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USC, UCLA making move to Big Ten changes college sports scene

USC and UCLA will be full conference members in all sports expect beach volleyball, men's volleyball and men's and women's water poloGetty Images

USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten beginning in August ’24 is a “shocking move that will forever alter the national college sports landscape,” according to a front-page piece by McCollough, Plaschke, Kartje & Bolch of the L.A. TIMES. The schools will be full conference members in “all sports except beach volleyball, men’s volleyball and men’s and women’s water polo.” The schools began working on the move “many months ago as the crosstown rivals assessed their respective futures in an increasingly unstable Pac-12 Conference.” With so much “unknown about where athlete compensation is headed beyond NIL,” school leaders felt they “had to address the long-term financial viability of their programs.” With the Big Ten and SEC “lapping the Pac-12 in revenue and football success during the past decade, USC in recent years has been continuously evaluating its options for future conference alignment,” even at one point considering becoming an independent. The SEC’s move last year to add Texas and Oklahoma “made it clear momentous changes were already afoot and accelerated the Trojans’ push to secure themselves a seat at the leadership table for whatever is to come during a tumultuous time in college athletics” (L.A. TIMES, 7/1). In Omaha, Evan Bland notes 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” (OMAHA WORLD-HERALD, 7/1).

WELCOMED WITH OPEN ARMS: In Indianapolis, Zach Osterman reports the Big Ten “wasn’t actively seeking expansion this summer,” but when USC and UCLA “approached the conference about coming on board, they were impossible to turn down.” Indiana AD Scott Dolson was “adamant the conference had not sought expansion before USC and UCLA knocked on the door.” He said, “We weren’t seeking anyone at this point. We received the request from both schools and moved on it. That’s really where we are right now. We continue to be in a mode where we’re going to do what’s best for our conference, and what’s best for our student-athletes" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 7/1). In N.Y., Blinder & Witz cite a source as saying that USC and UCLA “had approached the Big Ten about the possibility of joining the league” and not the other way around. The sequence of events “can be crucial for legal reasons … especially in an industry governed by contracts and bylaws, with millions of dollars a year at stake for schools in Power Five conferences” (N.Y. TIMES, 7/1).

BIG FINANCIAL JUMP COMING: The AP’s Russo & Olson noted the move to the Big Ten will “greatly enhance USC and UCLA’s revenues.” The Pac-12 distributed just $19.8M per school in FY ’21, “by far the least among Power 5 conferences.” The Big Ten’s per-school distribution was $46.1M, while the SEC’s was $54.6M. Additionally, the Pac-12 has had “difficulty getting its conference television network untracked while the Big Ten Network is the most established of the conference networks” (AP, 6/30). THE ATHLETIC’s Nicole Auerbach noted the move “benefits their bottom line,” as they will be making “much, much more money in annual payouts tied to media rights revenue.” Projections show that Big Ten schools could be making “more than $100 million per year by the end of the decade.” Auerbach: “That’s what USC and UCLA want. That slice of the pie.” Meanwhile, the Big Ten was “already set to cash in with its next media rights deal.” Adding “two blue blood programs in the L.A. market only makes the Big Ten more appealing to its potential partners” (THEATHLETIC.com, 6/30).

NOT A HARD CALL MONETARILY: SI.com’s Pat Forde said USC and UCLA “looked at the TV revenues like everyone else and said, ‘Our league’s falling behind. We’re the most important and marketable schools in our league, let’s go to where the money is’” (“The Paul Finebaum Show,” SEC Network, 6/30). In Columbus, Rob Oller writes, “I’m guessing it took both West Coast schools about three seconds to jettison their conference loyalty for a bigger Big Ten Network paycheck” (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 7/1).

PARTNERS IN TIME: In L.A., Bill Plaschke writes USC had “long since outgrown a decaying Pac-12 that had deteriorated into the home of late-night TV games, half-empty stadiums, and national irrelevance.” And USC “wasn’t going anywhere without UCLA” (L.A. TIMES, 7/1). In Philadelphia, Mike Jensen writes if the Pac-12 “could have held on to either UCLA or USC, this wouldn’t be so dreadful for the league.” Jensen: “Both schools were smart enough to know they’re stronger together, wherever they are” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 7/1).

IMPACT ON OLYMPIC SPORTS: In S.F., Marisa Ingemi notes the non-revenue programs for USC and UCLA will join a conference “that ranges 2,800 miles from Los Angeles to Brunswick, N.J.” That means those teams “will have significantly higher travel costs” and “could lead to women’s sports being left behind” (S.F. CHRONICLE, 7/1). In L.A., Bill Plaschke notes the change will “mean more hassle for the Olympic sports such as baseball and softball that are being dragged into the Big Ten.” However, because football “essentially pays for all the other athletic programs, those sports will benefit from the increased revenue” (L.A. TIMES, 7/1).

DIFFERENT FEEL THIS TIME: THE ATHLETIC’s Stewart Mandel wrote the move of USC and UCLA “feels different” than other moves. The SEC adding Texas and Oklahoma “ultimately had few major ripple effects beyond stalling a fast-tracked 12-team College Football Playoff proposal” (THEATHLETIC.com, 6/30). In L.A., Adam Grosbard notes this “all seems unnatural and bizarre at first glance,” including traveling “across the country to New Jersey and Maryland for conference games.” However, this is the “direction that college athletics, and specifically college football, are headed, and USC and UCLA are making the savvy, proactive decision in this ever-shifting landscape” (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 7/1).

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