Ever since the Big Ten conference added Penn State University in 1990, bringing its membership to 11 schools, the athletic-brand behemoth of the Upper Midwest has been sniffing around for a 12th member to even things out. Now, the Big Ten finally may have found a willing partner in – of all places – Austin, Texas.
The University of Texas and the Big Ten did a courtship dance about a decade ago, too. But there’s a difference this time. There’s a reason that the Longhorns finally could end up leaving the Big 12 conference to throw in with a league whose nearest fellow member would be the University of Iowa, nearly 900 miles away.
That reason is the Big Ten Network TV channel. This conference-focused ESPN wanna-be has become a money machine in just the three years since its launch. According to ESPN, the Big Ten Network made $242 million in television revenue last year, three times as much as the Big 12, largely because of the Big Ten Network.[more]
Not only is the revenue pie in which the Longhorns could share already much bigger in the northern conference than in the Big 12, but being able to showcase Texas sports – and build rivalries between, say, Texas and Michigan State in basketball and the Longhorns and Buckeyes in football – would further expand the coffers of the Big Ten Network.
What’s more, minority-owned by Fox Cable Networks, the Big Ten Network already has become a great branding vehicle not only for Big Ten universities’ sports programs but also for their reputations as great centers of research. Its production values have improved steadily, and the Big Ten Network is carried nationally and is available on cable in 19 of the nation’s top 20 media markets.
Pundits have been predicting that, like every other industry, collegiate athletics will be shaking down into just a handful of “power conferences” and brands across the nation. The Big Ten clearly is vying to become one of the major survivors.
So if Texas dawdles, some other schools that have been bandied about as candidates for Big Ten expansion – including Notre Dame, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Missouri and even Rutgers University – might want to step up.