigan (1st), Ohio State (2nd), Penn State (7th), Nebraska (11th), Wisconsin (17th), Michigan State (19th), Iowa (24th) — with the Wolverines and Buckeyes exceeding the hallowed 100,000 mark on a weekly basis.
Put it all together, and it’s easy to see why the Big Ten garners such high visibility and generates absurd revenues with both sports. This kind of balanced commitment might have no peer in college athletics.
In fact, one could say the Big Ten has become the Avis Rent-A-Car of big-time college sports: The conference aspires to be the best from year to year, of course, but it’s also comfortable with being second nationally in football (trailing the SEC) and second in basketball (trailing the ACC).
4. Maryland moved heaven and earth to make the conference jump, knowing there’s no turning back
Back in 2014, Maryland and the ACC settled on multiple lawsuits which could have yielded substantial damage to both parties, if things went the distance in the courts. Instead, the school agreed not to pursue $31 million in withheld payments from the league – monies that had already been earned – and the conference subsequently agreed to waive the reported exit fee of $51 million (monies that were never intended to be collected).
Maryland’s financial hit of $31 million was easy to quantify. There was also an emotional element to the school’s exodus from the ACC, the Terrapins’ sporting home from 1953 to 2014 as a founding member.
To many athletes and East Coast media, Maryland’s move didn’t make much sense at the time. On the ‘Huh?’ meter, it probably ranked somewhere between West Virginia jumping to the Big 12 in 2012 or Boise State and San Diego State pledging football allegiance to the old Big East — circa December 2011 — before squirming out of the ambitious arrangement.
As a result, it’s safe to say Maryland will never receive a Christmas card from the ACC, saying “Baby, please come home” (Darlene Love/U2 joke for older audiences). If it were a marriage, the parties would have already filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences.
Minus the $51 million exit fee.
4b. Rutgers wouldn’t even recognize the old Big East
The new Big East no longer has football.
Three years ago, the conference re-branded itself as a basketball-only conference, comprising of 10 schools (Villanova, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Creighton, Marquette, DePaul, Xavier, Butler) that don’t even field football programs at the FBS level.
So, just like Maryland – but for different reasons – Rutgers really can’t go home again, either.
5. Let’s end with an SAT-test-quality sentence: ‘The Big Ten is to sports … as the Ivy League is to academics’
Good lord, that statement just reeks of haughtiness.
And yet, it says a lot about the Big Ten’s collective power as a prestigious and indomitable entity, even if the conference hasn’t had a national champion in men’s basketball since 2000 or may never claim another College World Series title with baseball.
But let’s face it, if Coastal Carolina can win the College World Series, someday a Big Ten might do that same.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.