Last week, it was announced that UCLA and USC would be joining the Big Ten Conference in 2024. Following this announcement, a flood of rumors rushed in. Recruiting service message boards, people on Twitter, and major media outlets have all taken turns speculating what the next domino to fall will be. Some "experts" in the media have broken stories, leaking unsubstantiated information on what the next moves will be.
Breaking news of that magnitude can make careers, but it should not be taken lightly. Most, if not all, of these news breaks on specific schools and conferences talking about realignment, are not accurate. At this point, all the real deal-making is going on behind closed doors. Only a handful of people have any idea what is going on with realignment talk.
With this being said, this article contains no insider information on the ongoing realignment talks. I am not citing any unnamed sources or nor am I claiming these moves will happen. We are simply taking a look at who may be a potential fit in the Big Ten.
Elaborating further, we will be taking an in-depth look at what schools could fit well within the Big Ten as expansion continues. Specifically, we will look at darkhorse candidates that aren't expected to be added to the conference yet but could be a good fit. Some of the teams mentioned may make the final cut for Big Ten expansion. Some others may not. This is my list of slept-on teams that could fit as candidates for the Big Ten expansion.
The Big Ten has been the top conference for participation in Olympic and non-revenue sports for a long time. Schools wanting to join the conference need athletic departments offering a wide array of sports programs outside of football and basketball. In addition, schools will also need football and basketball programs that can be competitive in the Big Ten Conference.
Schools that want to be competitive candidates to join the Big Ten must meet other essential standards. In past additions, the Big Ten has primarily admitted AAU-accredited schools. Outside of athletics, the Big Ten comprises elite public and private flagship schools with large and active alumni bases. Schools added to the conference must be capable of meeting the high-level academic and research standards that are precedent in the conference.
Elaborating further on academics and research, the Big Ten maintains a high level of collaboration on research among its member institutions. Schools that want to be viable candidates for expansion will need to have large amounts of funding available for research and academic improvements.
Lastly, target institutions must be located in or near significant media markets. The Big Ten is currently negotiating their new media contracts. Teams added to the conference will need to add more profit or provide additional value to the conference. The Big Ten has a unique revenue-sharing deal where money is divided evenly among all its members. It has proven to be the most lucrative deal in college athletics for its members. As teams are added to the conference, the current members will likely only vote to add a school if they can add more to the revenue than they would take away when dividing up the revenue between more members.
One of the schools generating the least mention in the conference expansion discussion, Boston College, is a fit for the Big Ten. The Boston area ranks as the seventh-largest TV market in the US, according to Station Index. According to US News and World Report, Boston College is the 36th best national university. Lastly, Boston College receives over 66 million dollars in annual research funding and has a 3.8 billion dollar endowment for further research and funding purposes. Since the Big Ten already contains the east coast markets of Philadelphia (Penn State), New York (Rutgers), Baltimore, and DC (Maryland), they could look to solidify the northeastern corridor as Big Ten country by adding a couple more schools in the northeast, Boston College chief among them.
Why BC has a shot
Boston College has everything the Big Ten could want: a highly prestigious academic reputation, excellent market location, affluent and active alumni, and administrative alignment. They aren't an AAU member, but being elite academically means that won't be a concern, especially because they could easily become an AAU school if the administration wants to. The only barrier holding them back is that BC's income sports haven't found much success in recent years. If Boston College football was a consistent winner, they would likely be a much stronger candidate to land in the Big Ten.
If Stanford applied to join the Big Ten, they would be accepted in a heartbeat. Located in Palo Alto, California near Silicon Valley, Stanford is located in the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose TV market. It is the sixth-largest market in the US according to Station Index.
US News and World ranked Stanford as the sixth-best national university in the United States. What truly sets Stanford apart from the pack is research and funding. In the 2020–21 school year, Stanford spent 1.69 billion dollars on research funding. Stanford also has an endowment worth a hefty 37.8 billion dollars. That is more than most of the Big Ten schools combined. Stanford also has one of the richest and most active alumni bases in the world.
Why Stanford has a shot
The administration of Stanford doesn't seem overly invested in the success of its football and basketball programs. A move to the Big Ten could signal to its ultra-wealthy donors that they are taking football seriously. This could mean tens or hundreds of millions in donations towards their athletic programs. While seeing limited success on the gridiron, Stanford's Olympic sports have seen far more success. Gymnastics, swimming, track and field, softball, and some niche sports have found success in recent years. Adding Stanford would boost the prestige of the Big Ten and dramatically increase funding for collaborative research between member schools. The Big Ten may not make as much from football media rights revenue per school by admitting Stanford. However, that wouldn't matter as the money gained through a research association with Stanford would outweigh the costs.
Next up on the list, Duke is an interesting fit in the Big Ten. They could have a shot at getting in if UNC joins and brings them in a package deal. Let's address the glaring weakness first. Duke football has struggled greatly over the last few years. This severely limits the desirability of their school to the Big Ten.
Working in their favor is a top three basketball program of all time; elite academics; solid Olympic sports; an active and wealthy alumni base; and their location in a rapidly growing media market. Starting with the TV market, the Raleigh-Durham market is currently the 27th largest market in the country. It is one of the fastest-growing markets in the US, it continues to climb a spot or two in the rankings every year. Long term, it could grow into a top 20 TV market.
Academically, Duke ranks as the ninth-best national university, according to US News and World. On research and development, BestColleges.com reports that Duke spent around 1.1 billion on research and development during the last academic year. They are also an AAU member institution.
Why Duke has a shot
While they do have a lot going for them, as previously mentioned, the Duke football program will undeniably limit their chances. The Duke fanbase is content with being a basketball school, which is fine. However, without a high level of success or fan support, the Duke football program is likely viewed as a negative asset in conference realignment. I wouldn't be surprised to see Duke get in, especially if UNC decides to make them a package deal. UNC has the leverage in this as they are viable candidates for both the Big Ten and the SEC. UNC will likely pick the conference they go to. Duke, however, will need to hope UNC wants to go into negotiations as a package deal.
We could also see UNC packages with a similar institution in Virginia or just go into negotiations alone. For Duke, if they want to end up in a desirable conference, they are likely going to be at the mercy of the Big Ten. Duke does present enough positive traits to be a viable candidate for expansion, but until other schools have made their decisions, or Duke tries to make a move, we won't know what Duke's chances are.
One sleeper school that may have a legitimate shot at landing in both the Big Ten and the SEC is Georgia Tech. Located in the heart of Atlanta, Georgia Tech is an excellent fit for the Big Ten. According to Station Index, Atlanta is the eighth largest TV market in the country.
From an academic perspective, US News and World ranks Georgia Tech as the 38th best university in the country and the 4th best engineering school nationally.
When it comes to research, Georgia Tech likes spending big on research. Last year, the school reported receiving over 1 billion dollars in sponsored research awards and grants. Georgia Tech is also an AAU-accredited institution.
Why Georgia Tech a shot
Georgia Tech also has the potential to be a football powerhouse with the right coach and good administrative alignment. Sitting on top of a recruiting goldmine in the Atlanta metro area, Georgia Tech threatens to become a powerhouse with the right circumstances. Other Big Ten schools also have an incentive to admit Georgia Tech. Playing Georgia tech semi-regularly allows the schools in the conference to gain better exposure and access to elite recruits in the south. Landing more players from the south also help the Big Ten become a more dominant football conference by weakening the SEC's recruiting stronghold in Georgia.
It is unlikely that most of these teams end up making the final cut for Big Ten expansion. However, I wouldn't be surprised if at least one or two of them managed to get in. I think Stanford and Georgia Tech have a better chance than Boston College and Duke. This is because the incentive for letting them in is better. Again, these picks represent nothing more than my thoughts on who may be a viable darkhorse candidate. Will any of these schools make the final cut? Well, the only answer to that is to wait and see.
All TV market statistics were from StationIndex.com.
Are current University Rankings are from US News and World Report.
The AAU schools member list via AAU.edu.
Research funding statistics are from:
Duke - BestColleges.com