There was little doubt what one of the main storylines would be entering Big Ten Media Days earlier this week.
Less than a month after the conference approved the addition of USC and UCLA, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren and the head football coaches around the league had the opportunity to discuss the landmark move at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
In contrast to the varied opinions on Warren and company’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the reactions to the Big Ten’s expansion efforts from the conference coaches were nearly all positive on Tuesday and Wednesday, although a couple coaches did seem slightly wary of the change.
After each coach held both an on-stage press conference and subsequent hourlong media availability, we rounded up their thoughts on the topic, beginning with Ohio State head coach Ryan Day. (Note: Penn State coach James Franklin and Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst did not talk about conference expansion during their press conferences.)
Ohio State coach Ryan Day
“(UCLA head coach Chip Kelly and I) were on the golf course together at his tournament, and we're on the 16th hole. And we found out about halfway through that hole that we're in the same conference together. So we had a great laugh about that and got quick calls from Gene Smith and (UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond) and learned more about that. But we're very excited. It's exciting for both of us and both of our programs.
“(Kelly) was just very excited. We're now part of a national conference, coast to coast, and it's big moving forward. I haven't thought about (having to play against Kelly) much. I'm not gonna look forward to playing against him as a good friend. We still got a couple more years before we have to think about.”
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh
“Great programs, great academic programs. It will be a great fit, I think. Personally, I’m an old-school guy. I kind of like a strong West Coast conference, a strong Southeast conference, a strong Midwest conference, a strong East Coast conference. But things are different now.
“Things have changed and they’ll be – it’s probably not the last either, I would guess. We’ll see. I’m glad we’re in it. It should be a heck of a ride.”
Michigan State coach Mel Tucker
“We recruit coast to coast, so we have guys on our team from New Jersey and we've got guys on our squad from the West; Califonia, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada. It's only going to help our visibility, I believe, enhance our visibility with those players. They're going to see us playing against those teams they're used to following.
“Those are two really good programs with a lot of history, a lot of tradition and really good coaching. I think we will be more familiar to people. I mean Michigan State’s a national brand, and that's why we're able to go across the country and recruit and sign good players. But I think it's just going to add to our visibility and help us and get into more homes of really good players out West.”
Nebraska coach Scott Frost
“There's a lot of changes right now, and we have to be light on our feet to make sure we're trying to take advantage of every change that happens and position ourselves in a good place. I just want to compliment the league and the leadership of the league. I think everybody can see the landscape changing, and this move pretty much ensures that we're out in front of it and relevant in college football no matter where it all ends up.
“I've coached against those two teams before. I think they'll be great additions to the league. Looking forward to this year and beyond and see where the whole thing lands when the dust settles.”
Maryland coach Mike Locksley
“I think it's a win for the conference. Obviously, the commissioner and the powers that be felt that they are a fit for the Big Ten, very like-minded, the two universities are very like-minded to what the Big Ten is all about – great academics and great athletics. So to add those two types of teams that have storied history is a win for the Big Ten.
“As far as the flight, it is what it is. For us, we'll play the games that end up on our schedule. We'll manage it and come up with a way to hopefully allow us and get out there to play our best. But great to have those two storied programs come to the Big Ten.”
Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck
“The first thing that came to my mind was, ‘LA, are you kidding me? That's perfect.’ The Big Ten now is represented from the West Coast to the East Coast. You look at the major media markets now, that's incredibly positive. I look at everything through the lens of the University of Minnesota. We have a ton of living alumni out on the West Coast, and now that Big Ten footprint is really stationed there for all of our alumni.
“I think when you kind of look at does playing out there help recruiting, yes and no. I think it's very different than it used to be 10 years ago, where kids can live stream games, watch any game they want, they have all the types of resources on their phones. But I do think it's really positive for the conference and the league. We're excited about it. It's coast to coast.
“I think people asked me a question back there about travel, I think other sports could be affected. Again, I look through it from the football eyes. … I think there’s people way smarter than me that will figure all that out in terms of how we're going to make that all work. Again, it's a positive blueprint for the Big Ten, and change is really healthy. It's a big change, and we're excited about having the LA market into the Big Ten.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz
“I was either in Maine or the NFL when Penn State joined the Big Ten and, I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but I’m pretty sure it was about one sport joining our conference. It was good for our conference, and it made a lot of sense on a lot of levels. I think it’s fair to say that was the case with Nebraska as well a couple years ago, and I think it’s fair to say that’s why we played during the pandemic and no one else did. We were the only sport in operation, to my knowledge, nationally.
“This is just the world we live in. This has become an entertainment business, it’s going to be revenue-driven. I’ve said, jokingly, that I don’t know how the NCAA works and I’m in the home city of it. After 23 years, I’m totally confused how legislation gets passed or doesn’t get passed, and I really don’t care anymore at this point. But one thing I’m pretty sure of is that TV predicts the future. What TV wants is going to materialize, especially when new contracts are coming. That’s just the world we live in now.
“There’s really no sense to worry about it, and it probably doesn’t make sense for somebody my age to think about UCLA or USC being one of our Big Ten rivals, but that’s where we’re going so embrace it and enjoy it. I’m just glad I’m not coaching on the West Coast having to come this way all the time. That would be a change.”
Indiana coach Tom Allen
“When I was a kid, I had a poster in my bedroom of the 10 Big Ten schools, and that’s what I think of as the Big Ten, to be honest with you. Just the traditions and the histories of all those schools that started up this great conference. But then you’ve got to adapt to change, right? So, even from then you got four more schools we added, and now you’ve got two more schools, so six more from that original group, which shows growth and progress.
“You think about the kids we recruit – they’re not as regional as I was growing up. Well, it’s not even close to how I was raised, growing up, in regards to that. They’re traveling all over the country, AAU tournaments for basketball, football, travel baseball – whatever sports they play growing up. And they meet a lot of kids, they connect with each other, they’re all on each other’s social media accounts, so they don’t really think as closed as we do, as adults, sometimes.
“With the addition of UCLA and USC, immediately opportunities expand for us in regards to recruiting further out West. So, there’s a lot to be said for holding on to certain traditions that you have, and that’s good. But you have to be willing to change. As coaches, I have to be willing to change. As a conference, we have to change. … We’ve got to embrace it.”
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald
“I'm excited to add USC and UCLA. The expansion of our footprint from the East Coast to the West, you're going to wake up watching Big Ten football and go to bed watching Big Ten football. So that's exciting for our players, exciting for our fans.
“There will be a travel component to it. There is, but we're going to Dublin (Ireland) in the opener, so it won't be that big of a deal. When you look at the opportunities, especially for a school like Northwestern, we recruit worldwide. We have a huge alumni base in Southern California. A few years back I spoke at the contemporary art museum to about 400 alums. We've always recruited California. I'm excited to add that component to it. Where it's going to go and how things are going to shake out before we get to '24, I think we'll all be excited to see how that goes.
“It will definitely be a new thing and a new opportunity, but I think the commissioner said it best, change is kind of the word of college football right now. We'll lean forward and embrace that.”
Purdue coach Jeff Brohm
“(It was) a little bit of a shock in our face at the time because it's exciting. I think we're all fired up to have USC and UCLA as part of it. Two great programs, a lot of history and a lot of tradition going out to the West Coast in a big market in Los Angeles will add a lot of value to the league. We've got a great conference as it is, a lot of really tough caliber teams.
“Normally, you have four to six teams in the top 20 at all times. And on any given day, anybody can win. So I think when we add two quality opponents that have won national titles, and that have great venues to play in, it's going to be a lot of fun for our players. A lot of fun for our fans. And I think once we get to that point, it's going to make for an exciting season.”
Illinois coach Bret Bielema
“I think when I got the phone call that was going down, I’m sure there was an initial reaction like there was for everybody. For me, it went from having a guaranteed opportunity that every kid is going to have an opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl, which is special and unique. We’ve done limited West Coast recruiting in my 10 years as a head coach before I came here, so I think it opens a recruiting window. But more what could possibly come down.
“The idea that I think it’s going to stop there would be short-sighted by a lot of people. I’m not giving any information, I don’t know, but I do know the addition of those two brings the brand of Big Ten football to a higher level.”
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano
"I'm really excited about UCLA and USC coming into the league. I think what it does is takes a great league and just made it greater. Like-minded institutions academically, athletically. Our footprint spreads from New York to LA. It doesn't get a lot better than that.
"I know there's some concerns about travel and those things. You know, you do it. You figure it out. But it's really super for our league. That other stuff, I don't even concern myself with. That's not my business. You do what you need to do in the times that you're in.
“I'm really proud of our conference for doing something that puts us right there. Those two leagues, those are special. As I said earlier, I consider ourselves blessed to be a member.”