A subgroup of four Big Ten university presidents met virtually on Wednesday as part of exploratory discussions about potentially expanding membership by two or four teams, two sources briefed on the call confirmed to The Athletic. It was not the only call they have had in recent weeks.
The two sources reiterated that discussions are in the early stages and are very preliminary, and that the Big Ten could decide to stay at 16 members and not expand further. The four schools under consideration are Oregon and Washington (if the Big Ten wants to expand by two) plus Cal and Stanford (if it wants to expand by four). All four schools are current members of the Pac-12.
“The Big Ten Conference is still focused on integration of USC and UCLA but it’s also (the) commissioner’s job to keep conference chancellors and presidents informed about new developments as they occur,” the conference said in a statement Wednesday.
One source noted that the Big Ten would likely not act until it sees what happens with the Big 12 and the Pac-12. The Big Ten does not want to be the one to cause the death of the Pac-12 Conference.
“It’s a discussion, but it’s a wait-and-see,” the source said.
The second source said that ongoing evaluation is not a new concept, and that it is the responsibility of the Big Ten’s presidents and chancellors to continue discussions from last year about the conference landscape.
“Are we thinking about (realignment)? Of course,” Illinois chancellor Robert J. Jones, the chair of the Big Ten’s Council of Presidents and Chancellors, told The Athletic in April at the event introducing new commissioner Tony Petitti. “We’re doing analysis, the cost, the benefits of staying at 16 or moving up. It’s not something we’re going to do just to react to what other conferences may choose to do. We’re only going to do what’s best for our current membership, and there has to be some value added for expanding beyond.”
How we got here
The talks come in the middle of an uncertain, unstable time in the Pac-12. Last Thursday, Colorado formally announced its intention to join the Big 12 for the 2024-25 academic year, the day after Big 12 presidents and chancellors voted unanimously to accept the Buffaloes as a member of the conference. Commissioner George Kliavkoff reportedly presented league members with a number of media rights deal options on Tuesday, including a primarily subscription-based deal through Apple, according to ESPN. Later on Tuesday, the Arizona Board of Regents — which governs both the University of Arizona and Arizona State, both long considered key Big 12 targets — convened a special board meeting.
Oregon and Washington’s interest in Big Ten has long been assumed since fellow powerful West Coast brands USC and UCLA announced their departures from the Pac-12 last summer, but it was unclear how interested the Big Ten was in expanding beyond 16 schools. In April, Jones said expansion is “not really at the top of our list at the moment,” and Petitti deflected all questions on the matter during last week’s Big Ten media days appearance by reiterating his focus on smoothly integrating USC and UCLA into the league for 2024-25.
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