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IOWA CITY — The Big Ten Conference is “not seeking applications” for any new members after its blockbuster additions of USC and UCLA, Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said in a Friday news conference.
“I don’t have a crystal ball, but at this point, I can tell you the Big Ten is still not seeking members,” Barta said. “I know the Big Ten is taking calls. … I'm not predicting that we would be adding any more in the near future.”
One of the most-mentioned schools in Big Ten expansion rumors has been Notre Dame. Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith already said he hopes the Fighting Irish join the conference.
Barta said Notre Dame “was certainly on that list” when the conference considered expansion in 2021 after the SEC announced the additions of Texas and Oklahoma, but that doesn’t necessarily mean any movement will happen soon.
“I would probably eventually support it,” Barta said. “I don’t anticipate that being a decision that I’ll be making this summer.”
Barta declined to say whether he’d support the addition of more schools from the west coast such as Oregon or Washington to the Big Ten.
“I doubt that I'll be forced or asked to make that decision or our president will be this summer,” Barta said. “Right now my sense is we are where we are, and we're going to move forward with who we have with the addition of USC and UCLA.”
As for USC and UCLA joining the conference in 2024, Barta is “very excited.”
“By making this decision, the Big Ten now has a presence in New York, Chicago, L.A. and in between,” Barta said.
The move happened quickly. Barta estimated USC and UCLA reached out to conference about six or seven days before the June 30 announcement of the realignment.
Should the four-team College Football Playoff expand — a scenario Barta expects to happen in “the next year or two” — he is confident in the new, 16-team Big Ten “getting greater access to the playoff.”
“I believe the Big Ten has positioned itself so that we'll be able to get a maximum number of participants in,” Barta said. “That's the goal.”
The logistical challenges with having two schools from California in a conference of primarily Midwest schools will most heavily impact sports other than football.
The travel for nonrevenue sports is “high on our list to look at,” Barta said, amid the conference’s expanded geographic footprint. He used a Tuesday night game in Los Angeles for soccer as an example.
“That might be a situation where maybe — in the past, we wouldn't have chartered in soccer — maybe we're going to have to now,” Barta said.
Future of Big Ten divisions
Even before the addition of USC and UCLA — two schools that are more than 1,000 miles away from the next closest Big Ten member — Barta said “it was looking more and more like we were going to move away from divisions” in football.
“The decision hasn't been finalized yet,” said Barta, who was cautious about speculating about the Big Ten’s future plans. “My guess is this will continue that direction that we would likely not have divisions.”
The timing of when that decision will happen and how soon it’ll be effective remains unclear at this point.
If the Big Ten took out divisions in 2023, that would require changing the schedule once for the 14-team, division-free format and then again in the following season when USC and UCLA join the conference.
“I would anticipate through ‘23 that we would stay the way we are, and then we would begin building a schedule that includes USC and UCLA,” Barta said. “Right now I don't anticipate a change between now and ‘23, but we'll see."
A divisionless Big Ten would then prompt the question of which Iowa rivalries would be protected each season. With several geographic rivalries, the calculus of which to protect could be complicated.
“I want to play all those rivalries,” Barta said. “I want to play Minnesota, I want to play Wisconsin, Northwestern, Nebraska, the bordering states, particularly where we have trophy games. I would like to play each of those every year.”
Keeping all of those games on an annual basis is highly improbable, though, without divisions — a reality Iowa’s 16-year athletics director is well aware of.
“If one of those gets in a rotation that's not every year, we'll be OK,” Barta said. “It's just not possible to do them all, especially when you have 14, soon-to-be 16 different schools that are involved in the equation.”
Future of Cy-Hawk football game
Away from the Big Ten schedule, the contract for the Iowa-Iowa State series ends in 2025. Barta said he and Iowa State AD Jamie Pollard have not discussed an extension yet, but he’s a strong proponent of continuing the annual rivalry game.
“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,” Barta said. “There's every intention to continue it going, but this summer, we haven't had additional conversations about it.”
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