Big Ten Expansion: Will a Potential NFL Lockout Expedite Expansion?

Jason DuniganCorrespondent IFebruary 16, 2010

Think about it for second.

Who would really benefit the most from an NFL lockout in 2011?

The answer is obvious.  The Big Ten Conference.

While it may be a coincidence that the Big Ten is contemplating conference expansion on the eve of a potential labor-contract-dispute-induced lockout, you have to believe that Big Ten Network executives are licking their lips at the possibilities that could arise for their cable channel.

Now, the question of who will get invited is up for debate.  Actually, there is a slim chance the Big Ten will choose not to expand at all, and many will point to the conference's previous flirting glances with expanding—yet not sealing any deals—as reason to believe the Big Ten will remain as is for the foreseeable future.

Do not buy that line of thinking.  The Big Ten is full of smart people.  Maybe not as smart as they like to tell everyone they are when pointing to their collective AAU status, but still, they can read and write and do math as well as the rest of us peasants. 

And, you can be sure they know the big difference between not expanding in the past and possibly expanding now is because of their cable channel.

That, my friends, is what is driving the expansion cart.  Not a championship game in December that would net a hand full of money, but treasure bath amounts of money that would result from moving into newer, larger, and more lucrative markets.

And do not think for a second that the looming lockout is not at the forefront of the minds of the Big Ten Presidents.  If there is no professional football, where will pigskin-starved fans turn?  To the NCAA of course.

Oh sure, there are some fans that just do not care for college football and will not be swayed by a lack of an NFL product to watch, but many more will tune in to the NFL football fan quasi-refuge, and many of those just might become potential season ticket holders or cable television subscribers if they like what they find. 

And if those new viewers just happen to be in the state of Texas, Missouri, New Jersey, or New York... well... as I said, the concept is not lost on Big Ten Presidents.

Competing networks like ESPN/ABC and CBS will also benefit, but those channels have other sports such as the NBA, NASCAR, NHL, Professional Tennis, MLB, or the PGA to offer, and are not as dependent upon football as the Big Ten Network. 

So while those other channels will still make money, the rewards from a single-sport-dependency point of view will not be as impacting to them as an NFL lockout will be for the Big Ten.

One way or another, expansion is coming, and the potential for NFL disaster might just speed up the whole process.  And the Big Ten will be the real winners.  Who joins them for the ride remains to be seen.