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Big Ten Rushes Back Into Expansion Talks, Hoping To Enhance Media Revenue

  • The Big Ten is discussing adding Washington and Oregon, a source confirmed to FOS.
  • Commissioner Tony Petitti will now explore whether expansion could enhance their media agreements.
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Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Eyeing the moves in the Big 12 and Pac-12, the Big Ten is now having expansion discussions of its own, a source confirmed to Front Office Sports. 

Commissioner Tony Petitti will explore whether the conference can get more media rights dollars for adding schools like Washington and Oregon. 

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ESPN first reported that the Big Ten has resumed expansion discussions, and that Petitti has been authorized to continue the conference’s research.

The Big Ten conducted research on expansion last year when Kevin Warren was still commissioner — and those talks included Oregon and Washington, as has been previously reported

Fast forward to this summer’s expansion frenzy, which has included the Pac-12’s disastrous media rights negotiations, the Big 12’s attempt to poach Pac-12 schools, and the ACC’s revenue distribution woes.

The Big Ten largely stayed out of the news cycle until now. But the internal conversation on realignment strategy has been chaotic.

Only in recent days has the conference decided to seriously reboot expansion talks, the source said. Now, it’s considering Washington and Oregon. The conference has been and continues to be divided on expansion, however, even with the most palatable candidates.

Now, Petitti will test the waters to see if there’s any additional media revenue should they add the two schools. He’ll chat with the media rights partners the league has for its next deal in Fox, CBS, and NBC, as well as explore new partners like ESPN, the source said. (Last summer, the Big Ten inked the biggest media deal in conference history — a mid-$7 billion package.)

But it’s unclear what kind of offers he might receive to enhance that monstrous deal. The Big Ten’s deal was signed in a completely different era of media rights negotiations, as so much has changed in a year. 

“This is a nasty environment right now,” an expert industry source previously told FOS of the current media rights landscape. Linear broadcasters are being much more judicious about what content they’re willing to pay for, and streamers aren’t offering cash cows like some thought they might. 

For the Big Ten, that could mean networks won’t be willing to shell out for extra schools. 

A pro rata deal, for example, would give new schools the same media rights revenue as old schools. So if each school would receive $30 million a year from media rights fees, the networks would add enough money to the overall deal so that no one’s share gets diluted. 

It’s very unlikely that networks would offer the conference a pro rata deal for Washington and Oregon, the first source said. (Rumors have suggested that Colorado will get a full share in the Big 12, but it’s unclear who’s funding that — ESPN and FOX, or the Big 12’s exit fees from Texas and Oklahoma?)

As the Big Ten fires up the expansion machine, it will watch closely. If the Pac-12 implodes, then the Big Ten may be incentivized to pick up extra members to keep up with the Joneses. 

Last week, the Pac-12 lost Colorado. This week, it offered members a media deal reportedly with Apple that clearly didn’t offer enough upside from revenue or distribution to stop schools from exploring jumping ship.

On Thursday night, Arizona’s board of regents will hold a meeting, and moving conferences appears to be on the table. 

Three hours later, the University of Washington’s board of regents will hold their own session, though a report suggested a definitive decision will not come out tonight. In any case, the Big Ten would have to officially extend an invitation to Washington.

If they decide to go, it’s difficult to see how the Pac-12 stays together. If that happens, the Big Ten will almost certainly have to make moves.

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