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Bigger Ten: Examining Potential Expansion of the Big Ten Conference

What could an expanded Big Ten look like and how would we get there?

Big 12 powerhouses Oklahoma and Texas are leaving the Big 12 for the SEC. This bombshell news rocked the other members of the Big 12, who heard about the report on Jul. 21. The main reason for the two schools leaving is primarily money, with the conference being unable to secure a new TV deal with FOX and ESPN. Texas confirmed their departure and accepted the SEC's invitation yesterday, and Oklahoma formally accepted the SEC's invitation today.

The departure of the two schools would almost instantly mean the death of the Big 12. Texas and Oklahoma are two of the conference’s biggest breadwinners, and losing them would also mean the current TV deals with FOX and ESPN won't be there in 2025. 

With both schools out of the picture, the remaining Big 12 teams could struggle to make enough money or draw enough attention to hold onto the conference. So where could the remaining teams go to stay afloat? 

The Big Ten is one possibility. 

According to the Associated Press, the Big Ten produced the most in revenue in 2020 and has is exploring extensions with TV providers FOX and ESPN (their deals end in 2024). However, the conference could side with FOX due to the success of the Big Ten Network. The Big Ten is one of the most stable conferences among the Power Five, and could provide a nice landing for a former Big 12 school that might need somewhere to go.

It might make sense for a few Big 12 schools to migrate to the Big Ten, if Texas and Oklahoma are already in the SEC. 

Kansas is an easy choice. According to Mike Vernon, Kansas has already set up a call with the Big Ten about joining their conference, which makes sense for both Kansas and the Big Ten. Despite not being a powerhouse in football, Kansas is one of the original “blue-bloods” in men’s basketball. Getting the Jayhawks basketball team would be a coup for Kevin Warren, and broadcasting KU vs. Michigan State, Michigan or Ohio State is an enticing chip for any TV service. 

Kansas is also a member of the Association of American Universities, an important factor in any Big Ten school continuing to be in the conference. In 2011, Nebraska lost their AAU status, which put their BIG eligibility in jeopardy. Kansas won’t have to worry about that. 

Vernon also notes that Iowa State is interested in joining the Big Ten, as reported by NBC News. ISU may not move the needle in TV ratings, but they already have a rivalry with Iowa and their football program has recent success. Getting Iowa State could bolster the Big Ten’s West division. Iowa State is also an AAU member, being appointed in 1958.

Another possibility would be for the Big Ten to poach schools from the Pac-12. 

The Pac-12 already competes with the Big Ten in cross-conference football games. In order to slow the ratings behemoth that will be the SEC, commissioner Kevin Warren might try and to secure programs that are in the AAU, such as Stanford, Cal, and Oregon. The biggest obstacle be convincing new Pac-12 commissioner George Kliviakoff to negotiate with Warren. However, the Big Ten's potential deal with FOX could be appealing enough for to swipe some of the West Coast’s best teams.

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When it comes to expanding the Big Ten, there are some hoops to jump through. This is especially true if the Big Ten attempts to take in any of the teams from the Big 12. 

Universities must pay a buyout to leave their conference that is “equal to the last two years of distributions from the conference during the final two years of its membership.” The value of the buyout could be in the $80 million range. However, these buyouts can be negotiated in court, just as Maryland’s entry in the Big Ten was negotiated down from $52.2 to $31.4 million.

There's a slim chance the Longhorns and Sooners remain in the conference until 2025, much to the chagrin of Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby. Therefore the two schools would have to send lawyers into court to negotiate their way out of the conference, with a potential historic amount of money coming from the buyout. Once the buyout happens, however, the Big 12 could aim to stay together, or the individual schools could leave, which is more likely.

Texas and Oklahoma’s massive departure from the Big 12 opens up a lot of possibilities in the world of college football, and the Big Ten will definitely have its hand in picking up the remnants.

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