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Did Big Ten’s TV Deal Make Your School A Research Institution for the NFL?

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With the announcement of the Big Ten’s seven-year contract with Fox, CBS and NBC worth upwards to $8 billion dollars, it’s not just college football that will be impacted. It’s all of higher ed. And if you don’t think so, have you talked to your endowment folks lately? A TV deal for seven years, $8 billion?

Brown University’s endowment for 2021 was at $6.9 billion. And that’s if the stock market does well. Not if its football team does.

But here’s another comparison that will hit home. Grambling State’s endowment is at just $7 million. It’s barely a shadow in the Big Ten’s $8 billion dollar deal. Essentially, the Big Ten has realigned your world. The “Haves” just added on an extra layer of inequality into all of higher ed.

If you’re not thinking about what the Big Ten explosion means to every single college in America, then you’re not understanding the repercussions of an unabashed money era in higher ed, where college football is the most important tool announcing your institution’s existence to the world.

The mega deal makes the biggest research institutions in the country suddenly the research institution of the NFL. It even makes the best non-Big 10 Division 1 schools look like intramural sports. That’s why it’s time for those more traditionally inclined to reassert what higher ed is all about and to push back at the forces in this era where money seems to rule all. Emil GuillermoEmil Guillermo

It’s especially true for public schools, like UCLA. The University of California Regents put out a report last week that said the sister UC schools will lose around $13 million a year in media rights for each of the remaining schools, according to the Associated Press.  That’s for the combined loss of UCLA and USC which plan to move from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten in 2024. USC is private and can do what it wants.  But UCLA is another matter. In 1991, chancellors of the individual University of California schools were given autonomy on contracts. Now with the impacts on sister schools as UCLA considers the move out of its natural regional affiliation with the Pac-12, the Regents are saying whoa.

Someone must. And you have to hope the regents prevail. They’re in charge of how the university is seen on a national level. And what about the money? How can the TV rights be shared with others schools like Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara to mitigate against loss.

It’s just unclear if it can be done easily,  or if it will impact other unilateral decisions past and present. But this shows the game-changer that is the Big Ten mega deal. And it’s all because the Big Ten dared to think out of the box, to expand its membership beyond the rural cornfields to New York and Los Angeles, thereby harvesting a huge crop of eyeballs nationwide that networks will pay excessive amounts of money.

What’s still not talked about much is how this nationalizing of college football will realign how schools think of themselves. It’s foolish to think schools aren’t going to be impacted by the company they keep.

USC’s president is already on record thinking about alliances in fields other than football. Sharing the show biz departments with the ag oriented schools of the Big Ten? Why not? It’s always been football conferences that have defined higher ed’s social and academic boundaries in practically everything. From the HBCUs to the Ivy League, conferences create colleagues.

For example, the Ivy League was the Ivy League not because of its landscaping, but because of a singular belief in de-emphasizing sports.

Prohibiting athletic scholarships is in the founding DNA of the Ivy League which made athletes compete for admission or for financial aid like every other student. That leveled a basic playing field. But it also made Ivy teams spectacularly uncompetitive with other schools that had no problem with pouring on the athletic scholarships, the more the merrier.

And that is how we got to where we are. A new, modern Big Ten that brings in megabucks and national attention in America’s new favorite sport has a cache that has real appeal. It could potentially become the first thing people think of when they think of college in America.  And that could open up all sorts of possibilities in shared research and grants, egged on simply by being in the same mega football conference.

So, does a rising tide lift all boats? Or does it endanger the little guys?

If conferences were smart, they would take the cue from realignment and look to go from regional to national.

Fresno State is in the California State University system, a notch below the UCs. But its a Division 1 school in football, with alumni including the Las Vegas Raiders star quarterback Derek Carr and star wide receiver Davante Adams. They have trouble filling a 40,000-seat stadium at home. In the Mountain West Conference, Fresno plays teams like Boise State and Utah State. Should someone start thinking repackaging to include markets across the nation, and hence a better TV package?

Conferences have to be thinking about repackaging or get left out of the boom. And this is just the impact on schools. No one is talking much about what this means to students, except for more travel. There’s even talk of unionization, though some players are already compensated through the NCAA’s Name, Image and Likeness provisions. The money is so big, people in public schools better start talking about free tuition to non-athletes too. When the money roll in, that will have to be part of any discussion.

The Wall Street Journal reported the money from the Big Ten deal won’t be much more than the 2021 payouts initially. But tax records showed that to be between $43.1 million to $49.1 million to schools. With a billion a year coming in once USC and UCLA join in, the schools’ share will be practically obscene.

I’m a traditionalist. You’ve got to root for the California regents as they argue for fairness and tradition. If they lose, or give in, you’ll be able to point to the Big Ten television rights deal as the milestone in history where higher ed lost its way to football.


Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He writes for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. 



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