Remember when the Big Ten was an athletic league?
That may have been true at one time, back when the success of a conference or college's athletic programs was measured by the wins and losses of their teams. But today, revenues determine which among the six most powerful college conferences - the Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Big East, Big 12, Pac-10 - is top dog.
From that perspective, Sept. 1, 2007, sticks out as a landmark date in the history of college athletics, maybe more important than any football or basketball victory. That date marks the first time the Big Ten started broadcasting football games on its own cable television network. The establishment of that network, and its subsequent success, is what's driving recent discussion about expansion of the conference by as many as five teams.
A partnership between the conference and Fox Sports, the network collects about 70 cents a month in fees from each cable subscriber in every market that falls inside the Big Ten's "footprint," about 45 million households total. Expansion of the league into markets such as St. Louis (with the University of Missouri) or New York (Rutgers) would significantly inflate that number. Each Big Ten school currently gets about $22 million each year in football television money, which includes a contract with ABC/ESPN.
A Kansas City radio station reported Monday that Missouri and Rutgers, along with Nebraska and Notre Dame, have been invited to join the conference. Missouri and Nebraska, which play in the Big 12, reportedly get $9 million annually in football television money. Rutgers' cut from the Big East, known more for hoops, is even less.