When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

With Conference Expansion, the Big 10 is Building a TV Empire

Written by John O'Connor

Last updated on

Oregon and Washington are leaving the PAC-12’s sinking media ship and joining the conference with the greatest TV riches. Here is why continued conference realignment is all about the TV dollars.

Table of Contents
  1. Big 10 football joins elite TV company
  2. Oregon, Washington and others add value for major networks
  3. The Big 10 has eyed major TV markets for years
  4. Which teams will be next?
  5. Many in the media are critical
Big 10 TV deal football

It was said of the British and Roman Empires, as well as the Habsburg Empire of Charles V, that theirs was an “empire on which the sun never sets.” The same could (almost) be said of the Big Ten’s TV deal now that more west coast powers are fleeing the PAC-12 for the iconic Midwest conference.

Under the Big 10’s new TV deal with CBS, NBC, and FOX, which launches this season, Big 10 football will play from the early morning, well past dark on the West Coast, and from noon until the wee hours in the rest of the country, all on national TV.

A rough look at the schedule shows the power of the lineup:

  • Noon EST – Big Noon Kickoff
  • 3:30 EST – featured CBS game of the week
  • 8:30 EST – NBC’s Big Ten Saturday Night franchise

Big 10 football joins elite TV company

The Big 10’s money is the biggest, it’s territory the largest, and its TV markets the most lucrative. Unlike the SEC, which is tied to ESPN, sports fans don’t need cable to watch Big 10 football. This puts Big 10 football on par with the nation’s largest sporting events, all of which air on national TV. The World Series, Masters, Super Bowl, NFL Playoffs, and a few other rare events occupy over-the-air TV waves, with no cable bundle gatekeeper.

The Big Ten is now in an elite media club that no other conference can rival.

Oregon, Washington and others add value for major networks

With more marquee teams, come more marquee matchups for the Big Ten’s TV partners to choose from. The contract gives FOX the “first pick” of games, which is why they keep OSU vs. Michigan at Noon EST every year.

However, the more power teams that get added, the better the tranches of games to feature.

Maybe Oregon at Wisconsin isn’t anyone’s first pick, but it will still draw massive viewership on CBS or NBC, or even downstream with Peacock and Big Ten Network.

The Big 10 has eyed major TV markets for years

It’s easy to forget that the Big 10 added Rutgers over 10 years ago, and it was that move that laid the groundwork for what is happening now.

Shrewd expansion based on market size has always been a priority of the League, going back to the Maryland and Rutgers deal, which gave the Big 10 exposure to the New York and DC TV markets. Who cares that Rutgers and the Terps weren’t football powers? Access to the Big Apple was the power move.

The additions of USC and UCLA speak with equal authority, and will now feature regular season Big 10 football games in the Rose Bowl, a stadium traditionally reserved for the League Champion each season.

With Oregon and Washington coming aboard, the Big 10 now adds the Pacific Northwest, with Seattle and Portland as the TV prizes.

Which teams will be next?

Next up could be four more teams: Cal and Stanford, which adds the Bay Area TV market, as well as academic integrity, and Clemson and Florida State, to plant the flag in the southeast with two of the region’s most recognized football brands.

I have written previously about the ACC’s TV troubles, and why staying in the ACC’s long term TV deal with ESPN could tank ambitious teams like the Seminoles, even on the recruiting trail.

Many in the media are critical

We know that conference expansion makes sense for TV and advertisers, but is this endless expansion good for tradition and student athletes? Probably not. Consider this passage from SI’s Pat Forde in a recent column:

It’s all deeply insulting and hypocritical for a bunch of millionaire leaders who bloviate about “student-athlete welfare,” then assign them geographically ridiculous tasks. The leaders of college athletes don’t care about the athletes, or the fans. They’ll push them both to the breaking point in search of a higher profit margin.

Pat forde
Get our Streaming Newsletter!
Get insider tips, top news stories, and the best streaming deals in your inbox.

Leave a Reply