Iowa president: Big Ten not making future expansion decisions to ‘chase dollars’

IOWA CITY, Iowa — With the Big Ten barely four weeks removed from accepting Washington and Oregon as new members, University of Iowa president Barbara Wilson said she “can’t comment” on whether the league is complete at 18 members.

“What I can tell you is that we’re not making any decisions quickly,” Wilson told members of her Presidential Committee on Athletics on Thursday. “But we’re thinking deeply about the issues at hand, and we’re not making decisions to chase dollars right now. So even though it looks that way to some of our critics, that’s not what we’re doing.”

Friday morning, Stanford and California (along with SMU) were accepted as Atlantic Coast Conference members for the 2024 season. Both schools were discussed as potential Big Ten targets alongside Oregon and Washington, but one industry source told The Athletic they don’t think commissioner Tony Petitti “had the votes” to add Stanford and Cal. “So there was never really a big push for the other two,” the source added.

A Big Ten school source said there’s respect for both schools’ academic prowess, but the league’s institutions interact with Cal and Stanford through the Association of American Universities, a prestigious research consortium. So there was no urgency to add either university for athletics.

“We’re trying really hard not to respond to other people’s urgent needs,” Wilson said. “We’re trying to be more strategic as a conference. And that’s not always easy to do.”

Oregon and Washington are considered upper-level athletic programs and both are AAU institutions, joining all but one Big Ten university (Nebraska) in that cooperative.

“The other thing we’re thinking about all the time is, how do we elevate the Big Ten brand?” Wilson said. “Just think about Iowa playing football in Los Angeles, or women’s basketball. It’s great for our student-athletes. It’s great for us to advertise the (Iowa Writers Workshop) in Los Angeles, where we have a lot of Hollywood alums.

“We also think about where we are, and where we can have a bigger profile for our university, in terms of recruitment, and in terms of impact, but also in terms of student-athletes having those opportunities. So, it’s more complicated than it looks on the surface.”

Wilson and interim athletics director Beth Goetz also provided updates on other realignment-related topics before and after the PCA meeting.

2024 football schedules

In June, the Big Ten unveiled a Flex Protect-Plus scheduling plan that deemed 11 football rivalries permanent and ensured each athlete would play at every campus at least once over a four-year period. With Washington and Oregon joining USC and UCLA as newcomers in 2024, the league now must either alter the rivalries, the rotational structure or expand the schedule to 10 games.

“We’re all focused on the nine-game football schedule,” Goetz said Thursday. The rivalry component varies by school — Iowa has three, Penn State has zero — but there’s no push to cut those down, either.

“Across the board, and not necessarily Iowa-specific,” Goetz said, “those protected games is one of the principles that we wanted to run the models with. I think they need to see statistically how that will play out with the addition of two teams, but certainly everybody’s protected games is a part of the consideration.

“It’s pretty optimistic that we’re going to be able to live within those principles and see something here in short order.”

Other sports

Goetz said scheduling for other sports has advanced and travel “won’t look that different for Iowa,” which competed in three non-conference volleyball matches last weekend in Sacramento, Calif. The league’s senior woman administrators and Big Ten senior vice president Rebecca Pany are evaluating each Olympic sport’s schedules individually “that only require one trip out west.” Wilson said multievent invitationals are possible, too.

“There’s just not a one-size-fits-all opportunity,” Goetz said. “Whether it is being able to play two games in a weekend or over a period of time with basketball might be out there, or in a sport like soccer, which is gonna look a lot different than baseball. So if you’re on a baseball trip out west, what does that look like? How do you maybe take and leverage an institution’s spring break, which we do anyway?”

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(Photo: Jeff Hanisch / USA Today)

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