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Column: Like it or not, the Big Ten chose survival over tradition when adding USC and UCLA

July 26, 2022
<p>Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren speaks at Big Ten Media Day on Oct. 8, 2021 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. </p>

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren speaks at Big Ten Media Day on Oct. 8, 2021 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez | The State News

When Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren took the job in 2020, he immediately began looking at potential partners for expansion.

As a former Minnesota Vikings executive, Warren had many different ideas for college sports. The traditions of regional conferences was something that gave many tunnel vision when making the next moves in realignment.

But for Warren, he saw a massive TV market that could be looking for a new home, a large Big Ten alumni base and academic power. He then did the unthinkable with the addition of UCLA and USC last month. 

“These are two academic and athletic institutions and a strong location in Los Angeles with great rich history and tradition, who are innovative, who are forward thinking, who are bold, who will make us even stronger as a conference,” Warren said. 

The words “bold,” “forward thinking” and “innovative” were ones that were met with disdain across college football by many. Breaking the regional barriers that defined college football for years and leaving a conference in peril was going to draw some ire from many.

However, whether you like it or not, this is the new age of college football. Money, as always, reigns supreme in this case and Warren is out in front to ensure that his conference remains on top and survives.

With the Big Ten’s current TV deal expiring after the 2023 season, Warren went out and added the second biggest TV market in the United States to drive up the value of the money dealt between the 16 schools starting in 2024. That money projects to be north of a billion dollars a year for the conference, which would put the Big Ten’s schools at a massive advantage over teams in any conference not in the SEC or Notre Dame.

The Pac-12 is also negotiating their new TV deal and is in a much worse position than they were a month ago with their two biggest schools on the way out. The ACC signed a long term deal with ESPN until 2036 for security. And while it will provide security for the conference in the short term as schools are unwillingly to pay the reportedly half a billion dollar price tag to leave under the grant of rights, at some point it may become affordable for those schools to leave as their TV revenue is starting to become much less than it’s SEC and Big Ten counterpart.

These schools in the Big Ten and SEC with the bigger TV revenue will have that much more money in their pocket to build better facilities and entice recruits and better players, creating a bigger gap in not just the group of five and power five, but now even in just the power five.

When Warren did this, it was cut throat towards its fellow Alliance partner, the Pac-12. But in this world of college football, it’s survival of the fittest and the Big Ten went forward with ensuring its survival.

“As a young person born in the '60s, I remember it was a happy day when my parents would bring us the Sears and Roebuck catalog to pick our birthday gifts out of,” Warren said. “We would be excited to order those. Those catalogs aren't in existence anymore. Sears and Roebuck is not in existence anymore. So I think it's important to put very creative, aggressive, bold minds in a room together. Fortunately, I have colleagues here in the Big Ten Conference to think about these ideas. I don't want to be Sears and Roebuck.”

If you think it stops here, you’re quite naive. This world of adding your value is going to continue for these conferences looking to play catch-up or those looking to continue to get ahead. But for Warren and the Big Ten, they have the control of the situation and are in no rush to make their next move. 

“And regarding expansion, I get asked every single day, what's next?” Warren said. “It may include future expansion, 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 regarding any further expansions. We will not expand just to expand. It will be strategic, it will add additional value to our conference.”

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