USC and UCLA are officially set to join the Big Ten Conference beginning with the 2024-25 season, marking perhaps the largest seismic and historic shift yet amid the ever-changing landscape of college athletics.
The shocking news played out publicly across roughly seven hours Thursday as the two flagship Pac-12 Conference schools went from being reportedly interested in changing leagues to each school and league officially acknowledging their future destinations by the end of business hours on the West Coast.
The Big Ten’s Council of Presidents and Chancellors voted unanimously to accept the application of membership from each school Thursday evening. And while the news sent shockwaves through college sports, national reports indicated — and the Big Ten confirmed — the move had been in the works behind the scenes for weeks.
One source told The Athletic that each school was asked two weeks ago to conduct a feasibility study about adding USC and UCLA.
The feedback, evidently, was positive.
Now the Big Ten joins the SEC as a 16-team league, only with a truly national footprint from Jersey Shore to Malibu Beach. The Los Angeles-based schools will bring along every sport that the Big Ten fields when they become full members Aug. 2, 2024.
“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 release. “We are excited 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 it added Rutgers and Maryland in 2014 and Nebraska in 2011 during the early stages of conference realignment. The move is also viewed as a response to the SEC landing Texas and Oklahoma out of the Big 12 Conference last summer and yet another step closer to the SEC and Big Ten separating themselves financially and in total membership from everyone else, including their other Power Five peers.
The additions are also likely why the Big Ten had yet to announce its plan to keep or do away with football divisions while other leagues including the Pac-12 and ACC have already scrapped them.
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Meanwhile, the conference remains in the midst of negotiating its television rights deal with Fox and others, with previous estimates that it will net north of $1 billion in its next round of contracts. That figure is guaranteed to now rise further with the addition of another major media market in Los Angeles and two brand-name universities. Apple has already reached out asking to reengage in negotiations, according to a report from Sports Business Journal.
Such financial stability will be a boon for the newcomers. The LA Times in January reported that UCLA’s Athletic Department absorbed a loss of $62.5 million for the 2021 fiscal year.
“Although this move increases travel distances for teams, the resources offered by Big Ten membership may allow for more efficient transportation options,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and athletic director Martin Jarmond said in a statement.
The transition could in theory be relatively smooth for USC and UCLA because their grant of rights are linked to the current Pac-12 TV deal, which expires after the 2023-24 school year.
Multiple reports also indicated Big Ten expansion may not be over. Would remaining Pac-12 members like Washington and Oregon also be possibilities to change leagues? What about other holdovers in that conference like Stanford?
Notre Dame — a longtime siren of the Big Ten — may be more in play once again to join a conference in football. The Irish and their contract with NBC runs through at least 2025 on a deal reportedly worth $15 million annually. Should NBC be part of the Big Ten’s new-look media rights deal moving forward, it could potentially help bridge the longtime distance between the league and school.
“It’s really unsustainable to be an independent now,” a source told ESPN.
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The two Pac-12 additions on their own are watershed moments in the 126-year history of the Big Ten, originally known as the Western Intercollegiate Conference, and send ripple effects throughout the league.
For Nebraska, the decision moves it from the western frontier of the conference to the geographic center. Husker administrators released a statement Thursday evening welcoming the Bruins and Trojans.
“This is an exciting and historic day for the Big Ten Conference and the University of Nebraska," Chancellor Ronnie Green and athletic director Trev Alberts said in a joint statement. "The addition of UCLA and USC to the Big Ten is a bold, ambitious step during a time of historic change in the collegiate athletics landscape. These institutions will add two world-class athletic departments and brands to the Big Ten and stretch the Conference footprint from coast to coast."
The statement also cited NU’s large base of alumni in California that can watch games and its history of recruiting success in the state.
"For the University of Nebraska, there are many positives associated with this expansion," the statement said. "UNL has a large alumni base in California that will have a great opportunity to regularly watch our teams compete in historical athletic venues in Southern California. Nebraska has had a history of success recruiting athletes from California, and this will only enhance 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 move for the Pac-12 remains unclear. It could seek to add current or future Big 12 members including BYU or attempt to stand pat. The conference had been part of a so-called “Alliance” with the Big Ten and ACC for the last year.
That partnership, for all intents and purposes, now 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, academics, and leadership in supporting student-athletes that we’re confident will continue to thrive and grow into the future.”
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