Top 17 Big Ten Expansion Candidates For Consideration

There are officially no limits on schools that can be considered expansion candidates for the Big Ten after invitations to join USC and UCLA. With the Big Ten set to welcome the two iconic Pac-12 programs in 2024, the future of the Big Ten has never looked so open and there are so many directions the Big Ten could go after.

The Big Ten has made it a point to focus on Association of American Universities member schools when researching potential expansion candidates. USC and UCLA, for example, are each member of the AAU. But membership in the AAU isn’t necessarily a big deal breaker, as is the case for Nebraska† Nebraska was voted into the conference when it was an AAU member, but the school lost his AAU membership months after we went to the Big Ten.

There are a number of AAU members who are not on this list because they are current or prospective members of the SEC. Of all the conferences out there, the SEC is probably the only conference that has the least chance of school leave for another conference. The SEC is home to AAU members FloridaMissouri, and Texas A&M and Texas will join them soon.

This list of potential expansion targets for the Big Ten is based on current membership in the AAU, with one very notable exception. We might as well get that exception out of the way now…

Notre Dame

Matt Cashore-US TODAY Sports

AAU member: no

Notre Dame is the biggest exception to the Big Ten’s ideal list of expansion candidates. The Big Ten has chased the Fighting Irish twice over the years, but to no avail. Make no mistake, however, Notre Dame is an academic institution on a par with those members of the AAU and one of the most natural fits in the Big Ten should the school choose to join the Big Ten.

Notre Dame may not be the national draw it once was, but the school now sees so many of its traditional rivals in the Big Ten. The mere threat of not being able to play against them on a regular basis could be one of the factors pushing the Irish off the brink of football independence.


Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

AAU member: Yes

Following the news that USC and UCLA were exiting the Pac-12 for the Big Ten, speculation about what? Oregon hurry up. Oregon may not necessarily bring the size of the market the Big Ten is looking for, but the Ducks have become a well-known and respected brand and they would help balance the Big Ten’s new presence on the West Coast.

And if the Big Ten continues to expand westward, there are a few more schools to consider.


Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

AAU member: Yes

If the Big Ten also adds Oregon, then Washington would be the school that should be associated with them. The Huskies would give the Big Ten four west coast teams with a presence in the north and one in the south. In addition, the Oregon and Washington additions would benefit from the smaller but potentially valuable markets in Seattle and Portland.


RVR Photos-USA TODAY Network

AAU member: Yes

If we’re sticking to AAU members of the Pac-12, then we should at least consider the Arizona possibility. Arizona can be a tough sell for most, and the Wildcats may not be on a short list for Big Ten goals right now. But they are an AAU member with some access to the No. 11 Phoenix market.


Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

AAU member: Yes

Bringing in the Pac-12 and AAU members, how about one of the newest members of the Pac-12? Utah certainly brings a lot to the table as a growing program with growing success. The Utes won the Pac-12 football championship last season and competed in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State. Utah is a school that has grown over the years from a Mountain West Conference power to earning a spot in the Pac-12 to one of the top programs in the conference.


AP Photo/Chris O’Meara

AAU member: Yes

There may be another Pac-12 fit for the Big Ten worth considering from the state of California. Stanford could easily fit into the Big Ten, as USC and UCLA are already on their way to the conference, and the possibility of Oregon and Washignton joining them. Stanford is in a great spot, although it may lack football facilities.

But that San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose television market No. 6 is up there for the taking (unless the Big Ten thinks USC and UCLA have enough of that already).


Penn State Security Neal Smith showed on Nov. 25, 1969 that he is about to equal the school record with his 12th career interception. The pass was intended for Colorado halfback Monte Huber (42). (AP photo)

AAU member: Yes

Another of the newest members of the Pac-12, Colorado might make some sense for the Big Ten expansion. The Buffs already have a history with current Big Ten member Nebraska, and it would help bridge the gap between current Big Ten membership and USC and UCLA. This could be even more likely if the Big Ten manages to add Utah, as the two were once a package deal for the Pac-12. Adding Colorado and Utah at the same time could also be an option for the Big Ten.


Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

AAU member: Yes

There’s no doubt that Kansas would fit right in with the Big Ten and add a college basketball powerhouse to the mix. But the years of conference reshuffles have shown that Kansas isn’t up to much when it comes to football and football ratings. That might be the biggest reason Kansas isn’t a Big Ten member yet and that might be why Kansas is lagging again.

North Carolina and Duke

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AAU members: Yes

The inclusion of ACC members in this list is probably not worthwhile given the terms of the conference granting rights to its members. Essentially, the granting of rights makes it fiscally irresponsible for one current ACC member to leave the conference for another until at least 2036. It would be a mammoth decision to leave the ACC with so much at stake in the budget. .

But let’s put that aside for a moment and dip our toes in the AAU membership of the ACC. And let’s face it, just as the Big Ten would add USC and UCLA at the same time, the Big Ten North Carolina and Duke in a package deal. Right now you can’t get one without the other.

The other ACC options: Pitt, Virginia, Georgia Tech

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AAU members: Yes

For purely selfish reasons, the addition of Pitt would be incredibly nice from a Penn State perspective, as it would renew intra-state rivalry on an annual basis. But the Big Ten doesn’t need Pitt to increase its viewing range. It’s already covered by Penn State and Ohio State in and around the Pittsburgh region.

Virginia doesn’t add much to the Big Ten either. But Georgia Tech has the biggest card on the table, nestled in the Atlanta market, an area with as strong a SEC presence as you can imagine. Since the two conferences seem on track to create some dueling super conferences, Georgia Tech could be a nice asset to the Big Ten (and it’s one the SEC doesn’t need).

But those ACC grants of rights will be a major obstacle to taking almost all ACC options out of the mix completely.

One Non-AAU ACC Option: Syracuse

Rich Barnes-US TODAY Sports

AAU member: no

The restrictions on Syracuse as a viable Big Ten expansion candidate have been reiterated here again, but the granting of rights is a hard limiting factor. But Syracuse would be a good fit in the Big Ten and would add another nice presence in the Northeast to complement Penn State and Rutgers (and perhaps another expansion candidate to be named soon).


AAU member: no

The Big Ten has raised a flag in the New York market and is poised to take over the Los Angeles market. It is already located in Chicago. But what about that lucrative market in Dallas-Fort Worth?

This is where TCU could be an opportunity despite not being an AAU member. If the Big Ten really wants a slice of that southwestern market, then TCU is the only real option to consider. And TCU also has a responsibility to think about its place in the changing landscape of the university athletics world. With the Big 12 not what it once was Oklahoma and Texas Leaving for the SEC (two schools specifically omitted from this conversation for that reason), TCU would be wise to pitch to the Big Ten.

army and navy

Danny Wild-US TODAY Sports

AAU members: No, but as American as they come

Imagine a world where the Big Ten is home to the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, USC-UCLA in the Rose Bowl, and the biggest rivalry game there is, the Army-Navy Game.

The future of service academy football isn’t talked about enough as the college sports world continues to evolve. While history and tradition are being brushed aside as the conference expands, the Army-Navy Game is a reminder that some traditions in sports should not be tampered with. Even if the Big Ten managed to bring in these two rival academies as just football members, adding the Army-Navy Game to the programming in the media rights deal would be a huge win.

Feel free to throw Air Force into the mix if you want to keep the entire Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy under one roof (we know the Big Ten loves a good trophy game, after all).



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