March 31 felt like a pretty normal Minnesota spring day to Greg Flugaur. He took care of his elderly parents who live with him. It was cold, but not frigid by the standards of his northern tribe, so as night fell he went to a gas station to vacuum the inside of his 14-year-old dark grey Toyota Prius, the annual seasonal cleanse.
As the vacuum gobbled up the long winter, Flugaur’s phone buzzed. When he saw who was calling, he quickly stopped and answered.
It was his friend, the man he calls Big Ten Man — BTM for short. In recent years, BTM had become a benefactor of sorts for the 54-year-old Flugaur. The way it went, BTM, a big-moneyed University of Minnesota booster, would call Flugaur with information about the Golden Gophers and direct him to put it out there. Often that meant a message board post from Flugaur’s account on GopherIllustrated.com, the 247Sports.com-affiliated website for Minnesota fans, but these days, it also meant a tweet from Flugaur’s increasingly influential Twitter account, @flugempire.
There was nothing routine about this call from BTM, however. The words shook Flugaur deep to his Midwestern core. He put the vacuum away, drove back to his home in a suburb northwest of Minneapolis, braced himself and logged onto Twitter. His tweet began with an emoji of a bomb.
“USC is watching.
New Big Ten media evaluations have come in during current negotiations. …
Everything Trojan is back on the table.”
Flugaur (pronounced FLOOG-AHR), thanks to BTM, had earned cachet among Minnesota fans as a mostly reliable source of information, even though he was just a guy who used to work in the printing business and had never been a sports reporter. But news about USC and the larger tectonics moving beneath college sports? That seemed a bit far-fetched.
Later that evening around 1 a.m. as March turned to April, BTM called Flugaur again. BTM told Flugaur he was now being followed by a Big Ten official.
On April 1, Flugaur, feeling invigorated yet cautious, tweeted that he would not be revealing more until April 2.
“I do not want to confuse anybody of tweets of USC/Big Ten with April Fools day. Eventually [soon] this story will be picked up by big media.”
Will pick up on where we left off last night in regards to USC being back on the B1G table tomorrow on April 2nd.
I do not want to confuse anybody of tweets of USC/Big Ten with April Fools day.
Eventually (soon) this story will be picked up by big media.
— Greg Flugaur (@flugempire) April 1, 2022
On April 2, Flugaur continued, “I’m a nobody. So why would the Big Ten offices care about any of my tweets? They don’t. Except they want to make sure there is not a real leak inside of their offices. … But there is a story [USC] brewing. Let’s see where it goes.”
On April 4, Flugaur released a two-minute video on Twitter to further explain his tweets. The camera was closely cropped on his face as he spoke with conviction.
“The USC called the Big Ten,” he said, pausing for effect.
“How do I know this? Everybody who knows me knows that I am a nobody. But everybody who knows me knows that I’m a nobody who knows a somebody, and that somebody has been breaking stuff since 2014.
“The USC, University of Southern California, is in the process of making sure that the stratification that has been happening at the top level of college sports, that USC remains on the top of that line. … Part of that process is calling the Big Ten, and they did that a while ago. We just learned about it Thursday night. … But USC called. They called alone, and this is where we are today. … Take care.”
Peak Around the Corner USC edition:
USC called Big Ten.
Detailed info will be posted later this week @Minnesota247
*USC watching Big Ten current media negotiations.
*Big Ten is eyeing traditional & social media communications on possible Big Ten expansion and why. pic.twitter.com/YVveZQPBqr
— Greg Flugaur (@flugempire) April 4, 2022
With that, Flugaur signed off. As the world now knows, the guy was right about his most important point. USC was watching the Big Ten, indeed. But one of his other predictions did not hold true at all:
His news would not be picked up by any media.
Three months after Flugaur received that call from BTM about the call, USC and UCLA announced they were leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten, stunning the nation. And one-and-a-half months after that, on Thursday morning, The Los Angeles Times reported the Big Ten signed a media rights deal that will approach an unprecedented $8 billion over seven years. The two events are fully related, and a “nobody” from Minnesota signaled the match was coming before anyone else.
Why Greg Flugaur? Well, only BTM knows.
“I’ve tried to think to myself, who could Big Ten Man possibly be, and why Greg?” says Ryan Burns, who runs GopherIllustrated.com. “I don’t know if they're childhood friends. I don’t know if it's a neighbor. I just find it fascinating that, of all people, these two guys are intertwined and have done some things together. To break a coaching search is one thing. To do the whole USC and UCLA thing … BTM must really have a sense of humor.”
Flugaur grew up in Minnesota loving the Golden Gophers and following college sports closely. He was born deaf and had to take speech therapy throughout his entire adolescence. His childhood was difficult, and his affinity for college sports helped lift him through some hard times.
“I love the history of it,” Flugaur says. “There’s a passion involved that isn’t with the NFL. One example is, in college football, when the home team wins the game and they’re a big underdog, the fans rush the field. You don't see that in the NFL. It just doesn’t mean as much. This sport runs deep with its fans.”
Ironically, after everything he went through to hear and speak, Flugaur would major in speech communications at nearby St. Cloud State University. Twenty years ago, he married his wife, Mireya. About seven years ago, his parents moved in, becoming Flugaur’s top priority.
It was around that time that Big Ten Man started reaching out to him with info. As the holidays approached in 2016, Minnesota had finished with an 8-4 record — a mark to be celebrated most seasons for the Gophers — under first-year coach Tracy Claeys. But BTM let Flugaur know that plans were in motion to fire Claeys, and it was expected to occur 212 hours from when they first spoke. BTM also said that Western Michigan’s hot young coach, PJ Fleck, would be the top target.
Flugaur went to Burns’ message board and posted. Given the successful season, many questioned the veracity. A 140-page thread unfurled. The Gophers traveled to San Diego and beat Washington State in the Holiday Bowl to finish 9-4. At 212 hours after Flugaur’s post, even he began to get a little nervous.
But, around hour 216, the news came down officially. Claeys was out.
A few days later, Minnesota hired Fleck. BTM, and Flugaur in turn, were proven right in legendary fashion.
“He took my entire site for a wild ride in those 48 hours between Tracy Claeys and PJ Fleck, and he nailed it,” Burns says.
Flugaur is the first to admit that he and BTM are not always right. He tried his hand at some smaller assistant coach hires back in the early days, and some of them went haywire. But there are some loftier areas where Flugaur’s intel should raise antennas, according to Burns, and conference realignment is apparently one of them.
“BTM sits on a certain perch in which he knows what big-money boosters want to have happen,” Flugaur explains. “I call that the money perch. Before, if you wanted to get a good taste of what was going to happen, you would talk to an administrator. But now administrators aren’t really making those big decisions. It’s the money.”
Through Flugaur’s voice, the money talks.
“I have made it known that most of the time there’s a motivation behind what I’m writing,” Flugaur says. “In fact, when I did those short videos about USC, there was a definite motivation. They call it a ‘soft push.’ ”
Flugaur’s “I am a nobody” video about USC calling the Big Ten came off more like a hard shove at Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren, who roiled stakeholders across the conference footprint when the league canceled the 2020 season because of the pandemic before later reversing course with an abridged schedule under immense pressure to play on.
In the video, Flugaur plainly states that “Kevin Warren has to act” on USC. It was BTM’s desire that Flugaur deliver that personal message above all.
“BTM described that the leak came from Los Angeles,” Flugaur says. “A big money booster in L.A. sent word to a big money booster in Big Ten country. Big Ten money people were still hurting from the pandemic and also weren’t sold on Warren. They wanted to make sure the Big Ten knew the opportunity had arisen to expand to Los Angeles. The big boosters in the Big Ten were very excited.”
Throughout the spring, Flugaur continued priming USC to the Big Ten pump. But, aside from some other schools’ message boards and Reddit pages — and that Big Ten official, of course — few seemed to notice.
On June 19 — 11 days before USC and UCLA made their move official — Flugaur tweeted, almost quietly:
“Sensitive time for Kevin Warren and Big Ten.”
June 30 was a fun day to be Greg Flugaur. USC was now officially on its way to the Big Ten (BTM's intel did not rope in UCLA’s involvement).
Flugaur reposted his April 4 video, saying, “I’ve lost a few pounds since this video. OK … maybe I haven’t.” He topped off the joke with an emoji of a beer mug.
One USC fan tweeted, “People asked me today if I was surprised being an SC guy. I told each person no and the reason is because I started following a writer named Greg Flugaur months ago who was talking about it in detail back then. Kudos to you!! You deserve all the credit for breaking this 1st!”
In another tweet, Flugaur said:
“Big Ten Network just said no one saw this coming.
By the next day, July 1, BTM had called Flugaur again with fresh info.
“USC is recruiting Notre Dame into Big Ten,” Flugaur tweeted, quoting BTM directly. “They are active. USC has been active for months. Aggressive. USC’s Athletic Director knew his school’s value and knew its leverage points and brought it and still is bringing it.
“Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees is the next piece. Notre Dame’s Athletic Director has kept them informed for the last few months. Not starting from scratch. Boosters are engaged and will green light move to Big Ten if called upon.
“NIL is the hammer. Big brands want to play against big brands more often and if they can’t they still want to play in biggest markets. Big Ten markets buy products and services of its advertisers. LA markets will increase wealth all around Big Ten.”
Not a word out of Notre Dame in last 24 hours speaks volumes. History tells us so.. pic.twitter.com/O5KLVvVa2L
— Greg Flugaur (@flugempire) July 1, 2022
Amid the BTM barrage, Flugaur tweeted a photo of a golden statue of Mother Mary and said, “Kevin Warren to Mary …” with a link to a YouTube video of a Guns N’ Roses song called “Patience.”
The Big Ten announced its massive new media rights package Thursday without Notre Dame being a part of it. Flugaur remains adamant the Fighting Irish will lose much of their leverage to chart the future course of the Big Ten if they don’t act within the next year as scheduling formats are set by the 16 league members.
One may wonder, though: Is that actually true, or just what Big Ten Man wants to be true?
“I can assure you,” Burns says, “if Greg is talking about things, it’s because somebody wants him to be talking about it.”
Says Flugaur, who now has more than 7,200 Twitter followers (300 more than this professional scribe), “Now, is it unethical for me? I don’t know. Not to get political, but Fox News and MSNBC, they just tend to report whatever makes their audience get revved up. They pick and choose. And of course I’m doing the same thing. I’m getting out the information that certain people want out. So there’s a filter before I get it. So that’s kind of unethical, but I'm not a reporter. Like, I’m a nobody.”
Flugaur’s most intense critic is another random Twitter account that has gained traction putting out realignment information in the year since Texas and Oklahoma left the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference. The college football fan behind the account, @Genetics56, prefers to remain anonymous. He has a source that works within a Big Ten athletic department and has reported information about the future of college sports when deemed appropriate.
The man behind the account views Flugaur and BTM as “not reliable information, and playing to the emotions of fanbases to create a following is wrong in my view.”
The @Genetics56 account tweets so often about all things realignment that it makes you question how he has time for his day job as a software salesman who happens to have some Big Ten athletic departments as clients. He does not hide that he is rooting for more realignment at the top of the sport.
“When I was growing up you, had Colorado visiting Michigan for a nonconference game,” he wrote in a Twitter direct message interview. “Miami traveled all the way to Madison, Wisconsin. As the years passed, those type of nonconference games became fewer and fewer and scheduling became about ‘buying wins.’ There’s a reason why attendance and viewership as a whole has decreased over the years. Therefore, fast-forwarding to today, consolidation of the biggest university names for college football is the only path forward that I see where we can regain the big matchups of yesteryear.”
Consolidation also means the loss of tradition. The Big 12 and now the Pac-12 are dealing with that painful reality, and Flugaur has had to be the bearer of bad news for countless fan bases who are in danger of being left out of the Big Ten and SEC endgame.
“I honestly think this thing isn’t over yet,” Flugaur says. “There’s still so much pressure to consolidate, for the bad of it, and for the good of it. However you want to phrase it, there’s still that pressure, that proxy war between ESPN and Fox, and the Big Ten presidents want Notre Dame, they want Stanford, and we think that’s going to happen.”
Flugaur has no plans to slow down now, as long as BTM wants to keep him informed. Last week, he started his own YouTube channel, where he posts episodes of “CFB: Peek Around The Corner with Greg Flugaur” nearly every day.
His first 30-minute episode — titled “CFB has changed forever!” — has been viewed more than 2,000 times.
“ok so who is BTM?” commented one viewer.
The mystery of how some guy from Minnesota broke the story of USC’s Big Ten interest is growing right along with Flugaur’s audience.
“It’s a great story to tell,” Burns says. “I continue to say, 'Why Greg Flugaur and not [the Athletic’s] Bruce Feldman, or [ESPN’s] Pete Thamel?' Or, if this BTM guy is a big Minnesota fan, it’s very easy to get in contact with me. So why Greg Flugaur? I have no idea, but I know that man loves to be along for the ride.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.