As conference expansion talk heats up could the Big Ten make a move?
Indianapolis — With the college football season set to kick off in a little more than a month, the sport has hardly been short on story lines.
The fact there will be full schedules and full stadiums this fall — at least, that’s the plan — is a big enough deal after the 2020 season was chopped up due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Then there's discussion of expanding the College Football Playoff from four teams to 12, and the onset of players being able to profit from their name, image and likeness.
As the Power Five conferences hold their annual football media days, another hot topic has emerged: conference expansion.
The Houston Chronicle reported Wednesday that Texas and Oklahoma have reached out to the powerhouse SEC about joining and abandoning the Big 12.
The move would dramatically alter the college football landscape, turning the SEC into a 16-team super-conference and potentially deliver a fatal blow to the Big 12, which would be left with only eight teams.
At the annual Big Ten Media Days which began Thursday in Indianapolis, commissioner Kevin Warren indicated there were no imminent plans for Big Ten expansion. But Warren admitted he was intrigued.
“That’s the world that we live in right now,” Warren said. “And I know from where we sit we're constantly evaluating what's in the best interests of the conference. It will be interesting to see how that story … evolves and where it lands, but I think that reiterates where we are in college athletics.”
The move for Texas and Oklahoma — the two marquee teams in the Big 12 — would be massive and would have ripple effects on every other conference.
CBSsports.com reported that Big 12 officials are meeting on Thursday to discuss the possibility of losing two teams, while SEC presidents were also meeting.
None of the key figures said a whole lot publicly.
“I’m talking about the 2021 season,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said at SEC Media days.
“The college athletics landscape is shifting constantly,” Oklahoma officials said in a statement issued Wednesday. “We don’t address every anonymous rumor.”
A similar statement was provided by Texas: “Speculation always swirls around collegiate athletics. We will not address rumors or speculation.”
How this all would affect the Big Ten is hard to say. Almost certainly the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 would move to try and match the SEC.
The last major push in expansion began in 2010 when the Big Ten announced it was seeking a 12th team, eventually announcing that Nebraska was joining beginning in 2011. The other Power Five conferences followed suit, and running through 2014 there were multiple moves. The Big Ten added Maryland and Rutgers in 2014 to reach 14 teams while the SEC, ACC, Pac-12 and Big 12 had shifts as well.
It was then that the Big 12 first avoided possible implosion when Texas and Oklahoma, as well as a handful of schools, rejected a potential move to the Pac-12.
Seven years later, it appears the ground is shaking again.
Where would the Big Ten turn in expansion? There are several possibilities. The conference could too take a stab at Texas and Oklahoma. Other Big 12 schools like Iowa State and Kansas could be targets. Missouri and Vanderbilt of the SEC could be considered. Duke, North Carolina and Virginia of the ACC are intriguing. A non-Power Five school, like Cincinnati? Perhaps.
For now, though, it is all speculation. What seems clear though, as Warren pointed out, is that it’s an interesting time to be around college sports.
“We’re at an inflection point in college athletics,” Warren said. “Whether it's name, image, and likeness … whether it's potential college football playoff expansion, whether it's schools from one conference joining another conference, these are the kind of issues that we all will be dealing with here this year and for many years in the future.”