Big Ten Conference Commissioner Kevin Warren talked Tuesday about the conference being bold and aggressive as college sports goes through a period of sweeping change, and he left the door open for more expansion after adding the University of Southern California and UCLA in the offseason’s biggest move.
Warren’s opening remarks to begin Big Ten football media days went nearly 15 minutes before he directly mentioned the two Los Angeles schools that will be joining the conference in 2024.
“Regarding expansion, I get asked every single day what’s next? It may include future expansion,” Warren said. “We will not expand just to expand. It will be strategic. It will add additional value to our conference.”
He added: “We are in a perpetual state of evaluating what’s next for college athletics.”
Warren also said the Big Ten is finalizing a new media rights deal that will go into effect next year, with an announcement expected “sooner rather than later.”
He dodged questions about what it could be worth to the conference, but some projections have the Big Ten in position to pay out about $100 million in revenue annually to its schools in the coming years.
He did say USC and UCLA will enter the conference as full members with regards to revenue sharing. In previous expansions with the University of Nebraska, Rutgers University and the University of Maryland, the 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 go to bed watching Big Ten football,” Northwestern University football coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
For coaches, the prospect of making long road trips was not much of a concern compared to the benefits USC and UCLA bring.
“We recruit worldwide,” said Fitzgerald, whose team opens the season in Dublin, Ireland, on Aug. 27 against Nebraska. “We have a huge alumni base in Southern California.”
Just a year ago at the first in-person Big Ten media days hosted by Warren as commissioner, the Southeastern Conference dominated headlines with news that Texas and Oklahoma would be leaving the Big 12 for the SEC.
The Big Ten’s counterpunch came 11 months later.
“A lot of work we’ve done on any potential expansion, we’ve done multiple years ago,” Warren said. “We’re always in a perpetual state of analyzing the goodness of fit for any institutions that were coming to the Big Ten Conference.”
Warren said Los Angeles had the largest section of Big Ten alumni outside the Midwest.
“I thought it was a very smart move for our league to get out in front of any changes that might be happening around the country,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said.
Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck summed it up succinctly: “L.A.! Are you kidding me? That’s perfect.”
Those road trips will be a lot more complicated for the athletes in other sports that compete more frequently and not exclusively on the weekends. Especially for the West Coast schools that will have to hop at least two time zones to face any other conference member.
“We have built a Big Ten kind of readiness committee that we’ll activate here to start working with USC and UCLA to get ideas as far as what we can do,” Warren said.
“And what we’ll do is we’ll work through these next two years from a scheduling component to make sure that we create the environment that’s most healthy and holistic for our student-athletes, which is one of the reasons I’ve started the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee to be able to listen to them to say what’s important,” Warren said.
Warren reminisced about the days when his family would shop from a Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog and about the company’s long history in and around Chicago. The third-year commissioner, who received plenty of criticism of the Big Ten’s handling of the 2020 pandemic season, said he would not let the conference become an outdated business like Sears.
“Where expansion goes, I don’t know,” he said. “It is important for all of us in business to recognize that were in a time of change. I’m embracing change. I’m going to be very aggressive.”