CHAMPAIGN — Earlier in his endless college career, Illinois offensive lineman Alex Palczewski took a class on the history of the Big Ten.

“One section was just learning about the media rights,” the sixth-year senior said Thursday afternoon. “And just realizing the effects when Rutgers and Maryland got added, how crazy those media rights were.

“I had an idea when we added USC and UCLA this media deal is about to be through the roof.”

Palczewski was right. The new deal, announced Thursday morning, will average more than $1 billion annually over seven years. It starts in 2023 and runs through 2030.

“We’re going to be the conference,” Palczewski said. “There are going to be national champions from here. I’m excited to see how it’s going to be in five, 10 years.”

Back to the class, Palczewski still has the book at home in Mount Prospect.

“They teach you about the original seven schools.” Palczewski said. “Everyone that came in. I knew nothing. I knew the University of Chicago used to be in, but I learned about how they were a powerhouse and they were all that.”

Of course, Palczewski got an A.

“I had to,” he said. “It would be a bad title to have a Big Ten football player fail the class.”

The class dealt with the league up to the hiring of current league commissioner Kevin Warren. Two years after being criticized for the Big Ten’s on-again, off-again stance during the 2020 COVID-19 season, Warren is definitely uber popular now. Making the schools a bundle of cash adds to the new-found love for the former NFL executive.

Though he went to school at Mount Prospect, not far from the Big Ten headquarters in Rosemont, Palczewski didn’t grow up a fan of the league. Or of college football.

“I didn’t even know college football was a thing until my junior year of high school,” said Palczewski, who was just named an Illinois co-captain for the upcoming season. “Not a lot of people know that. I’m a son of immigrants, so I played soccer originally.”

Palczewski went to a career fair his junior year in high school. Iowa had a stand and on its pamphlet, a picture of Kinnick Stadium stood out to Palczewski.

“I was like, ‘What?’ I didn’t know college football could get like that. It was like a full stadium,” Palczewski said. “That seemed like something I wanted to do.”

National leaderIt’s been 22 years since the Big Ten won an NCAA men’s basketball title, with Michigan State cutting down the nets in 2000. And eight years have passed since Ohio State took the College Football Playoff crown in the first year of the four-team playoff system that was put into effect for the 2014 season.

So on the field, the conference hasn’t been the best.

But off the field, particularly when it cones to guaranteeing its own financial viability, the Big Ten is at the top. By a country mile.

The new deals will dwarf the money made by other conferences. Schools in the Big Ten will earn an average of $80 to $100 million each school year, according to reports, which will give the conference a leg up when it comes to hiring coaches and building facilities.

“I think the bigger investments we can get into our programs, the farther we can go,” Illinois linebacker and co-captain Tarique Barnes said.

“It’s showing how big the Big Ten is becoming,” Illinois safety and co-captain Sydney Brown added. “I think it’s just the beginning of what they can do.”

UCLA and Southern California join the Big Ten in time for the 2024-25 school year. Other schools will want to get in on the party. Don’t be surprised if the Big Ten considers more additions out West, which will aid scheduling in the future and bring more appealing games for Fox, CBS and NBC to choose from each week.

Then again, maybe the expansion talk stops at 16 teams. More teams equal less money for the Big Ten schools right now. We’ll see.

The bank is openThe Monopoly money media rights deal had Illinois coach Bret Bielema thinking back to a simpler time on Thursday.

“It’s come full circle,” he said. “I remember my first paycheck as a (grad assistant) I made $5,000 and I had to pay for grad school out of that. I didn’t get into this profession to make money.

“I grew up in a great home with a great environment that money was never really center mentioned to that magnitude.”

His first year as a college head coach at Wisconsin in 2006, Bielema was paid $750,000.

“That wasn’t that long ago,” said Bielema, who will make $4.2 million this season. “Now, the coordinators are making more than the head coach when I first got started.”

Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters will be paid $1.05 million this season. Offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr.’s salary is $675,000.

“It’s kind of all proportionally just gone crazy,” Bielema said.

Unfriendly to fansThat $1 billion payout each year owed by the networks has to come from somewhere. A lot of it will be advertising revenue.

With the ability to skip commercials during regular shows, live sports have a unique appeal to Budweiser, AT&T and Arby’s. Fans like to watch their sports in real time.

But the ad revenue is only part of the economic pie.

Fans are going to have to pony up, too. And not just by watching another State Farm commercial.

When you say “streaming,” I think “more money out of my pocket.”

Complain all you want about ESPN, but it always shows the games and is in every basic cable and satellite package. But it is not a part of the new Big Ten deal, ending a 40-year relationship.

“It’s not you, it’s me,” the Big Ten said.

I just checked my TV, and there is no Peacock channel. I can get it for $5 or $10 per month, depending on whether I want commercials (no preference).

If you want to watch every single game, you can. But it won’t be free.

If the networks were kind (they’re not), they would offer a package that includes only Illinois games for Illinois fans or only Ohio State games for Buckeyes boosters.

My guess is the networks will spread the games around enough that you will need every outlet to see your team every time. If you don’t mind missing a game or two, you can cut the cost.

But one item you can’t cut out: Thursday’s deal just added even more history — and definitely more money — to the Big Ten brand.

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-393-8248 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

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