Enough talk about who fits in academically with the Big Ten through their Association of American Universities ranking. Let’s get down to brass tax. Who can Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren add that increases everyone’s bottom line?
Let’s end the charade. That’s what all of this expansion business is about anyways. Warren and others can act like it’s about respected research universities, but this is about dollars and cents. It’s why he convinced Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff that they were on the same team, and then turned around and poached his league’s two biggest assets.
For the most part, this isn’t about regional fits anymore. USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten in 2024 shows us that. Now, adding a dance partner or two for the Trojans and Bruins makes sense, but only if it enhances the league members’ per-school payouts.
So, what should the top 25 big board of future Big Ten expansion candidates look like? Feel free to reference this list as needed Mr. Warren. It’s the “Show Me the Money” rankings. If your school isn’t on this list, sorry, you’re not joining the Big Ten conference now or in the future.
For our friends over in Ames, Iowa, save your time. Iowa State isn’t joining the Big Ten and, in fact, they’re not in the top 25 pool of candidates either. This is about TV ratings and expanding market shares. The Cyclones don’t add anything that the Big Ten doesn’t already have with the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Every program is fair game so long as they aren’t already in the Big Ten or SEC.Without further ado, here’s the official, no-need-to-look-anywhere else top 25 future Big Ten expansion candidates.
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The case for: Houston has been successful in both football and basketball, including a men’s basketball Final Four trip in 2021. As a result, the Cougars finally got that phone call for Big 12 membership after OU and Texas bolted. Can this program be a sleeping giant? Why not? It’s in the nation’s No. 8 media market and offers the Big Ten a chance to grab a slice of the Texas pie.
Boston College Eagles
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The case for: Boston College probably looks like a better fit than others on this list. Boston College does bring in the country’s No. 10 media market in Boston, but they’re not one of the first choices from the ACC.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
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The case for: Poor man’s Georgia. Fringe expansion candidate if the Big Ten ever really expands out to say 24 schools. While Georgia Tech has won just nine games combined over the past three seasons and has eclipsed seven or more wins only five times over the past decade, the Yellow Jackets are intriguing because of the Atlanta television market. The Atlanta market is No. 7 nationally, so there’s that. It’s one of the top markets somewhere that the Big Ten doesn’t have any stake in yet.
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The case for: Virginia has won a men’s basketball national championship recently in 2019 and football made three bowl appearances under former head coach Bronco Mendenhall. Now, Tony Elliott takes over as the Cavs’ next head coach after serving as Clemson’s offensive coordinator.
Virginia brings in East-coast markets that the Big Ten would covet in Washington, D.C. (No. 9), Raleigh-Durham (No. 24), Norfolk-Portsmouth (No. 46), Greensboro (No. 47), Richmond-Petersburg (No. 56), Roanoke-Lynchburg (No. 71).
Virginia Tech Hokies
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The case for: There’s not much difference between Virginia or Virginia Tech, and some would favor the Cavaliers because of Tony Bennett and the program’s recent national championship. Virginia Tech made a BCS national championship game under Frank Beamer with star quarterback Michael Vick. Yes, that was a long time ago, but that football history feels like it gives the Hokies the slight nod here.
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The case for: Central Florida is a program on the rise. The Knights had three 10-win seasons in 2017, 2018 and 2019 and have won 50 games overall since the start of 2017. Of course, that 2017 season included a 2018 Peach Bowl win over Auburn, 34-27. UCF is on the up-and-up and the Knights bring with them entrance into the state of Florida and the country’s No. 17 media market in Orlando.
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The case for: Louisville has been an exciting football program. Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy in 2016 and Malik Cunningham is another talented dual-threat quarterback for the Cardinals. While it was vacated, the Cardinals won the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Louisville is the nation’s No. 49 market.
TCU Horned Frogs
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The case for: TCU is entering the post-Gary Patterson era, so that might scare some potential expansion suitors off. The Horned Frogs are right smack dab in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metro and that’s really their biggest expansion calling card.
Arizona State Sun Devils
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The case for: For teams that aren’t currently in either the Big Ten or SEC, Arizona State actually enjoyed a top-25 average TV audience over the 2015-19 seasons. That’s encouraging for their candidacy. ASU would bring in the Phoenix market, which ranks No. 11 nationally.
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The case for: Can’t you just see it now? Ralphie running wild in the Big Ten. While Colorado hasn’t won more than five games since the Buffaloes’ 10-4 finish in 2016, CU is situated in a terrific college city in Boulder and adds the No. 16 and No. 82 TV markets in Denver and Colorado Springs. Perfect candidate if the league is looking to keep expanding west.
Duke Blue Devils
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The case for: It’s an easy case to make. If the Big Ten adds some other football powers and wants to pair them with a basketball blue blood, why not Duke? Football has rarely been good, but you’re not worried about that if you’re looking in the Blue Devils’ direction.
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The case for: You know the drill with Kansas. Can the Big Ten overlook KU’s embarrassing football program? If so, the Jayhawks would bring one of the pillars of college basketball into the conference. KU is fresh off the program’s fourth NCAA Tournament title and the Jayhawks would bring the nation’s No. 34 media market in Kansas City. Kansas would love a Big Ten invite, but they’d have to be paired with a big-time football power for it to make sense.
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The case for: As discussed with Arizona State, it’s all about the Phoenix market. For what it’s worth, the Tucson market ranks No. 64 nationally. Arizona gets the nod over their rivals simply because they bring an elite basketball program into the Big Ten. Another nice add to expand the league’s footprint further west and add familiar opponents for USC and UCLA.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
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The case for: A lot of fans might be surprised with how well Oklahoma State has rated over the last decade. From 2015-19, the Cowboys’ average TV viewership was 1.64 million per contest. Sure, a good bit of that can be attributed to big ratings draws against both Oklahoma and Texas, but that wouldn’t really be any different in the Big Ten against say Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State.
At the end of the day, there’s much worse directions to go than adding a really consistent football program that brings with it the Oklahoma City (No. 44) and Tulsa (61) markets.
Cal Golden Bears
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The case for: Not as strong of an argument as some of the other Pac-12 candidates on this list, but Cal would get the Big Ten into the San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose media markets. Obviously, football and basketball would both need an uptick, but they make sense as travel partners for USC and UCLA.
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The case for: Football results have to matter in this, too. Utah pounded Oregon twice last season to win the Pac-12 championship. The Utes also bring in the Salt Lake City market, which ranks No. 30 nationally.
North Carolina Tar Heels
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The case for: The Tar Heels boast one of college basketball’s most storied programs and are fresh off the program’s 21st all-time Final Four appearance. It’s thanks to Mack Brown’s work in his second stint, though, that has North Carolina positioned as one of the most attractive candidates out of the ACC.
Really, they’re just not a doormat, which is kind of all you ask for power hoops programs. UNC has won 21 combined games over the last three seasons. North Carolina would bring in some solid TV markets, too, including Charlotte (No. 22), Raleigh-Durham (No. 24) and Greensboro (No. 47).
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The case for: Maybe it’s an overreaction to Baylor unseating Oklahoma and capturing the 2021 Big 12 championship. It feels like there’s something brewing moving forward with Bears head coach Dave Aranda, though. Plus, Baylor just won a national championship in men’s basketball in 2021.
With Texas and Texas A&M obviously accounted for elsewhere in the SEC, why not get what is currently the best program in the state of Texas? Maybe it doesn’t directly add the Dallas-Ft. Worth market, but a piece of the nation’s No. 5 market is something the Big Ten has to consider.
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The case for: Another natural opponent to bring back for both USC and UCLA. Washington is typically one of the Pac-12’s best football programs and they bring with them the Seattle market, which ranks as the country’s No. 12 media market. If the success matched Oregon of late, there’s actually an argument to put the Huskies in front of the Ducks. Probably, though, it doesn’t really matter. If the Big Ten is adding one, they’re likely adding both.
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The case for: Okay, it’s not Los Angeles, but it’s still the second-largest media market in California and one of the tops nationally. Stanford is situated right in the San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose market, which ranks No. 6 nationally. That’s not the biggest draw with Stanford, though. Because of their history with Notre Dame, could bringing the Cardinal along help entice the Irish to finally jump all in?
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The case for: Oregon has been one of the Pac-12’s preeminent programs dating back to the beginning of the 2000’s. Adding the Ducks means bringing in the Portland media market, which ranks as the nation’s 21st. Oregon rates well because they are consistently one of the country’s best, so the Big Ten would love to add that. Plus, they are a natural addition for USC and UCLA.
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The case for: Look, there’s other programs on this list with better media market ties, but as long as Clemson keeps winning, then they’ll remain one of the most attractive commodities on the expansion market.
To illustrate this point, consider this: Greenville, Charleston and Columbia are the country’s No. 35, No. 75 and No. 76 media markets. Meanwhile, Clemson brought in an average of 2.67 million viewers throughout the 2015-19 seasons, which ranked second nationally behind Notre Dame in terms of average viewers for programs that weren’t in either the Big Ten or SEC.
With a pair of recent national championships in 2016 and in 2018 and four other College Football Playoff appearances, Clemson is one of the premier programs now in college football. If you’re great, you’ll rate.
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The case for: Just like with Florida State, you’re adding massive Florida media markets if you bring in the Miami Hurricanes. You really can’t go wrong either way, but Florida State feels like it has the better Alumni base of the two. Another program that typically rates well regardless of how good or bad they are.
Florida State Seminoles
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The case for: Getting the Big Ten into the state of Florida should speak for itself. Florida State is an iconic college football program that pulled in an average 2.23 million viewers from 2015-19. With FSU, the Big Ten adds the Tampa market (No. 13), the Orlando market (No. 17), Miami (No. 18), West Palm Beach (No. 39) and Jacksonville (No. 43).
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
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The case for: The Big Ten’s top target. Everybody else’s top target, too. Adding Notre Dame means the league can really add whichever other school it wants and per-school shares should go up. The Fighting Irish’s weekly average TV audience was 3.61 million during the 2015-19 seasons, which was tops among schools that aren’t in either the Big Ten or SEC.
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