Some may be surprised to find out that the Big Ten in 2020 was atop the mountain of television revenue. Last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many collegiate athletic departments suffered financially due to shortened schedules and capacity limitations inside stadiums.
Despite COVID-19 shutting down spectator participation during the 2020 season coupled with the Big Ten’s decision to begin conference play in October and also not schedule out-of-conference games, the Big Ten Conference still led all Power Five conferences in revenue according to a recent report by Steve Berkowitz of USA Today.
Much of this is attributable to the conference having contracts with the Big Ten Network, FOX and ESPN. According to Berkowitz, the Big Ten’s total revenue was a drop from 2019, but it was still about $40 million higher than the SEC. The conference lowered payouts to its 12 longest-standing members by about $1.3 million per school to $54.3 million.
The Power Five conference’s combined revenue increased by less than $11 million after seeing a rise in annual increases of nearly $252 million over the previous six years.
Here are the numbers from the 2020 fiscal year:
Big Ten: $768.9 million
SEC: $728.9 million
Pac-12: $533.8 million
ACC: $496.7 million
Big 12: $409.2 million
Big Ten: $54.3 million
SEC: $45.5 million
Big 12: $37 to $40.5 million
Pac-12: $33.6 million
ACC: $30.9 to $37 million
So as the Big Ten considers its options regarding expansion/realignment, the answer will be found in how any additions affect the numbers above. Despite all the fun us fans are having dreaming about super conferences with fan trips to places like Pasadena, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Boulder and Seattle, the future of college musical chairs will be decided primarily in cloistered away accounting offices, not the athletic director offices. Because like so much in life, at the end of the day these will be pure business decisions.
Rutgers Nation knows all too well that we are not a Big Ten member for our prowess on the gridiron. The decision to add Rutgers and Maryland was all about increased media revenue generated by locking down the New York to Washington, DC corridor. In the first year as Big Ten members (2014) according to Berkowitz, the conference recorded $448.8 million in total revenue for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015. This represented a $110 million increase. As a result, the conference distributed roughly $32.4 million to each of its longest-standing 11 members, amounts that put those schools on par with amounts the Southeastern Conference distributed to each of its 14 member schools from conference revenue that totaled $527.4 million College Sports Success Continues to be Decided by TV Revenues - TV[R]EV.
Since Rutgers and Maryland entered the Big Ten, revenues have consistently increased so despite Big Ten fans marginalizing Rutgers and Maryland, the numbers don’t lie and they demonstrate that Rutgers and Maryland have delivered to the Big Ten exactly what Jim Delany envisioned when he advocated adding a footprint on the east coast.
So, with the expansion of the SEC, the question becomes should the Big Ten try and match the SEC arms race? Undoubtedly, television revenues for Rutgers and the Big Ten will continue to increase especially as streaming services compete with cable for the rights to televise games.
Therefore, I am not surprised that the Big Ten has not rushed to add teams in the wake of Texas and Oklahoma moving over to the SEC. Outside of Notre Dame which the Big Ten would take in a heartbeat, almost every other alternative present pro as well as cons.
Raiding other conferences, academic qualifications, high travel costs and low television market share are just a few of the issues that the Big Ten must take into consideration when considering adding schools. For these reasons, I am fine with the Big Ten taking a wait-and-see approach.
Whether the Big Ten expands or not, Rutgers is on solid footing. The conference will not lose the eastern seaboard market by cutting ties with Rutgers and Maryland. Rutgers and Maryland are revenue producers for the Big Ten and both schools fit the Big Ten blueprint of large research based universities where academics are not just an afterthought.
Finally, the days of Rutgers not putting a competitive team on the field are soon to be a distant memory so that will only strengthen their position long term.