By RALPH D. RUSSO AP College Football Writer
A group of Big Ten presidents has begun discussing the possibility of adding more West Coast schools to the conference if the Pac-12 continues to crumble, two people familiar with the conversations told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the conversations were preliminary and the Big Ten was not going public with its internal deliberations.
Oregon and Washington would be the primary targets if the conference decided to make a move, one of the people said.
Yahoo Sports first reported the Big Ten was exploring the potential of adding more Pac-12 schools.
The Pac-12 is down to nine schools seemingly committed beyond this year, with Southern California and UCLA heading to the Big Ten in 2024 to make it a 16-team, coast-to-coast conference. Colorado is leaving the Pac-12 for the Big 12 next year, too. Colorado announced its move last week.
The Pac-12 is hoping to keep its remaining members together with a media rights deal that would make Apple TV the conference’s primary home, ESPN reported Tuesday. The deal might not be enough to prevent more defections to the Big 12, with the remaining schools in the Four Corners region, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah, the prime targets.
USC’s and UCLA’s move to the Big Ten, announced in June 2022, were the first blows to send the Pac-12 reeling into uncertainty over the past year.
The Big Ten vetted Pac-12 members Oregon, Washington, Stanford and California while maneuvering to add the Los Angeles schools, another person who was involved in that process told the AP.
While former Commissioner Kevin Warren kept the idea of more Western expansion alive in the Big Ten, a change of leadership seemed to cool down a desire for more growth in the league.
New Commissioner Tony Petitti said during Big Ten football media days that expansion was not a priority.
“The Big Ten Conference is still focused on integration of USC and UCLA, but it’s also the commissioner’s job to keep chancellors and presidents informed about new developments as they occur,” the Big Ten said in a statement Wednesday.
The Big Ten has been reluctant to add more schools because they won’t increase the value of the seven-year, $7 billion media rights deals with Fox, CBS and NBC that begin this season.
Expansion into the Northwest could provide some increased value to the Big Ten Network, one of the people familiar with the situation said.
Annual payouts by the conference to Big Ten schools through the length of those deals are projected to reach over $60 million in just television revenue. Total conference payouts could reach $90 million per year.
By comparison, the Big 12’s recently agreed to extension with Fox and ESPN is projected to pay its members about $32 million annually.
Any additional Big Ten expansion could not come at the expense of current member payouts, one of the people familiar with the situation said.
“It would definitely be a considerable reduction from the current rate,” the person said.
But even a reduced payout from the Big Ten could top what the Pac-12 schools are likely to receive from their current conference under the Apple TV deal or what’s available in the Big 12.