Look. I understand that conference alignment doesn’t work for everyone. While it does make sense for college football, it doesn't make sense for the basketball, baseball, and Olympic sports teams.
Let's be honest — it only makes sense for football, where student-athletes travel at most once a week and maybe, once a year, travel two weekends in a row. But the travel is constrained on the weekends, unlike basketball which may play a game in LA on Tuesday, Seattle on Thursday, and Champaign on Sunday.
This is a big concern moving forward — and that does matter. The game should always be played with the student-athlete's mental state in mind with their already demanding practice, education, and social schedules.
Now that is out of the way, I want to explore why it does make sense to expand westward for both TV and branding of the Big Ten schools.
By The Numbers
I am a numbers guy, and while I haven’t done my charts in a while, I did look at a few numbers for employment outcomes for the traditional Big Ten schools. I primarily looked at undergraduate school outcomes — and then business or engineering school outcomes if statistics for the whole school were behind a log-in. I also left out the home state and Illinois for the top destination because anyone who has spent a football Saturday in Lakeview knows that it is filled with hats and jerseys from every Big Ten school.
Here is Illinois report:
California, on average, ranked in the top 3, and for 50% of schools, it was the top destination for undergraduate students. Washington, on average, ranked in the top 10, and for 6 of 14 Big Ten schools ranked in the top 6 destinations for graduate students. I am sure the engineering programs are much higher where in Illinois' case, Washington and California were the top locations by state.
That picture looks an awful lot similar to this one:
This does matter every week. My friend group here in Seattle has alumni from Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin. When Michigan State and Michigan were due to play here, the alumni poked their heads out and emerged en masse at every bar in Seattle, at tailgates, in the subway (we only have one), and at the stadium.
The sense that Big Ten fans WON’T travel to away games is objectively false — because they already live here (see header image).
Sure, the tech world that attracts these individuals is on a hiring freeze or is remote, but undergraduates are moving here daily.
And to be honest, I am happy that I can watch my Illini play at Husky Stadium because traveling back home is a major pain in the...
To get to Champaign, I must get on a 4-hour flight that leaves mid-day, forcing me to miss a work day. I then need to rent a car, drive to Champaign, and shop for my tailgate supplies at Costco six and a half hours later. For a basketball, baseball, softball, or volleyball game — forget about it. And Illinois is one of the easier schools to get to from the West Coast.
(Yes, I made my point earlier about the mental health of the student-athletes, but with the money these schools are getting, I'm sure they will find a way to land at Willard and make travel easier for the students. At least, I hope they do.)
But now that they are in the Big Ten, my financé (Wisconsin alum) and I will be going to Husky Stadium and Alaska Airlines Arena to watch our teams play — more often that we did even when living in Chicago. And we're excited about that.
And this is only in the small city of Seattle. The California-based fans are much, much, much more excited.
There are two angles here — students and athletes.
Alumni Association can act as recruitment arms here in Seattle, Portland, and LA. I can show my future kids what Illinois football and basketball are and convince them to be in the Class of 204X. I am sure the Seattle area alumni association is already planning tickets and tailgates for these future games.
For coaches, this is a branding event. You no longer have to wait for a March Madness round in Portland or a Rose Bowl berth to visit prospective athletes. You will play the rich basketball zones in Seattle and LA, and football players will flock to big games at USC and UCLA. The same goes for all non-revenue sports.
Only time will tell if this experiment makes sense. But for now, I cannot contain my excitement to cheer on the Illini in person whenever they come to Seattle.
Also, the stadiums are amazing:
Washington Husky Stadium:
Oregon Autzen Stadium:
USC LA Memorial Coliseum:
UCLA Rose Bowl (USC vs. Illinois Rose Bowl):