Chris Collins opens up on 'weird' round of Big Ten expansion, implications for basketball

On3 imageby:Nick Schultz10/12/23


CHICAGO — Chris Collins remembers the first time the Big Ten added a school near a coast.

He played and coached at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski, meaning he was more than familiar with Maryland from that time in the ACC. When the Terrapins joined the Midwest-centric Big Ten in 2013, the same year Collins took over at Northwestern, he knew it’d be different facing them in his new conference.

So when the Big Ten ended up adding four schools from the Pacific coast — USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington — he knew the word to sum up the new-look conference.

“It’s weird,” Collins said at last week’s Chicagoland Media Tip-Off Luncheon.

USC and UCLA were already on their way to the Big Ten, announcing that move in late June 2022. Oregon and Washington’s additions, however, came a bit more suddenly. Big Ten football media days came and went as Colorado announced its decision to leave the Pac-12 for the Big 12. It took just a couple weeks for more moves to follow, including Oregon and Washington’s move to the Big Ten.

If it seemed like it happened fast, that’s because it did. Collins said he followed everything in real time through communication with Northwestern athletics director Derrick Gragg and other head coaches. The Colorado news could have been a catalyst for talks to heat up, especially considering the Pac-12’s state.

With the additions of USC and UCLA, Collins also had a feeling two schools on the West Coast wouldn’t be the end of the Big Ten’s westward expansion.

“It was pretty quick,” Collins told On3. “I think it was a reaction, too, to what happened with Utah and Colorado, when they made the move and you kind of saw the Pac-12 was on shaky ground. I think the Big Ten felt like, man, Oregon and Washington were kind of always on the radar. It would be a great time to get them on board, as well.

“I think we always knew it was going to be more than two schools out west. If you’re going to expand out there, it can’t just be two. But it did happen quick.”

What adding four West Coast teams could mean for Big Ten men’s basketball scheduling

By adding the four West Coast programs, the Big Ten is preparing to bring in three teams that finished in the top 50 of the KenPom rankings last year. UCLA was No. 3 at season’s end, while Oregon finished No. 42 and USC came in at No. 45. That means the Big Ten is adding some high-caliber programs in this round of expansion.

The big question, though, is scheduling. Under the current Big Ten men’s basketball schedule, schools play seven teams twice and six teams once. When the league goes to 18 teams next year, that seems likely to change.

While the Big Ten hasn’t confirmed what exactly the men’s basketball schedule will look like after expansion, Collins wondered if it meant less home-and-home games. The conference currently plays 20 games with 14 teams, meaning playing teams twice might not be the norm with 18 programs.

That, Collins said, is up to the conference to decide.

“You go from 14 to 18 [teams]. What’s that going to mean for our schedule?” Collins said. “You’re probably going to play less teams twice, which I don’t like. I like some of the natural rivalries we’ve had in the conference. But it’s what’s going on with college athletics. It’s like anything.

“You’ve got to adjust, you’ve got to adapt, you’ve got to be on the forefront of where things are headed and, obviously, trust the leadership of our league to be able to bring in those teams. That’s going to be a positive for the Big Ten.”

Chris Collins: Westward expansion was the ‘best move’ for the Big Ten to maintain relevance in ever-changing landscape

Old rivalries might change under the new-look, expanded Big Ten. But Collins said looking west is great for the growth of the conference.

Seeing West Coast teams in a conference that was a Midwest conference 10 years ago will be an adjustment. Change isn’t always a bad thing though, and that was Collins’ biggest takeaway from the Big Ten’s expansion — especially with the impact realignment has had across the college athletics landscape.

“[It’s] great for fan bases and getting a West Coast presence in the Big Ten,” Collins said. “But it’s different. When you’ve been in it for as long as I have and you kind of grow up with natural rivalries and conference alignments, change can be different. I don’t necessarily think it’s going to be bad. It’s just going to be interesting to see, with our schedule now, you’ll probably play less teams twice. How is it going to work with how many games we play? All of that’s to be determined.

“Again, that’s kind of where it’s going now with college sports. You’re setting these mega-conferences and coast-to-coast conferences, and I think the Big Ten felt like it was the best move for us to stay relevant and stay on the top of what we feel is as good a league as there is in the country.”