Big Ten officials know they're the pace-setters
ROSEMONT, Ill. — Other college conferences may scramble to add new members or fret about their bottom line.
The Big Ten never doubts its clout and certainly never lets anyone see it sweat.
That much was evident again last week at the league’s annual meetings, when every question reporters asked was deflected with a nonchalance that could be viewed as arrogance. But only if Big Ten officials ever raised their voices, which they don’t.
“The stability is terrific, that’s for sure,” Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst said with a familiar detached professionalism when it was pointed out that the Big 12 Conference is in the midst of expansion discussions while the Big Ten appears content to stand pat.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany turned a question about his league’s perceived rivalry with the Southeastern Conference into a lengthy discussion of football instant replay, never once uttering the acronym SEC.
“They have great football teams,” Delany allowed. “In fact, over the past decade they’ve had more good football teams probably than others have had.”
Keeping up with its rivals on the gridiron was the unspoken topic of the week at the Big Ten meetings. The league would like to reform every aspect of the recruiting process, to get its coaches more access to top talent across the United States — and that means the South and the West — at earlier ages, and to let those students make college commitments before their senior years.
“Football’s what’s really driving our institutions. … You’ve got to continue to keep that game as healthy as you possibly can at all levels,” Eichorst said. “This is a national recruiting situation. If you’re in a region that has the population and the talent, it might be a little different. But the majority of us don’t.”
That doesn’t mean Eichorst would concede that working at a university in Nebraska creates a fundamental imbalance. It’s still the Big Ten, after all.
“I’ll take any kid and their parents to come to Lincoln any day of the week,” he said.
Football is also the lure for TV networks, and the Big Ten appears to be on the verge of cashing in again, like the wealthiest family in your neighborhood buying a winning lottery ticket.
As the Big Ten meetings wrapped up, reports came out that its member schools were each earning $32 million annually from national TV contracts, on par with the SEC but $7 million more than the Pac 12 and $9 million ahead of the Big 12. That gap is about to grow. Delany, a savvy negotiator with a firmly established product to sell, is reportedly seeking $500 million per year in his next media-rights deal, which could boost payouts to his universities to $44 million. If that means discarding a three-decades-old relationship with ESPN, so be it.
Of course, Delany didn’t come right out and say any of that, declining to confirm media reports about his media wrangling.
But Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis offered a perfectly worded coda to the Big Ten gathering.
“When it comes to the big-time TV stuff, I have no higher confidence in anyone than Jim to get us across the finish line. I think ESPN has value but at the same time that value has to attach to what our value is,” Hollis said.
“The important brand for us is the Big Ten Conference, not the television entity.”