Sources: Big Ten OK’d to scout Oregon, UW adds

Big Ten presidents and chancellors met early Thursday morning and authorized commissioner Tony Petitti to explore adding Oregon and Washington in expansion as potential conference members, sources told ESPN.

Petitti was tasked with narrowing his focus to those schools, as uncertainty surrounds the Pac-12’s future, and bringing the presidents back more information on the potential additions. No offers have been made nor was a vote taken, sources told ESPN, as there would remain significant political roadblocks to the two schools being added.

The Big Ten explored adding Oregon and Washington in the months following the addition of USC and UCLA, sources told ESPN, but that quest ended in part because of complications in funding the schools at a full share. This time around, sources told ESPN, the schools would be given only a partial share.

The excess inventory of television games potentially could be covered by one of the league’s four current TV partnerships — FOX, CBS, NBC or the Big Ten Network.

Sources cautioned Thursday that remaining complications would need to be resolved for the schools to receive a Big Ten invitation. First, Big Ten leaders have been hesitant to completely wipe the Pac-12 off the map. The Big Ten’s addition of USC and UCLA began the Pac-12’s current spiral, which also has been fueled by Colorado’s decision last week to go to the Big 12.

But this development would be a fatal blow.

The notion of calling checkmate is concerning to Big Ten leaders, sources told ESPN. Part of Petitti’s job is to monitor as the future of the Pac-12 plays out. If schools such as Arizona, Arizona State and Utah leave for the Big 12, the move would become easier for Big Ten decision-makers.

Other headwinds remain.

USC might not be thrilled with the additions, as part of the appeal of the Trojans and Bruins coming to the Big Ten was the allure of both schools being the only members on the West Coast. In theory, that protects the Los Angeles recruiting market and strengthens the recruiting pitch to West Coast prospects. This was not a negotiated part of the deal, sources told ESPN, but it was something valued. While the Los Angeles schools don’t have a vote yet because they aren’t officially members until the 2024-25 school year, there’s still political ground to cover on that issue.

Also, and of more immediate importance, the allure of the potential move to the current Big Ten schools might not significant. There would be an uptick in travel costs, but there’s no immediate guarantees that the Big Ten programs would make any more money — certainly not significantly more — from the additions.

The potential of Oregon and Washington being courted by the Big Ten is part of a complicated matrix as the Pac-12’s future is being sorted out. Board meetings covering the futures of Washington, Arizona and Arizona State are scheduled for Thursday night.

Sources indicated to ESPN on Thursday afternoon that there are myriad directions on how everything could play out in the big picture, as four of the five major conferences face significant expansion questions.

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