Iowa AD Gary Barta doubts Big Ten expands further 'in near future'

By John Bohnenkamp
Associated Press

Iowa City, Iowa — The Big Ten has no additional expansion plans even though schools interested in becoming members have reached out to the conference in the week since the additions of Southern California and UCLA were announced, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said Friday.

“I know the Big Ten has taken calls, and they inform us when they take calls just so we have a general idea,” Barta said at a news conference. “But if I were predicting, I’m not predicting that we would be adding any more in the near future. We’ll see.”

The Big Ten voted to bring in USC and UCLA in 2024, making it a 16-team conference and the first to stretch coast-to-coast. The move has fueled speculation about more realignment.

Iowa athletics director Gary Barta

In question are the long-term viability of the Pac-12 and Atlantic Coast Conference, how the Big 12 will proceed and where Notre Dame could land.

Barta said Big Ten leaders discussed Notre Dame and other schools in a meeting last year after Texas and Oklahoma announced they would join the Southeastern Conference by 2025.

Expansion was put on the back burner until USC and UCLA submitted applications for membership last month, Barta said.

More: Wojo: With USC and UCLA, the traditional Big Ten officially, sadly is dead

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said last week he hoped Notre Dame would be interested in the Big Ten.

Asked if he would support Notre Dame joining the Big Ten, Barta said he probably would.

“I don’t anticipate that being a decision that I’ll be making this summer,” he said. “But again, I don’t have a crystal ball. But it’s not before us right now.”

Barta said he was “a little bit surprised” when he was informed USC and UCLA were interested in the Big Ten. What followed, Barta said, was almost a week of phone calls and video conferences before the two universities’ applications were approved on June 30.

“We were breaking down — does it make sense, does it meet the criteria, should we say yes?” Barta said. “And clearly after those four or five days of discussions, we decided that the time was right, the schools were right, and so I’m excited about it because I do know what they bring to the table.”

The Big Ten will have a presence in the three top television markets in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles — which is important given the conference is negotiating a new television rights package starting in 2023.

“I do know they’re academic research-focused institutions,” Barta said. “I know about their athletic history. I know they’re going to bring the TV market. So I’m very excited.”

Barta said the main concern from the head coaches at Iowa has been about the logistics of a bigger conference, specifically travel and scheduling. Everything, he said, is in the preliminary stage of discussion, including travel partners for some sports.

“Whatever the solution is, one of the first things the ADs and the presidents said to the conference is we’ve got to figure out how to mitigate the travel challenge,” Barta said. “Because if you’re at Rutgers and you’re going to USC, or if you’re at UCLA and you’re going to Maryland, there’s going to have to be some sort of recognition of that when we get into travel.”