Not long after the shock of the news that USC and UCLA are joining the Big Ten had started to wane, I’m sure most began thinking who the conference will add next. Trust me, they’re going to add more teams. Considering the conference’s TV contract runs out in a year and a half, I’m sure it will be sooner rather than later.
The addition of USC and UCLA tells us what the Big Ten will consider when looking at candidates. Geography and the impact it will have on non-revenue sports don’t matter. TV market size is what matters. Adding to the total number of households where the Big Ten has a presence gives the conference more leverage when those negotiations begin. Here is a look at a few schools I think are a good fit based on the Big Ten’s USC/UCLA model:
Notre Dame – The Irish are always the first mentioned whenever Big Ten expansion is discussed. They are a national brand and an entirely different animal when it comes to TV viewership, with a fanbase that stretches from coast to coast.
ND is a member of the ACC in everything but football where they still play as an independent. They have their own TV contract and still get a cut of the ACCs. While they keep all of their bowl money, they do not get a share of the ACC’s and get no help from the conference in paying for bowl expenses.
The Big Ten’s new TV contract is expected to fetch about $1.1 billion (yes, you read that correctly). If they add two more schools and bring the total to eighteen members, that will mean about $61 per Big Ten school. Add in the amount of bowl and playoff money brought in by all those members and you can imagine how much that number will swell.
I don’t think there is any question the Irish can make more money in the Big Ten, but there is a legal hurdle to clear if they decide to pursue that idea. If Notre Dame decides to give up being a football independent, they are contractually obligated to join the ACC under the conference’s grant of rights. According to ESPN’s Heather Dinich, there is an exit fee of $52 million if a school were to leave the conference. Despite the financial and legal hoops they’d have to jump through, I think the Irish are a soft maybe to join the Big Ten.
TCU – This one probably catches you by surprise, but the Horned Frogs are located in the nation’s number five TV market (Dallas-Ft. Worth). Adding them would give the Big Ten a Texas presence and help with recruiting in a state where the Buckeyes already do quite well. They are currently a member of the Big XII.
Boston College – They are an up-and-coming program in the nation’s tenth market. One drawback is Alumni Stadium’s capacity is just 44,500. The Eagles are also a member of the ACC and I doubt they are willing to pony up the cash needed to leave that conference. The only way I see them leaving is if the Big Ten wants to broker a package deal that includes them along with Notre Dame.
Arizona State, Washington, Oregon – I list these three PAC 12 schools together because I think they share similar circumstances. All three have a rivalry with an in-state school that is also a member of the PAC 12 but are in much smaller TV markets.
Phoenix and Seattle are market numbers eleven and twelve. Oregon is in a relatively small market, but Portland is market twenty-one and the Ducks are certainly a national brand. Adding two of these three will further expand the Big Ten’s presence in the west.
Colorado – The Buffs are located in Boulder, which is part of the Denver market-the nation’s sixteenth largest. It would be great to see a renewal of their rivalry with Nebraska. The two met for sixty-three consecutive seasons before ending the series in 2010. They’ve met only twice since. Colorado is currently a member of the PAC 12.
USF – Would the Big Ten add a team from the Group of Five American Athletic Conference just to bring in the nation’s thirteenth tv market? I have to be honest and say I don’t think the Bulls would be any less competitive than Rutgers, who has one winning season since becoming a Big Ten member in 2014. The more I think about them, the more I like the idea of adding the Tampa-based school. It would give the Big Ten a presence in another state the Buckeyes recruit well.
Here are a few I consider longshots:
Stanford – Although they are located in the nation’s sixth-ranked market (San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose), I put them here for academic reasons. They are one of the country’s outstanding universities. Conference members share research dollars and it is well-known the Big Ten brings in a large amount. I don’t expect this to happen, but I don’t think it is out of the question that Stanford could approach about joining. If that happens, don’t be shocked if fellow PAC 12 member and fierce rival Cal isn’t far behind.
Pitt – Pittsburgh is market number twenty-six and it would be great to see their rivalry with Penn State played on a yearly basis. However, they are an ACC member and I don’t think there is any way they want to spend or even have the money to leave. I also don’t think they bring enough to the table for the Big Ten to want to help defray the cost of prying them away from their current situation.
WVU – They are located in a very small TV market (Clarksburg), but I include them for one reason: the ratings for their games are as good or better than some schools in larger markets. Mountaineer fans love their team and follow them. However, I just don’t think the Big Ten is interested in a team from such a small market.
Why have I not included schools like Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF since all three are in sizeable markets? Because they are already committed to joining the Big XII and I don’t think any are looking to deal with the enormous cost of a legal fight to get out of that agreement.
There you have my two cents on possible future targets based on what the Big Ten showed us by adding two schools from the nation’s second-largest market. I really believe they are looking at market size and the number of TV households when considering potential new members in order to drive up the price of that impending new tv contract as high as it can possibly go. I look for them to add more members by this time next year.