Though they were not a part of it, the new television deal signed last Thursday by the Big 10 conference had major meaning for HBCUs. It also offered a warning to such conferences as the Ivy and Patriot Leagues, as well as smaller non-Power 5 conferences like the Ohio Valley. It was another indicator of the rich getting richer, and looking out for absolutely no one but themselves in the process.

The newly expanded Big 10 Conference announced they had reached a massive media rights agreement with CBS, FOX, NBC and NBCUniversal’s Peacock for a deal reportedly worth an average of at least $1 billion a year. The seven-year deal, which goes into effect in 2023, comes weeks after the conference announced the University of Southern California and UCLA would join from the Pacific-12.

“The Big Ten Conference media rights agreements are more than just dollars and deals. They are a mechanism to provide stability and maximum exposure for our student-athletes, member institutions and partners during these uncertain times in collegiate athletics,” Big Ten Conference Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “We are very grateful to our world-class media partners for recognizing the strength of the Big Ten Conference brand and providing the incredible resources we need for our student-athletes to compete at the very highest levels, and to achieve their academic and athletics goals.”

Beginning in the fall of 2023, the conference will air its competitions through three networks on college football Saturdays, beginning with FOX televising a 12 p.m. ET game, with the coverage shifting to CBS for the 3:30 p.m. ET and the prime time game on NBC, the Big Ten statement said.

“The new rights agreements are an incredible achievement for our entire conference and a true testament of what can be accomplished with teamwork,” Warren said. But they are also a huge money grab, and another signal of the enormous gap between a group of large colleges and universities and everyone else. Look for the SEC to seek a major increase when their deal runs out, while the Big 12, what’s left of the Pac-12 and the ACC now all find themselves seeking better deals.

But for the HBCUs and small conferences, they must ask themselves what lies ahead for us in the future? There are already coaches in major conferences saying that they can no longer afford to schedule non-conference games with smaller schools that have historically been money boosters for those universities. TSU most likely won’t be getting too many more opportunities for games like the 2023 season opener with Notre Dame on national television.

However the Big 10 deal should also convince both the HBCUS and the non-Power 5 schools that it’s time to think about some radical action. For instance the SWAC and MEAC could either merge and form a super conference, or they could create some sort of playoff system for HBCUs.

The same could be the case with the Ivy and Patriot Leagues, as well as the OVC, All-American Conference and other smaller schools being totally ignored in the big money grab and expansion maneuvers of the large schools. The Smaller schools do have a current playoff system, but they could expand or alter it.

Rather than having a Black national champion being decided largely by polls and journalistic affirmation, what about a multi-tiered playoff system with anywhere from eight to 16 teams competing for a title. Who knows how the current influx situation will affect the bowl games, but there are sure to be some that will disappear. The people in those cities might be amenable to hosting HBCU playoff games as a replacement.

Both the HBCUs and smaller schools have to realize and recognize that their interests are not being protected or even considered by the current NCAA. Nowhere in any of the discussions or proclamations made over the last few months by the commissioners of the SEC and Big 10 have addressed any issues important to HBCUs and smaller schools. They haven’t even mentioned them in the discussions, let alone tried to factor into their moves anything that might affect them. 

Hopefully some folks with imagination are putting their heads together in the headquarters of the MEAC and SWAC, as well as the Ohio Valley Conference, All-American Conference, Ivy and Patriot Leagues. Because if there isn’t, these schools will be left in the dust while the large universities continue towards their eventual NFL-styled super conference model.