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What does Big Ten realignment mean for Indiana football?

Indiana’s situation just got a bit more precarious.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 26 Purdue at Indiana Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s official, the Big Ten has added Oregon and Washington to complete its gutting of the Pac-12 that began back in 2022 when the conference added USC and UCLA.

The latter move could be seen as reactionary, a response to the SEC adding two big brands of its own in Texas and Oklahoma. It came after months of planning, unlike the former.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d assume there was some sort of framework and believe the conference had already vetted expansion candidates such as Oregon and Washington at least a year ago when the USC and UCLA additions became official. But things sped up as the Pac-12’s demise accelerated due to media deal turmoil and Colorado’s return home to the Big 12.

All those schools bring eyes, every one is a national brand one way or another. UCLA and USC are top-tier athletic departments across the board with the latter’s football program needing no introduction. Washington was the Pac-12’s last playoff representative and Oregon has become a power in the past few decades with multiple title game appearances.

That’s what all of this is about: college football. America’s most lucrative sport. The moves were made with that sport and the money it brings in mind. That means... quite a few things, really, for a sport seen as secondary at Indiana.

Indiana is the opposite of a historic powerhouse. Now that doesn’t mean it isn’t storied, there’s plenty of history and tradition in Bloomington, but there aren’t wins.

Among the traditional, midwestern Big Ten schools, Indiana has the least success. There’s no abundant natural recruiting base, there hasn’t really been a long-term successful coach and its NFL production is few and far between with draft picks.

Here’s what the recent moves could mean for the program and athletic department as a whole.

On the field, the league got even tougher

There’s a very short list of current Big Ten programs that Indiana can generally expect to be competitive with when things are going well for the program. Rutgers, Illinois, Maryland, Purdue and the current iteration of Michigan State are on that list.

Other than that? It’s typically a loss for the Hoosiers unless that team is having a down year. The additions of UCLA, USC, Oregon and Washington add 0 members to that list, especially if things keep trending well for Chip Kelly’s Bruins.

This move also throws that sometimes-helpful Big Ten scheduling format to the scrap heap (for now). These are just longer, expensive trips.

Indiana really, really needs to improve. Fast.

After a successful season in 2019 and a weird one in 2020, Indiana has been firmly in the league’s basement for these past two seasons. High-level starters are entering the portal and heading to more established, winning programs.

The vibes are Not Good and could very well deteriorate further with another lackluster season. Indiana really, really cannot afford that now or in the new Big Ten.

The thing is, it really doesn’t have to be like this. The right coach can win here, not at the levels of the Ohio States, Michigans or even Iowas of the conference, but at the levels of Purdue under Jeff Brohm and the current era at Maryland under Mike Locksley.

Purdue was in the gutter under Darrell Hazell and Brohm was able to bring them out of it. He’d still be in West Lafayette had he not been from Louisville and felt a tremendous connection to his home.

For a while, Tom Allen looked to be that guy with the 2019 and 2020 teams. A few decisions later and, well, here we are. If Indiana can find enough wins in 2023 and (maybe) 2024, perhaps he can get that back.

There’s about to be even more money to be spent. It needs to be used wisely.

Could the Big Ten eventually give Indiana the boot?

This possibility has been a point of discussion for a while now only to be brought to the forefront with the latest round of realignment that has all but killed one of the most historic Power Five conferences. I’m no lawyer but I’d assume there’s a few legalities that would protect schools like Indiana and Northwestern from suffering such a fate.

There’s two immediate lines of thinking here:

Why share the revenue?

Eventually, there could come a day when programs like Ohio State, Michigan and USC ask themselves why they’re helping bankroll programs like Indiana, Rutgers and Northwestern. There’s a few potential moves that could be made in response:

  • Kicking those programs out of the conference. Again, probably some legalities in place to prevent this.
  • Asking for a different revenue split based on competitive success or some other metric.
  • Joining forces with Texas, Alabama, Georgia and other blueblood programs to form a “Super League”

One way or another, smaller programs without success get cut out somehow. Not great for Indiana no matter what, obviously.

Programs need teams like Indiana on the schedule

A different argument is that teams with national title aspirations need smaller, less successful programs on the schedule instead of a series of other contenders. Games against Indiana, Rutgers and other smaller programs serve a purpose for Ohio State and Michigan.

This isn’t to disparage Indiana’s football program. This is just the reality of the situation it’s in and to act otherwise is a disservice to everyone involved.