Big Ten eyes expansion amid Pac-12 instability

The Big Ten’s exploration of potential expansion, which the league generally acknowledged Wednesday, underscores the fragility of the overall collegiate landscape and casts a pall over the future of the Pac-12.

In the wake of a Yahoo Sports report on Wednesday that the Big Ten has begun “exploratory discussions” about potential additions, the Big Ten said in a statement: “It’s also commissioner’s job to keep conference chancellors and presidents informed about new developments as they occur.”

That statement hints at the instability in the Pac-12, which lost Colorado to the Big 12 last week and is down to just nine programs. The league was presented a primarily Apple streaming deal Tuesday that was met with tepid reactions because of issues with both exposure and guaranteed money.

That leaves nine schools pondering their options, along with an uncertainty around the Pac-12 that prompted the Big Ten to begin formal due diligence, sources confirmed to ESPN. The Big Ten’s discussions are centered around Washington and Oregon, sources told ESPN.

“Discussions are happening,” an industry source told ESPN. “It’s hard to asses when it would will happen. At this point it’s now logical for all parties. I think if something happens, it’ll be pretty quickly.”

ESPN reported on Monday that Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti had begun quiet diligence on both Washington and Oregon. Sources indicated that has ramped up throughout the week, although there’s some patience to see how things unfold in the Pac-12.

While there’s some presidential interest in adding Cal and Stanford, those potential additions were met with chilly responses last year when the Big Ten pondered adding more teams, in part because of their lack of television resonance. Stanford’s addition to the Big Ten has long been paired to a potential Notre Dame addition, which doesn’t appear imminent at this point.

A key facet of Washington and Oregon coming to the Big Ten at this juncture, according to sources, is that they’d likely be able to come in at a partial share. Big Ten schools project an average annual value of more than $60 million per year in just television money through the length of the Big Ten deal. It’s unknown what the league what look to bring in Washington and Oregon for.

Washington’s and Oregon’s conference predicament would likely have them come in below that $60 million figure and likely ramp up and aim for a full share when the current television deal expires. It’s uncertain if a new media partner would be needed to add just two schools, given there already are four partners in the deal — FOX, CBS, NBC and Big Ten Network — and the fact that they likely wouldn’t be getting a full television share.

The addition of two schools ultimately would come down to about 13 football games, depending on schedules.

It appears that part of the fragile truce holding together the collegiate landscape may be deteriorating. A reason for the reluctance of Arizona to join the Big 12 matched what Big Ten sources said about that league’s hesitancy to approach Washington and Oregon — no one wanted to be the reason that the Pac-12 fell apart.

As the Pac-12 schools ponder taking the television deal that commissioner George Kliavkoff presented to them Tuesday morning, one source predicted that rationale may soon fade away.

“I don’t think anyone is poaching now,” an industry source said. “These schools are looking for a home.”

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