We have good news and bad news for you, Big Ten fans. Bad news first—you always ask for the bad news first. The bad news is that, Ohio State (and maybe Northwestern?) aside, Big Ten football was a borderline farce in 2012. But the good news is that at least the conference siphoned more money off of that prolonged display of mediocrity than any other conference in the nation in 2012.
That's according to Forbes Magazine, which ranked the major conferences by their incomes. Here's what Forbes had to say about the Big Ten:
Total income: $310 million
Bowl games: $40 million
NCAA tournaments: $20 million
Television revenue: $250 million
The Big Ten Network, which is 49% owned by the conference, has become a veritable cash cow. Though the Big Ten only receives half of the network's revenues, the upcoming additions of Maryland and Rutgers could inject as much as $100 million into the conference annually.
After that, the rankings go Pac-12, ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big East, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, WAC.
There's a precipitous drop-off in those rankings as well. The SEC makes over 10 times what the Conference USA makes ($270 million to $26.5 million), and the Big East is the only conference making between $27 million and $260 million.
That's a pretty stacked playing field.
What this goes to show is that while there's a good correlation between money and athletic success, it's not an absolute relationship—mainly because these conferences aren't operating under the exact same circumstances.
The SEC is $40 million behind the Big Ten, but it enjoys different demographics, a better climate for football training and a culture more geared toward maximizing college football success. Those things are more important than a roughly 10 percent difference in revenue.
That being said, you have to be in the same ballpark money-wise, or there's little to no hope. The Big East's revenue is under $100 million dollars, and its football program is on death's door. The conferences below it are essentially never getting on the BCS conferences' level. They simply can't afford to, because the money needs to come from somewhere.
It's also remarkably evident how much television revenue is a driving factor in these successes. The checks that networks like ESPN cut for these conferences establish who the haves and have-nots are, and rather dramatically so.
Now, granted, ESPN is in the business of making money before making kings, and it would have been more than happy to keep the SEC on the increasingly lowball contract the two sides signed a few years back.
All the same, cash is king, and the Big Ten is the king of kings. Not by much, of course, and depending on how well the Pac-12 and SEC monetize their situations, the Big Ten might not be king for much longer. But it's good to know that if nothing else, Jim Delany knows how to keep his middling football conference at the top of the economic food chain.