The Big Ten didn’t add USC and UCLA on Thursday.
It added one of the biggest media markets in the United States.
If you want to know why a conference with a mostly-Midwestern footprint would add two universities 2-3 time zones away, look at the bills you pay.
You might subscribe to a cable system or satellite provider, which gives you the Big Ten Network, the ABC/ESPN family of networks, the FOX family of networks, NBC, CBS, the Turner networks.
Or maybe you’re a cord-cutter. You’re probably a subscriber of something that gives you all of those networks. Maybe you’re an Apple TV subscriber, or an Amazon Prime subscriber.
The announcement of the addition of the two California schools beginning in 2024 was all about the Big Ten media rights package that expires soon.
Every network wants a piece, and the Big Ten wants a piece of everything.
Think of what the college football TV landscape will look like for the conference in two years. You’ll have Big Ten games in every conceivable time slot. Start with 11 a.m. games. Then there will be games at 2:30 p.m. A prime-time game at 7. And probably every week a game from the West Coast that starts at 9 or 10.
The Big Ten rights deal that is still being negotiated was estimated to be worth $1 billion, and that was before the conference just added the Los Angeles market to the equation.
And everyone knows you’ll pay, whether it’s for all of those TV networks or the chance to see college bluebloods like USC and UCLA at Kinnick Stadium or at Illinois or wherever.
Sure, both schools add plenty to the Big Ten, from academics to sports to large alumni bases. The league will cash in anywhere and everywhere.
If you’re worried the Big Ten, along with the rest of college athletics, has lost its soul, well, that happened a long time ago when expansion started happening. Adding Nebraska made sense from a logistical and reputation standpoint, but when Rutgers and Maryland came into the league, it was all about the TV eyes, and little about better competition.
When the SEC added Oklahoma and Texas last year, that conference took away the two crown jewels from the Big 12. Someone, it seemed, was going to have to do something to keep up.
A year later, the Big Ten snatched the biggest bricks from the Pac-12 foundation, and now the conference sits and waits for what topples next.
ESPN was the driving factor behind the Oklahoma-Texas move, because of the money the network has invested in the SEC. FOX has been a major TV partner with the Big Ten ever since helping the league put together its own network, and is no doubt helping to drive this move.
Had the Big Ten expanded by adding the school with the reputation of a Notre Dame along with another Midwest university, maybe this would have seemed a little more palatable. The league, at least, would have been staying with its roots.
But there was more money to be found out west, and it will flow in both directions. Eventually there will be a season in which the men’s basketball tournament is played in Los Angeles or Las Vegas, or the conference football championship will be played at the Rams’ new home in Los Angeles.
The Big Ten knows you’ll go, or watch. And it knows you’ll pay for it.
Big, of course, eventually becomes too big. A 16-team conference means more voices in the room, some louder than others, some with more clout behind them than others, all with their own agendas.
The noise may become too overwhelming.
For now, there are deals to be made, checks to be written. Two new big names are coming.
The games will be played. And everyone knows someone will pay for them.
John Bohnenkamp is national and state award-winning sports reporter and a regular contributor to Pen City Current
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