The college football world turned upside down today.
With the breaking news that USC and UCLA are set join the Big Ten – with more teams to possibly follow – the landscape as we know it is about to change forever.
The ramifications of this move are seismic and will create aftershocks for years. Dozens of voices – most of which are smarter and more connected than I am – will opine about those changes.
But as a Nebraska fan and alumnus, my primary focus is what this move means for Nebraska. Will this help – or hurt – NU? How does this impact Nebraska’s other sports?
Let’s look at few key areas:
If you thought NU was going to get rich from TV money, just wait.
Adding two of the biggest brands in college sports – in the second-largest media market in the country – will result in a ridiculously large media rights contract. And if the Big Ten expands further ...
Back in February, we talked about how the conference’s media rights were likely to bring over one billion (with a “B”) dollars.
That’s the good news. The down side is the other 15(or more) teams in the conference will also be getting the same riches to hire coaches and improve facilities.
Thank you, Tom Osborne … and Bo Pelini?
In 20 years, when we look back on all of Tom Osborne’s legendary accomplishments, one of his biggest achievements – and the one that had the greatest impact on Nebraska Football will be “Got Nebraska into the Big Ten”.
Seriously, as a Nebraska fan, could you imagine the last 12+ years being on the outside looking in? As I type this, if you’re in a “Power 5” conference not named Big Ten or SEC, you have to be nervous about your future.
Osborne (and yes, then Chancellor Harvey Perlman) deserve a TON of credit for securing Nebraska’s long-term future. Because of them, the Huskers are “Have” instead of a “Have not.”
On a related topic, I think Bo Pelini deserves a sliver of credit for getting NU in the Big Ten.
Consider: In the six seasons before Pelini took over (2002 – 2007), NU was a combined 44-32, with one division title (2006). Bo came in and won 9 games in 2008, tying for the Big XII North title. In 2009, they won 10 games, won the North, and came within one second of winning the Big XII championship. NU’s application to join the Big Ten was accepted six months later.
Even with the gravitation to mediocrity at the end of the Frank Solich era, followed by the failure of the Bill Callahan years, in 2010 Nebraska was still viewed as national brand poised to return to its 1990’s dominance.
But what if Pelini had started out with, say, 4-8 and 5-7 seasons? Would Nebraska have been as attractive to the Big Ten? Or would the Huskers' spot have gone to Missouri? Would NU have gotten into one of the exclusive clubs? Or would they be sitting on the sidelines with Iowa State and Kansas State?
Make you peace with Commissioner Kevin Warren.
Let me paraphrase something I wrote a few months ago:
You can dislike his leadership and/or his bungled approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. It doesn’t matter.
A commissioner’s job is to make the membership happy. Adding two (or more) household name brand members and inking a mega TV deal should make the members extremely happy.
We can discuss how much of this deal is Kevin Warren’s doing, and how much was brokered by Fox Sports. At the end of the day Warren will get the credit … and the contract extension.
You don’t have to like Kevin Warren, but he’s not going anywhere.
The new Big Ten schedule will be bad – and good – for NU fans.
Before the USC/UCLA news, it seemed likely that the Big Ten will eliminate divisions and move to a new scheduling model. With 16 (or more) teams, the Big Ten East and West are almost guaranteed to go away.
Whether or not this is good or bad for Nebraska is a matter of perspective.
If you believe that Nebraska’s path back to bowl games / relevance / championships comes from winning as many games as possible (and/or winning the easier of the two Big Ten divisions), adding more big-name programs makes that road harder.
Because let’s face it, Fox Sports and friends aren’t going to pay a billion dollars to air games against Illinois, Purdue, Northwestern, and Rutgers. Nebraska will see more games against UCLA, USC, Ohio State, Michigan and other big names that may join. Even if the conference goes to four team “pods,” don’t expect NU to get an easy road.
But, if you’re a casual fan – or season ticket holder – those annual big-name games are pretty exciting. USC coming to Lincoln in November? Nebraska playing in the Rose Bowl*? That sounds like a lot of fun.
*Stadium, not the game.
But it makes the rebuilding job that much harder.
Big Ten volleyball will be even harder.
Hold onto those reins tight, John Cook. The biggest, baddest volleyball conference in the country could be adding two teams with a combined seven national championships and 20+ Final Four appearances.
And if the Big Ten expands further? Could you imagine adding Washington or nine-time champion Stanford to the league?
Goodness gracious. Would there even be a need for a NCAA tournament?
The Big Ten may be forced to care about baseball.
It is not a secret that the Big Ten is – at best – indifferent toward college baseball. But when you add two teams with a combined 26 College World Series appearances and 13 national championships, they aren’t going to stand for the Big Ten’s apathy.
I’m not saying the expanded Big Ten will match the baseball dominance of the SEC. (Spoiler: They will not). But with enough voices, especially from the big names, positive change could come to raise the profile of the league beyond their current mid-major status.
For a school like Nebraska that cares about baseball, that would be a win.
The move to regional conferences for non-revenue and Olympic sports is closer than ever.
For a long time, I’ve believed that a day will come when athletic directors realize the insanity of flying non-revenue Olympic sport teams from coast to coast to play conference foes when a dozen similar schools exist within a 4-to-5 hour radius of your campus. I laid out my reasons here.
Back in January, Jon Wilner reported that UCLA closed the 2021 fiscal year $62.5 million in debt.
You really think the Bruins are going to want to put their dozens of sport teams cross-country every week?
For those of us who miss the closeness of the old Big Eight, or fear college football is becoming NFL Lite, regional sport leagues could be a welcome break.