Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said Friday that it took less than a week’s time for the Big Ten to welcome USC and UCLA into the conference. The California schools made contact, the university presidents and athletic directors quickly mobilized and soon they had two new member schools.
That’s apparently how seismic college sports history was made.
Barta admitted that the SEC adding Oklahoma and Texas last season pushed the Big Ten into conversations about expansion. They didn’t want to expand just to do it. They carefully thought about what characteristics they wanted to align with: a strong academic and athletic footprint, reputation and the sort of financial impact they move would bring. In USC and UCLA, they found additions who bring big-time brands and, likely, big-time TV cash.
By making this move, the Big Ten has a presence in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and several areas in between. That, coupled with a brand new media rights deal with Fox beginning in 2023, means the conference is sitting in strong standing as college sports undergoes great changes over the next decade.
Barta touched on several other topics during his summer catch-up session. One of them was the school’s athletic budget. COVID hit Iowa’s program hard, the University of Iowa athletics department operated at a deficit of nearly $42 million in the 2020-21 academic year. Additionally on June 30, 2021, the athletics department signed an agreement to borrow $50 million from the university’s cash reserves.
More:USC and UCLA to the Big Ten is official. What does their move mean for Iowa athletics?
Entering the 2022-23 academic year, Barta says the athletic department is “back on a good track.” As far as the massive deficit, the school expects it to be paid back over 15 years.
“We’re back on solid ground,” Barta said. “I’m pleased you know the fact we were able to have a whole football season last year with fans, basketball season with fans, bowl games. … That helped us get back in now this year.”
But questions about Big Ten expansion and the after effects dominated the media session. Here are three takeaways:
Will the Big Ten add Notre Dame? (Or any other schools)
Soon after USC and UCLA, speculation began about the Big Ten adding additional members such as Notre Dame, Oregon and Washington. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith recently stated that he believes it’s time Norte Dame joins a conference.
Barta said that the Big Ten is not seeking out new members at the moment and proceeded to comment specifically on Notre Dame.
“When Oklahoma and Texas were added to the SEC, we talked about (expansion candidates),” Barta said. “Notre Dame was certainly on that list. I will reiterate we are not seeking applications but as people come to the Big Ten, they’re certainly being received and then trying to make the decision.
“I would probably eventually support it. I don’t anticipate that being a decision that I’ll be making this summer. But I don’t know. Again, I can’t I don’t have a crystal ball. But that question is not before us now.”
Barta shared similar sentiments on potentially adding Oregon and Washington. He said his sense was they’re moving forward with USC and UCLA and there will not be any more additions this summer.
More:Pac-12 powerhouses UCLA, USC joining Big Ten Conference in 2024
Barta addresses divisions, travel and protected rivalries
The era of divisions in the Big Ten is likely coming to an end. The Pac-12 and ACC have done so recently and it appears the soon-to-be 16-team Big Ten could adopt a similar model to the ACC, where teams play three primary opponents per year then the other league members twice during a four-year period, with one meeting coming at home and the other on the road.
Barta also noted that for now the plan is to remain at nine conference games.
“Even before (expansion), it was looking more and more likely we’re going to move away from divisions,” Barta said. “The decision has hasn’t been finalized yet. My guess is this will just continue to that direction that we would likely not have divisions. But we haven’t yet sat down and said here’s how it’s going to go with the addition of these two new ones.”
Primary games are also known as protected rivalries. Iowa’s in a peculiar spot where they have several in-conference rivals, including four trophy games annually. He acknowledged that keeping every one annually is unlikely but is committed to trying to keep them all in a consistent rotation.
“I want to play Wisconsin, Northwestern, Nebraska,” Barta said. “You know, the bordering states and particularly trophy games. I would like to play each of those every year. On the flip side, I’m a member of a bigger organization. So you know where it lands, I’m going to fight for as many of the rivalries as we can get, but I also understand it may be in the best interest of the conference to not play every one of those every year.”
More:Podcast: A conversation with Jay Niemann and making sense of Big Ten expansion
Barta also addressed the potential travel difficulties that exist with expansion. He said that’s at the top of the conference’s priority list to sort out and also didn’t rule out the idea of sweeping games; for example, Rutgers would fly to California and play USC and UCLA over a couple-day stretch.
He also said with the new television money coming soon, chartering flights for more sports is in play.
Last year:Leistikow: Dissecting what Iowa AD Gary Barta had to say about ‘Alliance,’ Cy-Hawk future
Will expansion impact the Cy-Hawk rivalry?
Barta discussed the Cy-Hawk rivalry during his presser. Future scheduling is becoming more difficult and to this point, there aren’t any scheduled Iowa-Iowa State football games after 2025.
So far this summer there haven’t been any formal talks between the schools. But Barta is confident they’ll reach an agreement in time.
“(Iowa State AD Jamie Pollard) and I haven’t talked about it specifically,” Barta said. “… You’ve heard me say over the years that as long as both of us are here and unless something were to change dramatically, we both know or believe that it’s good for both of our programs and there’s every intention to continue. But this summer we haven’t had additional conversations about it.”
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men’s basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at email@example.com.