Sources: Big Ten narrows focus on Oregon, Washington

The Big Ten has discussed a plan to expand to 20 teams, but sources indicate an 18-school league would be more likely, leaving out Cal and Stanford.

As the Big Ten continues to wait to see what happens with the future of the Pac-12 Conference, the league’s focus on possible expansion has narrowed to adding just two schools — Oregon and Washington, according to industry sources.

While a plan to also add Cal and Stanford and move to 20 teams strong in 2024 has been discussed, a smaller, two-team expansion that broadcast partners favor seems far more likely as of Thursday afternoon.

A subgroup of Big Ten presidents are exploring expansion possibilities but only in the case that the Pac-12 splinters apart. That will likely be determined by the actions of the University of Arizona, which is weighing a decision on whether to leave the Pac-12 for the Big 12. The Arizona Board of Regents have scheduled a meeting for 9 pm PT. The board also oversees Arizona State.

If Arizona chooses to stay and the Pac-12 stabilizes, then the Big Ten is likely to stand down and remain as a 16-team league in 2024. However, if Arizona were to depart and the Big 12 is able to bring Arizona State and/or Utah with the Wildcats — putting the Pac-12 in tenuous shape — then the Big Ten would likely make a move.

In that case, the Big Ten likely would be willing to offer membership to Oregon and Washington, albeit at a discounted share of league revenue — perhaps as low as 50 percent for a few years.

In 2022, the Big Ten agreed to a seven-year, $8 billion media rights deal with CBS, Fox and NBC. Along with the league’s Big Ten Network, each league member is expected to receive between $50 million and $65 million per year alone, with the number climbing. Even at a cut rate, Oregon and Washington would be equal or maybe even exceeding what they’d get with the proposed Pac-12 media deal. Eventually the two schools would become full-share members.

Big Ten broadcast partners see value in adding the Ducks and Huskies, but have balked at moving to 20 teams and bringing in Cal and Stanford. The two Bay Area schools offered appeal to university presidents who like the association with elite institutions and entry into the populous, wealthy and tech company-rich region of the country.

That appears to be a backburner decision as of now.

In the meantime, all eyes — and the fate of this round of realignment — remain on Arizona.