ROSEMONT, Ill. — Oregon and Washington’s “inbound interest” to join the Big Ten in the wake of Colorado’s departure from the Pac-12 to the Big 12 largely spurred the Big Ten to consider adding both schools last month, league commissioner Tony Petitti told ESPN.
The Big Ten had been focused on integrating new members USC and UCLA in 2024 and wasn’t considering further expansion as of late July. But Colorado’s departure to the Big 12 on July 27, before Pac-12 schools saw a streaming-based media rights proposal, changed the landscape, Petitti said.
The Big Ten voted unanimously Aug. 4 to add Oregon and Washington.
“Oregon and Washington, they had, real intent; they were working hard to make it an option for them,” Petitti said in his first extensive comments about the expansion additions. “They really wanted to be in the Big Ten. We felt that throughout the whole process.”
Oregon and Washington will join the Big Ten in 2024 but will not receive full media rights shares then, which USC and UCLA will. Both are set to receive $30-35 million annually, according to sources, a share that will increase by $1 million during the Big Ten’s media contract with Fox, NBC and CBS, which runs through the 2029-30 athletic season.
Petitti said the existing Big Ten members had “receptivity right in the beginning” about adding Oregon and Washington but wanted to see how scheduling, finances and other issues would be sorted out. The scheduling benefits for USC and UCLA in having two more members on the West Coast factored into the Big Ten’s decision.
“We all felt that whatever aspect we looked at, it made us better,” Petitti said. “It just became that process of trying to figure out how. My job is to make sure the conference is as great in the future as it is today. There are opportunities to protect that and make sure that we are going to get better.”
Petitti said the Big Ten is not looking at expanding beyond 18 members at this time. The league is focused on its 2024 and 2025 football schedules, which will maintain the principles of the “Flex Protect Plus” model announced in June. Oregon and Washington will play annually as a 12th protected game for the league, chief operating officer Kerry Kenny told ESPN, and other protected games are possible.
The Big Ten is “days, if not weeks” away from announcing home-and-home opponents for the 2024 schedule, and then will finalize the specific dates. The league will eliminate divisions after the 2023 season and have its top two teams play in its championship game.
Kenny said the Big Ten’s priorities with its schedule are to maximize opportunities to access the expanded College Football Playoff, for each team to play every other team as much as possible, and balancing geography with travel and competitive trends.
“We’re making sure that we don’t have outliers in terms of the hardest schedule or the easiest schedule for any of our teams, and working through how to balance the competitive tiers,” Kenny said. “You’re going to see a lot of what people seemingly liked with the Flex Protect Plus. We’re going through different options of what that could look like to see how we balance not just the travel component of our Eastern and Central time zone schools but also the frequency of how we can get everybody to play both at those four [West Coast] schools.”
Pettiti agreed with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey that the CFP format must be assessed after the substantial realignment that took place during the summer. The original 12-team format called for the six highest-rated conference champions and six at-large spots.
“Those circumstances are different,” Petitti said. “It’s our job to make sure that whatever was created makes sense. I will say my No. 1 [goal] is access. Something as big and important as the College Football Playoff, as big and strong as the Big Ten is, my focus is giving as many teams the opportunity in a given season, when they’ve earned it, to compete for a national championship.”
The CFP management committee will next meet Sept. 25 at the Big Ten’s offices. Petitti said he doesn’t know a timetable for when the format will be finalized but said there is “a calendar that gives you a sense of when you have to make decisions because eventually, we’re going to be playing the games.”