Mike Lopresti: Big 10 decision: It’s all about the money

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Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh celebrates the Wolverines’ 2021 Big Ten Championship win over Iowa in a 42-3 rout. It was Michigan’s first trip to the championship game. (AP photo)

Sports: Mike LoprestiHello. You’ve reached the Big Ten expansion hot line. Please listen carefully to the following menu because our options have recently changed.

If you’re from Notre Dame, press 1 to be connected to our VIP priority line.

If you’re from any other Division I school, please leave your name, phone number and your football record, attendance figures, booster donation figures and TV ratings from the past 10 years. One of our profit specialists will call you back as soon as possible.

If you’re from the SEC, please provide open dates when we can meet and decide how to split up the world.

If you’re from a design company interested in coming up with our new logo, please be advised that we will not be looking at proposals until we decide whether we need to pick any other league’s pockets and grab more schools. After all, we’re not in every time zone yet.

If you’re from USC or UCLA and want to know where West Lafayette, Champaign and Iowa City are, leave an email address and we’ll send you our digital feature, YOU CAN GET HERE FROM THERE!

UCLA and USC faced off at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Nov. 20 in a crosstown rivalry for the Victory Bell. (AP photo)

If you’re one of these old sentimentalists worried about what recent events might say about the direction of college athletics in general and the Big Ten in particular, hang up and dial 911. You’re obviously delusional and in need of immediate medical attention.

Thanks for calling, and remember, academics are our No. 1 concern. Even when that means sending Rutgers 3,000 miles to play a league volleyball game.

So, the Big Ten, UCLA and USC are taking the money and running. No, that’s not quite right. Given the distances involved, they’re taking the money and flying. Who knew that, one day, when someone sang that line from “America the Beautiful”—“from sea to shining sea”—they would be talking about Big Ten football?

The conference commissioner is happy. The athletic directors are happy. The networks are happy. Why shouldn’t everyone be?

True, this is the future. True, look at all the money that can be made. All the fat television contracts that can be signed. How this, as they say, increases the footprint of the league across the continent. Welcome to the Bigfoot Ten.

But at the risk of throwing a little rain on this parade to the ATM machine, is it also reasonable to feel a wee bit of regret and alarm about where all this is going?

Does it matter how this conference expansion frenzy has grown to look like desperate teams on a college athletics Titanic, clawing over one another for a spot in the lifeboats? Is that a good look, or does anyone care about such a thing anymore?

Does it matter how closely the Big Ten and SEC now resemble the U.S. and Soviet Union in the 1960s, stacking up ICBMs?

Does it matter what can happen to judgment when geography no longer is relevant? Or common sense? Or perspective? When only three things are important—football, football and football?

Does it matter how absurd it begins to sound, claiming concern for academics, as officials create a conference where two league teams are 1,500 miles from the next-closest member? Will they posture about the importance of being in class the week their soccer team has to be in the air for 5,000 miles for a league match? Or when the baseball team passes through three time zones for a weekend series?

These are smart folks. Surely there are moments they must understand how hollow it sounds, to be talking the sanctity of academics when the priority is so blatantly football dollars. If academics is such a concern in Big Ten expansion, why doesn’t the conference try to get Harvard and Princeton?

Does it matter that big-time college sports now dwells in a world where there is too much money at stake to be sane? There is something of the same thing going on in golf. The PGA-LIV mess is starting to sound an awful lot like the IRL-CART civil war in auto racing. That nearly killed the sport and the Indianapolis 500.

Does it matter, all the strange marriages in this new arrangement? USC has won 135 NCAA team championships. UCLA has produced 119. IU has 24. Purdue has three. The USC women’s water polo program is the finest in the nation and just joined a league where only two schools have a women’s water polo team. UCLA’s men will bring as many national basketball titles into the league—11—as the current 14 Big Ten schools combined. With USC’s addition, maybe what IU needs is a beach volleyball team.

Does it matter that entire athletic programs exist and survive only at the behest and pleasure and demands of one sport? When one runaway locomotive is pulling everything else, how long before it all becomes a train wreck?

Does it matter how, with each expansion, rivalries and traditions that have enriched the Big Ten for generations grow paler? In a 16-team league as far-flung as the Roman Empire—or 18 teams, or 20—how much does Ohio State-Michigan move the needle anymore? The Rose Bowl as we knew it for a century is dead. Casualties of progress, presumably. But to see things like that wither, should that cause at least the tiniest distress?

Running back Hassan Haskins’ five touchdowns led Michigan to a 42-27 win over Ohio State Nov. 27. The victory set the Wolverines up to clinch the Big Ten Championship against Iowa a week later. (AP photo)

Does it matter to Indianapolis what this could mean about hosting future Big Ten basketball tournaments or football title games? Indy is still the host with the most. Think UCLA or USC cares? They’ll want their share of big conference events to be held in LA or Las Vegas.

Does it matter that, in a chaotic time and place, every time there is a discussion about right and wrong, rash and rational, it is hard to hear over the cha-chings of the cash register?

Does it matter not only what is gained in this expansion fever, but what is lost?

Tradition is as obsolete as pay phone booths. At least when finances do the talking and thinking. The future comes with two super leagues devouring whatever they need, like roaming T-Rexes, in a world where only the accountants make sense. So be it. But it would be nice, just once, to see an athletic director or college president or conference commissioner take the microphone and begin with six honest words.

We’re here about the football money.

That’d be refreshing, anyway.•


Lopresti is a lifelong resident of Richmond and a graduate of Ball State University. He was a columnist for USA Today and Gannett newspapers for 31 years; he covered 34 Final Fours, 30 Super Bowls, 32 World Series and 16 Olympics. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mjl5853@aol.com.

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2 thoughts on “Mike Lopresti: Big 10 decision: It’s all about the money

  1. I like USC and UCLA much more than I did Rutgers and Maryland. I know it was about East coast money and TV, but they weren’t spots powerhouses. I see UCLA and USC as a good addition, even thought they are 3 times zones away.