EVAN BLAND Omaha World Herald
USC and UCLA will officially join the Big Ten Conference beginning with the 2024-25 season, marking perhaps the biggest seismic and historic shift yet amid the ever-changing landscape of collegiate athletics.
The shocking news played out publicly for around seven hours Thursday, when the two flagship schools at the Pac-12 conference were reportedly keen to switch leagues and the league announced its future goals by the close of business officially recognized by the west coast.
The Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors voted unanimously Thursday night to accept each school’s application for membership. And while the news sent shockwaves through collegiate sports, national reports indicated — and the Big Ten confirmed — that the move had been in the works behind the scenes for weeks.
A source told The Athletic that two weeks ago each school was asked to conduct a feasibility study on adding USC and UCLA.
The feedback was obviously positive.
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Now the Big Ten joins the SEC as a 16-team league, only with a truly national presence from Jersey Shore to Malibu Beach. Los Angeles-based schools will bring with them all of the sports that the Big Ten play when they become full members on August 2, 2024.
“Ultimately, the Big Ten is the best home for USC and Trojan athletics as we move into the new world of varsity sports,” USC athletic director Mike Bohn said in a press release. “We are pleased that our values align with the League’s member institutions.”
USC and UCLA reportedly approached the Big Ten with a desire to join and become the league’s first new schools since adding Rutgers and Maryland in 2014 and Nebraska in 2011 during the early stages of the conference’s realignment. The move is also seen as a response to the SEC’s landing of Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12 conference last summer, and another move closer to the SEC and Big Ten, which differs financially and in overall membership from everyone else, including theirs other Power Five, separate peers.
The additions are also likely why the Big Ten has yet to announce its plan to keep or abolish football divisions, while other leagues, including the Pac-12 and ACC, have already scrapped them.
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Meanwhile, the conference is in the midst of negotiating its television rights deal with Fox and others, with previous estimates of net profits in their next round of deals in excess of $1 billion. That number is now guaranteed to grow with the addition of another major media market in Los Angeles and two prestigious universities. According to a report in the Sports Business Journal, Apple has already asked to resume negotiations.
Such financial stability will be a boon to the newcomers. The LA Times reported in January that UCLA’s athletic department suffered a $62.5 million loss for fiscal 2021.
“Although this move increases travel distances for teams, the resources offered by Big Ten membership could allow for more efficient transportation options,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and athletic director Martin Jarmond said in a statement.
The transition could theoretically be relatively smooth for USC and UCLA, since their rights award is tied to the current Pac-12 TV deal, which expires after the 2023-24 school year.
Multiple reports also suggested that the Big Ten’s expansion may not be complete yet. Would remaining Pac-12 members like Washington and Oregon also be opportunities to switch leagues? What about other holdovers from that conference like Stanford?
Notre Dame – a longtime Big Ten siren – could be back in the game to attend a conference in football. The Irishman and her deal with NBC runs through at least 2025 on a deal reportedly worth $15 million annually. Should NBC be part of the Big Ten’s revamped media rights deal, it could potentially help bridge the long-standing distance between the league and the school.
“It’s really unsustainable to be independent now,” a source told ESPN.
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The two Pac-12 additions alone are turning points in the 126-year history of the Big Ten, originally known as the Western Intercollegiate Conference, and are having ripple effects across the league.
For Nebraska, the ruling moves it from the western boundary of the conference to the geographic center. Husker admins released a statement Thursday night welcoming the Bruins and Trojans.
“This is an exciting and historic day for the Big Ten Conference and the University of Nebraska,” said Chancellor Ronnie Green and Athletic Director Trev Alberts in a joint statement. “The addition of UCLA and USC to the Big Ten is a bold and ambitious move at a time of historic change in the collegiate athletics landscape. These institutions will add two world-class sports divisions and brands to the Big Ten, expanding the conference’s footprint from coast to coast.”
The statement also cited NU’s large base of game-watching alumni in California and their history of recruiting success in the state.
“There are many positives for the University of Nebraska associated with this expansion,” the statement said. “UNL has a large alumni base in California who will have a great opportunity to see our teams regularly compete at historic Southern California venues. Nebraska has a track record of recruiting athletes from California, and this will only raise Nebraska’s profile in a fertile recruiting ground. We welcome UCLA and USC to the Big Ten Conference and look forward to competing with them in the future.”
The next step for the Pac-12 remains unclear. It could try to add current or future Big 12 members, including BYU, or try to stay pat. Last year’s conference was part of a so-called “alliance” with the Big Ten and ACC.
This partnership now practically ceases to exist.
Said the Pac-12, “While we are extremely surprised and disappointed by the news coming out of UCLA and USC today, we have a long and storied history in athletics, science and leadership in supporting student athletes, from which we… are confident will continue to thrive and grow into the future.”
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