For Big Ten, expansion does not appear on horizon

May 17, 2016

ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) While the Big 12 mulls adding members, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez sounded like he wasn't quite sure what to make of the view from the sideline with the Big Ten.

On the one hand, he said watching from a distance is ''kind of interesting.''

On the other?

''When you're not involved, it's kind of boring,'' Alvarez said.


The Big Ten not too long ago was one of the key players in the waves of expansion that reshaped the college landscape in recent years, adding Nebraska and then Rutgers and Maryland. But don't expect the conference to grow from 14 anytime soon.

Athletic directors gathered at the Big Ten headquarters for meetings this week said the topic has not been discussed.

It's a sharp contrast from the Big 12, where presidents are considering expansion from 10 teams. The league is mulling whether adding two more members, splitting into divisions and playing a football championship game will increase its revenue and chances of participating in the College Football Playoff.

''We have other things that we're focused on,'' Nebraska AD Shawn Eichorst said. ''The stability is terrific, that's for sure.''

A big issue looming for the Big Ten is its media rights deal, and there was not much news along those lines on Tuesday. Athletic directors expressed their support for Commissioner Jim Delany and the belief that the package he delivers will be a victory for the conference.

''Jim's really good at the component,'' Michigan State's Mark Hollis said. ''We have high confidence in what he's doing and that process is still under way. I think he's heard from all of us on what's important and what's important to each institution.''

Eichorst called Delany a ''great communicator'' who ''tries to stay ahead'' and ''outside the box.'' Those traits along with the results he has delivered have helped create at least a public unity among conference members.

It will be Delany's job to help bring home a new primary rights package with the Big Ten's 10-year, $1 billion deal with ESPN expiring in 2017. So does a six-year, $72 million basketball deal with CBS that includes the conference tournament semifinals and final.

Sports Business Journal, citing sources, reported last month the Big Ten was close to selling half its media rights to Fox for $250 million annually as part of a six-year deal. If that happens, ESPN along with perhaps another network or two could pick up the remaining half.

None of the athletic directors were blinking at least publicly about the possibility of the Big Ten breaking ties with the leading sports network.

''I think ESPN has value,'' Hollis said. ''But at the same time, that value has to attach to what our value is. That's what the conversation piece is. The important brand for us is the Big Ten Conference and not any one television entity.''

Eichorst said there is no ''concern'' about the possibility that ESPN won't be part of the next media deal.

''I think folks thought Jim was way outside the box with the Big Ten Network back in the day,'' he said. ''I don't see any hand-wringing in the room or any anxious folks in the room about what the platform might look like. I think we all suspect that it will be very robust.''