Further Big Ten expansion could open door for additional revenue, broadcast partners – CBS Sports - STRATEGIES TO EARN MONEY

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Further Big Ten expansion could open door for additional revenue, broadcast partners – CBS Sports

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Though the Big Ten reached a historic seven-year deal with CBS, Fox and NBC on Thursday, the conference may soon have more inventory on its plate. The Big Ten may consider further expansion before — or even after — its new media rights agreement with the three broadcast behemoths on July 1, 2023.

CBS Sports reported last month the Big Ten was evaluating California, Oregon, Stanford and Washington as potential future league members. Rightsholders pushed back on the notion as they did not believe those current Pac-12 schools would bring equal value to the league as USC and UCLA did upon being added. CBS Sports subsequently reported interest had cooled on those four schools; however, adding those four schools would create additional inventory for the Big Ten, which could result in ESPN getting a piece of the action.

Though the Big Ten has expressed interest in Notre Dame, there is growing sentiment the Fighting Irish will remain independent, sources told CBS Sports.

Much was made Thursday of ESPN walking away from bidding on the rights to the Big Ten, ending what had been a 40-year relationship with the cable sports giant airing Big Ten football and basketball games.

Should it expand, the Big Ten would need a rightsholder (or rightsholders) to pay for its extra inventory. CBS, Fox and NBC already have their schedules set with what they believe to be cost certainty — number games to be televised, windows to televise those games and a “selection draft” for the most desirable games.

“I would keep that window open for ESPN,” a high-profile source with extensive knowledge of media rights told CBS Sports. “Until all this is done, there are lots of moving parts. Never say never.”

ESPN will still show nonconference games and bowl games involving Big Ten teams as part of its existing deals with other Power Five conferences. And there is no use in the Big Ten alienating ESPN, which will be among the networks falling all over themselves to bid on what is expected to be an expanded College Football Playoff in the next few years.

“I don’t think there’s any concern [regarding expansion],” said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. “We have really good exclusivity provisions in our contract. I can’t go into specifics, but our window [to show games] is protected.

“If there were additional games to be added in different time slots, we would certainly take a look at that. I’m sure NBC and Fox would also. Expansion, by and large, would only be a positive. But we would have to find windows and time slots to air any potential games but that would be a benefit to everybody.”

McManus spoke only about the concept of Big Ten expansion, not referring to any specific schools or addressing the likelihood of it occurring.

It may be only a coincidence, but it was noticed throughout the industry when Anil Gollahalli was hired away from Oklahoma by the Big Ten in March to become the league’s chief legal officer. That was three months before USC and UCLA joined the league.

Gollahalli had been with OU for 14 years. He was obviously in place when the Sooners made the move from Big 12 to the SEC. Prior to that, he guided the school through two rounds of Big 12 realignment including the Pac-12’s failed attempt to take half the Big 12, including Oklahoma, in 2010.

There are already huge implications to the Big Ten growing to 16 teams with a record rights deal. The SEC and Big Ten will further separate themselves from the rest of major-college football with their schools making at least $30 million more annually compared to the rest of FBS.

Fallout from the Big Ten media rights deal

Futures of Pac-12, Big 12 hang in the balance: Separate from any Big Ten discussion, ESPN now has a chance to become somewhat of a “kingmaker” regarding these leagues. Each conference is eying the other’s schools in what could become the next big realignment story. Without a Big Ten deal, ESPN has theoretically freed up money to spend as both conferences are currently in flux.

The Pac-12 is desirable because ESPN would not otherwise have any games in the valuable “fourth window” — after 10 p.m. ET. The “Pac-12 After Dark” tag has been ridiculed by some, but it would be valuable to ESPN.

Taken to the extreme, it’s worth asking: Would ESPN now have an influence over which league survives this round of realignment? There is already word circulating that the Pac-12 — in the middle of its own media rights negotiations — might have to agree to a media rights contract that allows Cal, Oregon Stanford and Washington an “out” if approached by another conference.

It is already known that any combination of the two leagues doesn’t necessarily add value to one or the other. The Pac-12’s current deal expires in 2024, while the Big 12’s deal with Fox and ESPN ends in 2025.

There is some feeling in the industry that, if the Big 12 doesn’t strike now and snag some Pac-12 teams, the opportunity might be lost. “This is their window,” one insider said of the Big 12. “If they can’t do it now, I would think the Pac-12 is going to find their financial situation.”

There is still value to the remaining 10 Pac-12 teams staying together because Oregon and Washington are considered next-best schools “available” following USC and UCLA’s departure to the Big Ten; however, neither school brings pro rata (equal value) to a 16-team Big Ten.

But in the Pac-12? They have plenty of leverage. That has led to speculation Oregon and Washington could agree to stay in a reconstituted Pac-12 with an uneven revenue distribution paying the Ducks and Huskies more than other programs. If the pair make that demand, what option would commissioner George Kliavkoff have to consider?

New Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark is being aggressive in realignment if judged only by his comment last month at media days. “The Big 12 is open for business,” he said.

Despite the upheaval, the Pac-12 still has an advantage because it is closer to calling for a show of hands (grant of rights) in a new agreement than the Big 12. The Big 12 is at least a year from the beginning of formal negotiations on a new rights deal.

Closest thing to the NFL: It’s more than coincidence that the Big Ten and SEC combined have the same amount of teams as the NFL, 32. There have already been comparisons the leagues are so NFL-like that the SEC might as well be the AFC and the Big Ten the NFC. “I have heard that,” Warren said.

They will be mini corporations running themselves with little or no NCAA oversight. That is a certainty. Deregulation is coming soon, perhaps by the end of the month. That means less enforcement and perhaps fewer FBS members to dilute the voting process. The two big boys will have such a monopoly the transfer portal and NIL won’t matter. They will control it all. Revenue sharing? Cool. Pay the players? No problem.

The amount on money in the system as a whole — not just in the Big Ten and SEC — adds questions to how much of it should go to athletes in the future. The Big Ten recently endured what must be characterized as a unionization effort at Penn State. Some representatives are seeking a student-athlete bill of rights in Congress. NIL has made overnight millionaires of some athletes.

Warren reiterated to CBS Sports that he is open to learning more about unionization. “In the next couple of months, I’m going to be digging into the legitimate facts regarding unionization,” he said.

There is no College Football Playoff without these two leagues, so why wait to expand until 2026 like the CFP contract says? A 16-team playoff has already been discussed by FBS commissioners.

These 32 are about to form a different way to think about college football. Big Ten has the best markets and biggest population. SEC has the best traditions, best recruiting grounds and most successful programs over the last 15 years. Together, they offer the best college football. Does anything else matter?

The implications are huge. The move all but formalizes the separation by the SEC and Big Ten from the rest of the sport. There are even dueling major networks representing each conference. How that plays out in the future is anyone’s guess. There has never been this battleground for advertisers, ratings, recruiting, even playoff berths at this level.

To get a glimpse of the future, take a look at the 2022 CBS Sports Preseason All-America team released Wednesday. Accounting for USC, UCLA, Texas and Oklahoma in their 2024 conferences, the SEC and Big Ten would have combined for 70% of the first-team selections (19 of 27).

The CFP hopes to arrive on an expansion decision by next summer. FBS commissioners have let it be known they prefer multiple partners on the next CFP contract that expands after the 2026 championship.

Circle of life: The outgoing Big Ten chair, Northwestern president Morton Schapiro, is a former chair of the USC economics department. In that sense, the Big Ten continues to take from the Pac-12. Schapiro is being replaced at Northwestern by Oregon president Michael Schill.

Schill currently serves on the NCAA Board of Directors, which will approve how the association looks in the future with deregulation on the way. That deregulation will have to account for a consolidation at the top of college athletics, in part, because of the Big Ten and SEC media
deals.

Warren, 58, has now overseen the biggest college TV deal in history two years after controversially cancelling the Big Ten season — then reinstating it — over COVID-19. This deal reinforces his place, along with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, as one of the most powerful
persons in college sports.

“Before I came here, even to this day, I stayed incredibly prayerful,” Warren said. “I do the best I can, have a tremendous work ethic, stay optimistic and try to keep stacking really good days. I’m not really one of those persons who reflects a lot.”

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