John Shipley: Big Ten Expansion Will Make It Tougher for Gophers Football – InForum

In its difficult transition from amateur to professional, college football has reached the prime of its sustainability phase, which is why we’re finding universities and conferences grabbing for dollars like a man in a coffers. So we’re preparing to welcome UCLA and Southern Cal, struggling icons of West Coast football, as the 15th and 16th teams in a former Midwestern conference still called the Big Ten.

The move, which was reportedly nearing completion Thursday afternoon, is clearly a response to the Southeastern Conference adding Oklahoma and Texas to its now 16-program league. The Big Ten, with its own network and a big deal with Fox Sports, is the television revenue leader and is reluctant to cede that title to the SEC, which, while generally better at football, doesn’t have the media markets to compete with which they can compete the Big Ten.

With that in mind, adding the only two major college programs in Los Angeles is a great move. With USC and UCLA, the Big Ten will be the nation’s only coast-to-coast conference — and because the Trojans and Bruins are the only collegiate powerhouses in LA, they will have cornered the nation’s second-largest media market. This will allow the Big Ten to negotiate an unprecedented television rights deal and give their schools a gargantuan annual financial guarantee so they can: pay off any debt they incurred to build new facilities; Provide equitable academic and nutritional support to student-athletes who already receive most of their financial support from the athletics department; and continue to make their soccer and men’s basketball coaches the highest-paid federal employees from California to New Jersey.

Sustainability. It always seems impossible in collegiate athletics, and yet somehow it never is.

But for what is basically a football move because that’s where the new money is coming from, it doesn’t do much, if anything, to help most of the Big Ten’s football programs. Not competitive. The Gophers failed to win a seven-team Big Ten West division. Now they have to be better than two additional programs if the conference takes on a true regional breakdown – and it should, because that’s how sports departments work. Sending Purdue east will make it a true East-West split and immediately add some substance to what has been the Happy Loman of the Big Ten’s brother divisions starting in fall 2024.

It’s great news for the Gophers’ most successful programs — volleyball, track and field, softball, and men’s and women’s hockey, among others — because they will continue to receive the state-of-the-art facilities and support that helped make them national players. With all the TV money pouring in, non-profit sports don’t have to make football attendance sweat as badly.

This is arguably the selling point for USC and UCLA—guaranteed money. Will it be easier for the Trojans to win national titles again? Maybe. The SEC and Big Ten dominate recruitment. According to, 20 of the top 30 recruiting classes in 2022 belong to SEC and Big Ten teams — and that includes the top 20 classes from Missouri that struggled to compete as a Big 12 team before joining the SEC, and also the traditional SEC-ran Kentucky.

If there’s a recruiting surge for the Big Ten – Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan have 2022 top-six classes – surely teams with the history and recruiting bases of Southern Cal and UCLA are candidates to ride that wave. That would be competitively bad for Minnesota football even if only one of those teams is ranked in the West Division.

Thankfully, for sustainability reasons, that doesn’t seem to matter as much anymore. Although football remains the vault for all college sports, it is less and less tied to the competitive success of a program (eg number of viewers) due to the guaranteed TV money. Just being a Big Ten Also-Ran is a lucrative gig.

That’s good for Gopher’s athletics because, despite their rise in popularity, the football team struggles to fill their relatively small stadium. But if you’re waiting for the Gophers to win a chunk of the Big Ten title for the first time since 1967, well, these next two seasons are big. Because in two years it will be even more difficult.


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