Big Ten leaves door open for 'future' and 'strategic' expansion to 'add additional value to our conference'

INDIANAPOLIS — Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren spoke Tuesday about the conference’s boldness and aggressiveness as college sports go through a period of sweeping change, leaving the door open for further expansion after adding South California and UCLA in the biggest move of the offseason.

Warren’s opening remarks to kick off the Big Ten Football media days were nearly 15 minutes before he directly mentioned the two Los Angeles schools joining the conference in 2024.

“Regarding expansion, every day I get asked what’s next. It may include future expansion,” Warren said. “We are not going to expand just to expand. It will be strategic. It will add additional value to our conference.”

He added, “We’re in a perpetual state of evaluating what’s next for college athletics.”

Warren also said that Big Ten is finalizing a new media rights deal that will take effect next year, with an announcement expected “sooner rather than later.”

He dodged questions about what it might be worth to the conference, but some projections have the Big Ten poised to pay about $100 million in annual revenue to its schools for years to come.

He said that USC and UCLA will enter the conference as full members with respect to revenue sharing. In previous expansions with Nebraska, Rutgers, and Maryland, incoming members received partial shares at first.

The West Coast additions will make the Big Ten a 16-member coast-to-coast conference stretching from Maryland to Southern California.

“You’re going to wake up watching Big Ten football and you’re going to sleep watching Big Ten football,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

For the coaches, the prospect of taking long road trips wasn’t much of a concern compared to the benefits provided by USC and UCLA.

“We recruit all over the world,” said Fitzgerald, whose team opens the season in Dublin, Ireland, on Aug. 27 against Nebraska. “We have a great alumni base in Southern California.”

Just a year ago, in the first Big 10 in-person press days hosted by Warren as commissioner, the SEC dominated headlines with news that Texas and Oklahoma would drop out of the Big 12 for the South’s superconference.

The Big Ten’s backlash came 11 months later.

“Much of the work that we’ve done on any potential expansion, we’ve done several years ago,” Warren said. “We are always in a perpetual state of goodness-of-fit analysis for any institution that attends the Big Ten Conference.”

Warren said that Los Angeles had the largest section of Big Ten alumni outside of the Midwest.

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“I thought it was a very smart move for our league to get ahead of any changes that might be happening across the country,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said.

Minnesota coach PJ Fleck summed it up succinctly: “LA! Are you kidding me? That’s perfect.”

Those road trips will be much more difficult for athletes in other sports who compete more frequently and not exclusively on the weekends. Especially for West Coast schools that will have to jump at least two time zones to take on any other member of the conference.

“We have created a Big Ten-type readiness committee that we will activate here to start working with USC and UCLA to get ideas on what we can do,” Warren said.

“And what we’re going to do is work over the next two years from a programming component to make sure we create the environment that’s the healthiest and most holistic for our student-athletes, which is one of the reasons I started the Advisory Committee. of Student-Athletes to be able to listen to them and say what is important,” said Warren.

Warren reminisced about the days when his family bought from the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog and the company’s long history in and around Chicago. The third-year commissioner, who has drawn much criticism for the Big Ten’s handling of the 2020 pandemic season, said he would not allow the conference to become an obsolete business like Sears.

“Where the expansion is going, I don’t know,” he said. “It is important for all of us in business to recognize that we are in a time of change. I am embracing change. I’m going to be very aggressive.”

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