With conference realignment shaking the world of college athletics, the BTPowerhouse staff got together for a roundtable discussion about the league and what fans should expect in the coming months.
See the full discussion below.
1. What a last few days. A quiet offseason turned into one of the most momentous weeks in college sports, as the Big Ten opted to add Oregon and Washington as full-time members in 2024. The PAC 12 also seems to be on the verge of a complete collapse. What was your initial reaction?
Thomas Beindit: A mixture of sadness and tentative excitement. To start, it’s important to reiterate why this happened. The current realignment wasn’t specifically Big Ten related. It was a byproduct of earlier moves by the Big Ten and SEC that culminated in the collapse of the Pac 12, namely the Big Ten adding UCLA and USC and the SEC adding Oklahoma and Texas shortly before. Those moves precipitated the collapse of the Pac 12. This was simply a later chapter in the story and the Big Ten found itself able to add two schools (Oregon and Washington) who were desperate for a landing spot. It’s the only reason the Big Ten added them so cheaply, with payouts expected to be half or less than half of the rest of the league.
With that said, Oregon and Washington are fun places and great programs, so it’s going to be cool to see them regularly face off against Big Ten opponents. And even if you’re a traditionalist, it felt like the band-aid was ripped off last year with UCLA and USC. This doesn’t feel as seismic for the league, even if it was. The proverbial horse was already out of the barn.
Bryan Steedman: Not a huge surprise. When the Big Ten was looking to expand and brought in USC and UCLA I thought Oregon would be on their radar considering the amount of money Nike is pumping in and how they feel like a good fit for the conference from a football perspective. Washington isn’t a bad get either and seems like they’ll fit nicely on the football side of things. The PAC-12 issues aren’t a huge surprise. You would think a west coast power conference should be fine, but everything from the league’s leadership to their ill fated network (which is actually pretty good from a tech standpoint, just available to basically no one) to their inability to get a TV deal done…I’m not surprised teams jumped at the chance for some more certainty and decisively more money.
L.C. Norton: Mine was mixed. Sorrow for what is unfolding across college sports and some level of anticipation. I’ve spent some time around the Pacific Northwest, particularly Oregon, and am always up for an excuse to travel to the region.
It’s a shame what’s happening for those fanbases, those joining other conferences and those left behind, who stand to lose a good amount of tradition. The Pac-12 was one of the most storied conferences in the country and it’s difficult to call its demise anything but sad.
2. Why do you think this happened? And why now?
Beindit: I touched on this above, but it primarily had to do with the moves by the Big Ten and SEC over the last few years. It undermined confidence in and the financial viability of the Pac 12, which culminated in the complete collapse of the league over the last few weeks. This is all about money and (unfortunately) has been for the last few decades.
The timing was a combination of the Pac 12’s lackluster media rights negotiation efforts, as well as the desperation of Oregon and Washington. Let’s be real about this – the Big Ten would not have added either school under the same conditions as UCLA and USC. They’re less financially attractive properties and would have cost the other schools money. However, when Oregon and Washington got desperate, they were willing to accept less to move. This was a “going out of business” sale for the Pac 12 and the Big Ten cashed in.
Steedman: The PAC-12 lost two of their biggest schools and even Colorado parlayed the hiring of Deion Sanders into a new conference. If the conference could have gotten a TV deal solidified quicker this likely doesn’t happen, but some of the bigger schools probably were under the assumption that TV deal would be decisively lesser so jumping to the Big Ten would be a big money getter from a football and basketball perspective. The Big Ten likely knew this was probably the best time to sweep in and land the remaining teams out west they wanted and didn’t miss a beat.
Norton: This all goes back to media deals, particularly for football. The clock was ticking on Oregon and Washington given the lack of a sustainable broadcast deal for the Pac-12 and I’d imagine both knew they’d been vetted in some form by the Big Ten and that was there priority should the inevitable come to pass. The Pac-12 ran out of options and ran out of time without any clear additions and a lack of action since the departure of USC and UCLA, there just wasn’t any confidence in leadership.
3. Do you think the expansion ends here?
Beindit: Unfortunately, it’s hard to see things ending now. To start, the collapse of the Pac 12 hasn’t been completed. The league still has four schools (California, Oregon State, Stanford, and Washington State) who are seemingly now looking for new homes. They could wind up in a variety of places, including the ACC, Big 12, or the Mountain West. There’s also the possibility the Pac 12 simply absorbs a Group of Five league and keeps the name. And while I don’t think any of those four schools are power players at the national level, they will set the table for future moves, especially if they end up in the ACC, who seems like the next target for the Big Ten and the SEC.
Additionally, there’s no debating the story of the ACC isn’t finished yet. The league has a really strong media rights agreement, but they can void it if enough schools get onboard. Keep an eye on the specifics if anybody new joins the league. I expect schools like Clemson and Florida State will try and manipulate the terms of the media rights deal to see if they can speed up the timeline.
Steedman: No, but I think this is likely the last major addition out west for the Big Ten. There’s been talk about possibly Florida State and I think if the Big Ten gets up to 20 teams in the near future there’s a decent chance they’ll try to raid someone (probably FSU and Miami) from the ACC. Notre Dame doesn’t seem to want to commit and West Virginia seems fine in the Big 12, so whoever the Big Ten tries to add will likely be based somewhere in the southeast.
Norton: Probably not. I’m not sure who the Big Ten could add eventually barring a change of heart from Notre Dame. As for the rest of the college athletics landscape, the remaining four members of the Pac-12 need to find a home and the ACC is facing open complaints from the decision makers at Florida State. Something’s gotta give.
4. How do you think this plays out for the Big Ten, Oregon, and Washington? Do things go well? Does it have any impact on the earlier additions of UCLA and USC?
Beindit: From a financial standpoint, this is going to be a massive win. The Big Ten will add a ton of inventory to its collection, including a litany of games that will be in later time slots, meaning even longer television windows. In the fall, we’re talking about FOX and Big Ten broadcasts starting from 10am eastern to well into the wee hours of Sunday morning. That’s a huge advantage no other league will have, including the SEC. And things will only build from there heading into basketball season, where the league is going to be able to broadcast games for every conceivable watching window, especially over the weekends.
Unfortunately, the financial winfalls probably won’t carry over to what fans actually care about – success on the field/court. On the football side, the sport has long been ruled by raw win-loss records. Adding more quality programs, more difficult games, and potentially more conference games will mean more losses, worse bowl bids, and worse seeding for the league. And some of that will carry over to basketball, too. Big Ten fans already know what playing in a deep league feels like. And adding three more quality programs just means more difficult games. It’s not as dramatic as the football side of things, but it can’t be ignored. Things are going to be tough.
Steedman: From an immediate standpoint, this should be a solid addition for both football and men’s basketball. It’ll also expand the Big Ten “in-market” rate to most of the west coast so it’ll greatly increase television revenue. I’m sure the networks are also happy that the league now has some better football programs so the league can be more than a top heavy conference with only a couple nationally relevant teams. The addition of Oregon and Washington should also help USC and UCLA a bit, as it’s basically guaranteed that the four former PAC-12 teams will likely end up facing each other pretty much every season as a way to keep travel costs in line.
Norton: Scheduling will become a nightmare for Oregon and Washington, but maybe less so than it was a few months ago for the Big Ten as a whole. Two more west coast schools could give the conference some flexibility in booking trips (having a team play Oregon and then, say, UCLA so they’re not flying cross-country). All that travel could become a negative recruiting issue against Oregon and Washington in particular.
The two have different styles of play than what is commonly seen in conference, will either choose to adapt or maintain their current style? Will those differing styles instead force the Big Ten as a whole to adapt, especially with those of USC and UCLA in mind? Will Oregon and its Nike affiliation remain as attractive for recruits with cross-country trips and a different league? I’m not entirely sure, but it’s reasonable to assume each addition will need some time to adjust to the new league at the very least.
5. Any other thoughts on the expansion?
Beindit: This has to stop at some point, doesn’t it? Can college sports really thrive with where things are heading? The short-term money is there right now, but are people really excited to see a product losing its soul? And while that’s a little dramatic, it’s how I feel right now. The Big Ten (and everybody else) has sold out for the money. It’s not the first time someone or something has done that and won’t be the last, but those moves rarely work out in the long run.
While an extra few bucks is nice, it pales in comparison to what you risk losing if this horrible restructuring continues. College sports is build on regional games, local rivalries, and unique atmospheres. These moves feel like it’s gutting those things. I mean, does anybody really wanna watch an east coast team like Maryland or Rutgers travel to the west coast to tip-off on a weeknight at 11pm, let alone do it in place of a rivalry like Oregon vs Oregon State? Maybe they do, but it’s not the sense I get. It’s time for some serious restructuring and it needs to be designed to prevent this nonsense.
Steedman: As conferences rapidly expand bigger and bigger I’m always curious if we’ll eventually see what transpired a little over two decades ago with the WAC and Mountain West Conference. And by that I mean when the Big Ten eventually hits 20 (or more) teams and then decides there’s too much bloat and too many teams not nationally relevant from a money perspective and we see these massive power conferences split back into 10-12 team leagues. It’s also interesting because right now you have constant bickering over if the standings are impacted in conference play (not just for the Big Ten) because some schools draw an easier schedule, but now we’re getting to the point where you won’t even face half your conference if we keep expanding.
The league seems to want to hit 20 teams so that means within a year or two so on the basketball side of things we could be at the point where the 20 game schedule is effectively you play everyone once with one double play for your rival.The money aspect is nice for the league/schools but these eventual mega conferences will be incredibly bloated.
Norton: Overall, this has come at the expense of college basketball with football serving as a point of emphasis in realignment. Programs like UCLA and Oregon will face a new reality in the Big Ten that they just weren’t built to face in the Pac-12. Outside of Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan, high-caliber recruits aren’t common around the Big Ten. I doubt a guy like Dana Altman is thrilled that he’ll have to face an entirely new conference style of play while convincing five-stars that the travel situation isn’t that bad.