By 1990, the Big Ten was a conference conveniently parked in the Midwest, with college campuses stretching from Columbus, Ohio on the east to Minneapolis on the north and west.
Then came the expansion of conferences across the country, sparked by the Big Ten’s incorporation of Penn State in 1990. Nebraska joined the league in 2011, and Maryland and Rutgers in 2014, giving the conference a greater presence in the collegiate athletics landscape.
As of Thursday night, that footprint suddenly stretched across the country from Piscataway, New Jersey, to Los Angeles. The Big Ten in their network announced that the University of Southern California and UCLA have been recognized by the league as the 15th and 16th members of the conference.
“USC and UCLA are two of the best and most competitive athletic departments in the country, and their presence will bolster the entire conference.”
This seismic shift, first reported by the San Jose Mercury News Thursday, will result in USC and UCLA exiting the Pacific-12 Conference to become official Big Ten members on August 2, 2024 and Big Ten to play in the 2024-25 season. Big Ten presidents unanimously approved the move Thursday night. Both schools issued press releases confirming the moves.
“Ultimately, the Big Ten is the best home for USC and Trojan athletics as we move into the new world of collegiate sports,” USC athletic director Mike Bohn said in a statement. “We’re pleased that our values align with the League’s member institutions.”
“We recognize that these are big changes,” UCLA’s statement said. “…The best way to respect that is to protect our program from the great uncertainty it would face if we didn’t make this transition.”
The move comes almost a year after it was announced that Oklahoma and Texas were leaving the Big 12 Conference to join the Southeastern Conference no later than 2025. The Big Ten responded to the SEC’s maneuver, with both leagues aiming to become the most powerful conference in the country.
Sports Illustrated reported that a few months ago, USC and UCLA expressed interest in switching conferences and reached out to the Big Ten. Both schools are members of the Association of American Universities, a designation historically important for Big Ten membership.
The news comes as the Big Ten negotiates their next media rights deal, with the current one expiring after the 2022-23 school year. A new deal is expected to bring in $1 billion or more per season. The current media rights deal, which began in 2017, was worth $2.65 billion over six years. Adding the Los Angeles market would increase the Big Ten’s appeal for TV ratings, and estimates suggest each school could receive $100 million annually from the new rights deal.
The move will reportedly include all sports except beach volleyball. UCLA has collegiate teams in 11 men’s sports and 14 women’s sports, while USC sponsors 10 men’s sports and 13 women’s sports.
The loss of USC and UCLA would leave the 10-team Pac-12 — and none at its large media center in Los Angeles. The long-term viability of the conference is in question, and further movement with Big 12 teams as potential partners is possible.
In a statement, the Pac-12 said it was “extremely surprised and disappointed” by the move.
University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel said in a statement that “the additions of USC and UCLA align perfectly with the academic and athletic culture of the Big Ten.” Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle added that “USC and UCLA two of the best and most competitive are sports departments in the nation and their presence will enhance the entire conference. … This is an exciting day for Minnesota, USC, UCLA and the Big Ten.”
So what does the addition of USC and UCLA mean for the Gophers?
First, the Gophers — and every other conference member — are likely to receive more money from the media rights deal than they would have without the amendments. With USC and UCLA by its side, the conference would have teams in five of the country’s seven largest TV markets — New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, DC — and the power to negotiate tougher.
Next, that move will be fueled by football, and the Gophers will eventually be able to play conference games against two prominent teams. USC has won nine NCAA-recognized national championships and played in 34 Rose Bowls, the most of any team. UCLA has one national championship and 12 Rose Bowl appearances, including the January 1, 1962 game in which the Gophers defeated the Bruins 21-3.
Minnesota faced USC nine times, going 6-1-1, the most recent series being a 32-21 loss to the Gophers in Minneapolis in 2010 and a 19-17 loss to the Gophers in Los Angeles in 2011 . Against UCLA, the Gophers are 2-1 all-time, with that Rose Bowl win and a 27-13 home win in 1977 and a 17-3 away loss in 1978.
For Gophers men’s basketball, the addition of USC and UCLA will result in greater access to the Southern California recruiting market, an area coach Ben Johnson and his staff are targeting. And of course, UCLA, a team with a record 11 NCAA championships, will have a prominent opponent. Additionally, USC has been on the upswing, winning 20 or more games in six of the last seven seasons.
Both schools are also all-sport powers, with the Bruins having won 119 NCAA team championships and the Trojans 111 in their history. Only Stanford has more at 131.