With the imminent arrival of USC and UCLA, the Big Ten's overdue name change has become obvious.
Welcome, West Coasters, to The Big Tent.
When Kevin Warren left the Minnesota Vikings to become commissioner of the Big Ten three years ago, I predicted he could use the job as a stepladder to become the next commissioner of the NFL.
Now that he's adding the Trojans and Bruins, you have to wonder why he would consider a demotion.
The Big Ten is becoming a coast-to-coast football powerhouse, incorporating teams from the metro areas of New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul and even West Lafayette, Indiana.
This isn't expansion — it's sprawl.
The Big Ten, once defined by Michigan and Ohio State, has added Nebraska, Penn State and USC, three of the most storied programs in college football history, as well as occasionally storied programs like UCLA and Maryland.
Rutgers now faces the prospect of finishing 30th.
USC and UCLA leaving the Pac-Whatever to join the Big Tent reaffirms what we knew about college football, and makes obvious the demands that should be made on Warren and conference leadership now that more billions are on the way:
- College football has never been about the students, or the student-athletes. Making "student-athletes'' fly across the country to compete is not in their best academic interest. No one in charge cares.
- College athletes should be paid. They are the workers in a billion-dollar industry. They should unionize, or sue, or both.
- College football is about to become semipro football based in two conferences, much like the AFC and NFC, only featuring the SEC and Big Ten.
- To at least pretend to care about student-athletes, with the new money, every conscionable Big Tent university should fund a full slate of sports. Minnesota should reinstate men's gymnastics, tennis and indoor track and field, and expand its roster of women's sports. Give sportswashing a good name, Gophers, and use a small portion of the proceeds to benefit the kinds of athletes you so often praise but rarely reward.
What's most likely to happen is the Big Ten and SEC continuing the college football arms race, leading to even higher salaries for coaches and athletic directors while Johnny Football shreds his ACL for school pride.
In a perfect world, much of this new football money would go to lowering tuitions and improving universities.
Instead, it will allow assistant special teams coaches to make more than university presidents. It will mean football programs will recruit via yacht as well as planes, trains and Maybachs.
The news about USC and UCLA represents a crescendo, not a coda. Look for the Big Ten to try to add other prominent schools from the Pac-Whatever and wherever else they can find a cluster of TVs.
Would Stanford jump? We're about to find out. Would Cal? Either or both would add the massive Bay Area market to college football's new world order. Washington would add Seattle.
Don't be surprised to see the University of Houston become the target of the kind of recruiting that usually targets high school kids named Manning.
Houston is another massive market, and the Cougars play in the No Longer Relevant Conference. The Cougars are about to receive a few $10 million handshakes.
There is one form of doomsaying that shouldn't be offered in response to Big Ten expansion. Don't complain that this further separates the "haves'' from the "have-nots.''
College football was built on imbalance.
In 1997, Michigan and Nebraska shared the college football national championship. Since then, there have been 25 national champions, including LSU and USC sharing the title in 2003.
Alabama has won six. The SEC has won 13. Southern schools have won 21. The non-Southern teams that have won it: Ohio State twice, and USC twice.
The Big Tent is going to grow like a snake plant, but will have to prove it is home to something other than The College Football Consolation Championship.