USC, UCLA to Leave Pac-12 for Big Ten in 2024

Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NCAA Week 0 - We don't do a lot of college football-related Extra Points around here, but wow is this big news. USC and UCLA are apparently leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten, likely in 2024. It's the continuation of some remarkable college football conference realignment over the last few years. Losing these teams basically kills the Pac-12 as a major conference, which means the top other Pac-12 teams like Oregon and Washington are going to have to make some sort of move in response.

My big issue with this is just that these conferences now make no geographic sense, which doesn't matter for football but certainly matters for other sports. At some point, they're going to have to just have these new fancy superconferences for football and go back to the old geographic conferences for all the other sports. Let football chase the money, that's fine. But it doesn't make sense for USC volleyball players to fly off to league games in New Jersey and Maryland every season.

Also, at what point will these superconferences want to shed their worst teams? If Oregon wants into the Big Ten as well, who makes more sense for Big Ten football: Oregon or Northwestern? Oregon, right?

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42 comments, Last at 07 Jul 2022, 9:21am

1 If Oregon wants into the Big…

If Oregon wants into the Big Ten as well, who makes more sense for Big Ten football: Oregon or Northwestern? Oregon, right?

No, not really. The Big Ten is extremely reticent to take colleges which are not top-tier research schools, and Oregon is not one of those.

(Recall now that the Big Ten has seriously flirted with Chicago and Notre Dame as well)

The real exception in the Big Ten is Nebraska, and they were in that tier when they joined. The Big Ten also would have loved Stanford or Cal.

Where UCLA is really going to be put out is sports like crew.

4 Chicago was in the Big Ten

Chicago was in the Big Ten briefly before they decided they didn't want to do big-time sports anymore. Chicago would make a good candidate if the Ivy ever decided to expand (which sounds ridiculous, but I bet it's not the most ridiculous sports-related thing you've heard this year)…

2 Yeah

Making students travel a lot sure proves they don't care about that part.

But at least the B1G isn't geographically named. As opposed to Missouri playing in the EASTERN division of the SOUTHEASTERN conference lol now they're adding TX and OK

3 College sports become less and less interesting

These ridiculous conferences spread across vast distances, the stinking cesspool of corruption surrounding recruitment and eligibility, the utter cluelessness about the implication of the new NIL procedures...none of this enhances my enjoyment or appreciation of college sports.  I coached a girls' sport at the secondary level for a couple of decades, and I used to lament the domination of a few teams in so many women's sports--if a basketball player wanted to demonstrate that she was really top tier, she automatically went to UConn or Tennessee, a bit later Notre Dame got into the mix.  A soccer player going to UNC was the 'seal of approval' that indicated her true merit, settling for another university was, well, settling.  Now, in college football, you can almost slot in three of the four teams in your championship tournament before the season starts.  Traditional rivalry games have gone by the board in so many cases.  After being a lifelong baseball fan, I got out of the habit during the strike/lockout/don't even remember any more, and, coupled with the fact that the team for which I rooted had a serious decline, I never went back.  I think the same thing is happening with big-time college sports in general.

7 Yeah

None of that affects my fandom (especially NIL). Well outside  the structure and resistance to playoff expansion. 

8 It's not just football

UCLA said they are taking everything but beach volleyball with that. That means swimming, soccer, volleyball etc. I mean I get why they asked to join the Big 10. They will get like $100 million in revenue sharing vs like $34 million from the Pac 12. But it's still nuts!

The Big Ten already had some crazy travel, it's like 4 - 5 hours flight from Lincoln, NE to New Brunswick, NJ with a timezone change and it was already a pain in the ass for a Tuesday night swim meet or volleyball match. So you want a 2000 mile trip from UCLA to College Station or a 2400 mile trip from Rutgers to USC for a women's volleyball match on Thursday evening? It's only a 3 hour time difference too!

Even when you consider that the Big Ten would have teams in the I think No 1, 2, 3, 4, and 9 TV/streaming markets they are going to have to naturally depress some of those markets over others. I get that it's still a revenue boon because getting that LA TV market when they previously had no penetration into it still helps. But you aren't going to get the most of a UCLA - Ohio State game because that can only be prime time in the Eastern or Pacific timezone. 3 hour difference means that while you get both markets you are naturally supressing one of them. It's still a win, but I'm pretty sure the NFL actually pays attention to the TV markets with some of the MNF match-ups and they have a national audience. College audiences are much more regional.  So it's not as big of a win as it might seem even with live sports being one of the few things people actually want to watch live hence allowing premium ad space revenue. It's still a win on the money side, but it is still tamped down a bit.

I mean I think 1500 miles between LA and Lincoln, NE would now be the shortest trip for the LA schools. If you forget about Hawaii and Alaska I can't think of any other conference trip longer than that currently and that becomes the shortest! Syracuse to Miami is like 1300 miles as is Boise State to New Mexico State in the Mountain West. But it's still nothing compared to LA to Big Ten schools.....

10 Austin to Morgantown is 1400…

Austin to Morgantown is 1400 miles.

The old WCHA had a trip from Huntsville, AL to Fairbanks, AK. That one letter was 4,000 miles away.

\Paris to Dakar is only 3,000 miles.

11 My cynical interpretation of…

My cynical interpretation of the Big 10's expansion has always been that it's about getting their cable channel into the biggest media markets, and this absolutely squares with that. Helps that they got the most popular football team in LA, too. And UCLA's probably, like, 3rd (after the Raiders). But that discussion has been rehashed many times now.

Anyway, I'm betting that, like, BU and Baylor also join in 5 years' time. Or Northeastern and Rice, maybe, if by then they're still pretending they care about the "research" thing as much as access to football-watching New England and Texas homes and their sweet, sweet monthly cable fees. (Followed eventually by, oh, let's say NC State and... *furiously googling "large universities in Florida that are large enough to support D1 football and might plausibly consider joining a conference that's not the SEC"* uh, FIU.)

As for the distance issue, the very logical thing to do is add a few more teams geographically closer, say, Stanford and Berkeley (hey, now the channel is in the Bay Area!), Washington (hey, now it's in the Pacific Northwest!) and CU Boulder (hey, now it's in every home in the Mountain time zone!). And now that these conferences have 20+ teams, divide them into geographically-convenient regions that mostly play each other. Almost like..... hmmm.......

The NCAA will never go away entirely, because the non-revenue sports and lower divisions still need an organizing body. But it's making more and more sense for FBS football (and maybe top-level D1 basketball) to just go off and form their own, de facto pro, young adult league. If they're going to keep chasing the money, that's where the money leads.

14 Already happened years ago

Love your work  and pen name Spanosian, but as to football the NCAA does not control it and hasn't since a 1984 Supreme Court decision.  To be sure it's an amateurism (and amateurish) policing body and perhaps even that function will go away as you astutely imply, but in terms of controlling the TV contracts and money, it's been the conferences for decades.  The NCAA gets a lot of justified criticism but as to mismanaging or being greedy about football, not so.

Pretty good article on this:

Take away "NCAA" and your assessment of in effect leagues and conferences is spot on, too!  Superconferences can only get so big before they will have to break up and we'll end up full circle.

I also agree with the earlier poster about all this being sickening.  Universities are running side businesses in I'd argue a 99% unrelated field.  Why not just call it Notre Dame University And Football Inc. or University And Sports Franchises of Southern California.



20 Athletic department income…

Athletic department income is mostly isolated from the rest of the university. Which partly leads to the Hospital Problem for major universities: you've got an entity that can't actually make money that has to spend huge amounts, so it gets dumped into fairly lavish buildings and infrastructure (this can help the rest of the university a bit through reduction of overhead and economies of scale).

Scholarship money obviously does go straight to the rest of the university, but that's an ever-decreasing contribution. And colleges don't play games with that (like charging buckets for athletic tuition, for instance) because they can't.

Basically when you're following college sports you're paying for the facilities (which, at this point, exceed many NFL teams' facilities) and the staff (coaching and otherwise).

*Mostly* the excess money is being dumped into coaching/support salaries. That's where the biggest expense growth is.

(Edit: the *real* way they funnel money is effectively from boosters and advertising. But as a fan, your money's not going to the university.)

12 Is there a single fan,…

Is there a single fan, either of USC/UCLA or of the schools in the existing Big Ten, who is excited about this? 

13 As an LA transplant...

Yes. I'm excited to see Michigan play more games in Los Angeles. I think there are a lot of Midwest area transplants out here that feel the same way, as well.

17 It does further cement the…

It does further cement the idea that there's no point in investing yourself in the bottom 100 teams. If not even Notre Dame and Oklahoma can keep their 5* recruits out of the transfer portal or their coaches from jumping ship with the playoffs on the line, then the rest of us are completely screwed.

21 What other major sport has…

What other major sport has leagues of 110+? In the US they literally all expanded to ~30-ish and stopped.

College football's always needed to split in two. There's no way to have a field of 110+ competitive teams funded by regional fan interest in the US.

28 There was when a successful…

There was when a successful season meant making a bowl game and winning it. With 40 bowl games, that would be 40 of those 110+ who would end the season happy, and no reason most programs couldn't hope for that at least every once in a while.

24 Was meant to be a joke, but…

Was meant to be a joke, but I misaligned the playoff seasons - the Rose Bowl is a CFP semifinal in the '23 season (but held in '24 - hence the screwup), and losing USC/UCLA will probably kill the Pac-12's playoff chances.

The Big 10/Pac-12 are contractually obligated through '26, and I'd be surprised if it continued after that - USC/UCLA might not have been football powerhouses but they certainly were eyeball powerhouses.

30 And that assumes the Pac-12…

And that assumes the Pac-12 continues to exist until then.  Not an assumption I'd be willing to bet on.

And of course the irony of a conference that wants research institutions proving it doesn't give a rat's rear about the education of athletes by creating the travel scenarios outlined by others is most amusing.

34 A bicoastal B1G of 24 teams,…

A bicoastal B1G of 24 teams, 4 six team geographical divisions, could play a round robin divisional, 4 or 5 game interdivisional schedule, that in nearly all years would be no more demanding, travelwise, than is currently the case, and in some years less so.

41 "proving it doesn't give a…

"proving it doesn't give a rat's rear about the education of athletes by creating the travel scenarios"

I literally took a final at one of those AAU schools from 2000+ miles away (pre easy videoconferencing) *due* to research. I'd say "learn to deal with travel during your studies" is an essential research skill.

26 My wild guess is that the…

My wild guess is that the B1G and SEC wind up with 24 teams, comprised of 4 six team divisions. My further guess, given the B1G's preference for research schools in places with sizeable tv markets (Nebraska really lucked out in their timing), is that Cal, Stanford, and Washington are likely additions. It would kind of make sense to have 6 teams in the west. Which is better, Arizona or Oregon? Colorado? I don't think ASU is an AAU school. From a t.v. market standpoint, Oregon seems the least desirable.

To the east, then, there would be two slots, to get to 24. I think Virginia is an AAU school, but Maryland already gets the B1G into that tv market. North Carolina and Duke? Would they seperate, and is there a Florida AAU school that wouldn't go to the SEC? Of course, this consolidation may finally force Notre Dame's hand, and the B1G may make another research school exception for the t.v. audience that N.D. brings with it, especially given N.D.'s academic standing.

If B1G President Kevin Warren successfully manages this, I'd say he's a frontrunner to succeed Goodell, if Rog decides his pile is big enough, and if Warren isn't too old.

(edit) Obviously, I can't count. 6 teams out west means the B1G could add four teams in the east, or 3 and Notre Dame. The B1G, I'd think, would prioritize getting into Florida, if there is a school there that meets the criteria, and can be drawn away from the SEC. Would the B1G want to keep Virginia out of the SEC, or does Virginia Tech's availability to the SEC make that less important? Are North Carolina and Duke going to make themselves a package deal? What role are state legislatures going to play?

(Further edit) I don't see any Florida schools in the AAU other than University of Florida,  but Georgia Tech is, and that would get the B1G into the Atlanta t.v. market. If being in contiguous states, along with AAU membership, still matters to the B1G, it could pick up Colorado, Arizona, Stanford, Cal, Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, which are all good to great t v. markets. 

27 Just Florida: https://www…

Just Florida:

In their perfect world, the Big Ten would nab Texas and Texas A&M. It may be easier to target the northern AAU SEC schools -- Missouri and Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt has always been the odd man out as the SEC's Northwestern. But it's a perfectly fine basketball and baseball school and fills the Nashville market. (Nashville is between Baltimore and Salt Lake City in size) Missouri is around the same, with parts of KC and St. Louis, and organic rivalries with Iowa and Nebraska.

Ideal would be:
Arizona, Oregon, Cal, Stanford, Utah, Washington.

Notre Dame, Duke, UNC, Florida.

Pitt would be a really natural Big Ten team. It's almost amazing it never has been one. Also don't discount Kansas. Kansas has no love for the Texas teams and a host of orphaned Big Eight rivalries. The Big Ten would love to have the only midwestern power that's not already in.

Considerations: I'm not sure Arizona joins without Arizona State, or Virginia without Virginia Tech. (Virginia demanded Virginia Tech be included in the ACC expansion from Big East teams) I'm not sure UNC and Duke would join without NC State.

29 I don't think any team…

I don't think any team already in the SEC will defect. Penn State will try to block Pittsburgh getting in, and I have no idea of the internal politics and power dynamics of the B1G, to say nothing of their by-laws. Just spitballing, but four B1G divisions of, west to east, 1)USC, UCLA, Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Washington 2)Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Illinois 3) Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Notre Dame, Indiana, Ohio State, 4) Penn State, Rutgers, Maryland, and 3 more, from Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, Georgia Tech, would  entail all new entries being AAU and desirable t.v. markets, although Oregon is a little light there.

Like I said, if Kevin Warren pulls this off, he'll be a top contender, if he isn't too old, to take Goodell's job, if Roger decides to go count his money.

(edit) Notre Dame isn't AAU, but they are sui generis, I think.

31 Re: Arizona TV

 Tucson is the 68th market (sandwiched between Roanoke, VA and Wichita, KS).  One really can't count Phoenix as ASU pretty much owns it.

33 Yeah, I don't know if Tuscon…

In reply to by serutan

Yeah, I don't know if Tuscon has different network affiliates than Phoenix, or not. If it's truly a different t.v. market than Phoenix, then there's no attraction for the B1G.

35 And one other thing. If we…

And one other thing. If we end up with two 24 school conferences, each school getting 100 million a year via t.v. contracts, then there's no way in hell the current Supreme Court is going to look at that, and say "Well, since the athletes can now earn money via NIL, it's legal that these schools, under the umbrella of their cartels, are plainly colluding to limit compensation offered to the athletes whose performances are the basis of the t.v. contracts that pay the schools 100 million each annually. While there is no CBA between the athletes and the cartels." The last time these schools went before the Supreme Court, they were kicked square in the balls. The next time, if they are dumb enough to let it get there? It's gonna be an outright curbstomping. 

39 Really doesn't matter…

Really doesn't matter. Managers for different revenue producing bureaucracies can't enter into agreements designed to limit compensation offered to the people who engage in activities that are needed to obtain the revenues, absent a CBA. It' obviously against the law, and only a ridiculous intellectual dishonesty has allowed it to reach this state of affairs.