The Big Ten is officially heading west with the stunning announcement that USC and UCLA are joining the conference in 2024.
The move comes just one year after Big 12 powerhouses Texas and Oklahoma announced they would leave the conference for the riches of the SEC in either 2023 or 2024.
The Big Ten has now made its counterpunch by grabbing two of college sports’ biggest programs from the second-largest media market in the country.
Now that the dust has settled – for the moment – here are five questions to be answered from the massive shift in the college sports landscape.
Why did this happen?
There’s a fairly simple explanation as to why USC and UCLA opted to leave the Pac-12 and join a conference that could see them travel 2,800 miles for a league game – money and a whole lot of it.
Hampered by restrictions and cancellations due to COVID-19, UCLA posted $62.5 million in athletic department losses for the 2021 fiscal year, according to a statement of revenues and expenses obtained by Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times. While USC’s finances aren’t readily available, athletic director Mike Bohn confirmed in 2020 that the lack of football during the pandemic could cost the department $60 million.
Those losses, combined with the fact that the Big Ten happens to be negotiating its next TV contract, made it a perfect time for both schools to leap and the conference to take them on.
The Big Ten’s TV rights have been widely rumored to top $1 billion, and that figure was out in the open well before the massive media market of Los Angeles was added in the form of the Trojans and Bruins. Sources told Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated that the schools expect to at least double their income from the conference media rights deal with the move to the Big Ten.
Federal tax records obtained by Laine Higgins of the Wall Street Journal show the Big Ten’s media deal paid out over $54 million to most of its members for the 2020 fiscal year. The Pac-12 lagged well back that same year, paying out just 62% of that figure at $33.6 million.
With the Big Ten’s rights expected to skyrocket and the Pac-12’s likely to fall without USC and UCLA, the money was too good for the Los Angeles schools to pass up.
What does this mean for the Rose Bowl?
“We’re literally nuking the Rose Bowl,” a Big Ten source told Nicole Auerbach and Matt Fortuna of The Athletic after the news dropped. “But what’s the point of the Rose Bowl if the whole point is the playoff?”
The “Granddaddy of Them All” was first played in 1902 and has featured a matchup of Pac-12 and Big Ten teams almost every year since 1960.
USC has participated in the most Rose Bowls by a long shot with 34 appearances, 14 more than Michigan and 18 more than Ohio State. The matchup between the Trojans and Wolverines is also the contest seen the most in Pasadena, with the two teams meeting eight times and USC holding a 6-2 edge.
Instead of a game set against the backdrop of the setting sun on New Year’s Day, the Trojans and Wolverines could now be squaring off on a snowy afternoon in Ann Arbor in November for a conference matchup.
The Rose Bowl won’t fade away even if the Pac-12 slowly does. The entire pomp and circumstance around the game have made that impossible. However, what is certain is that it will lose a great deal of its historical standing with USC and UCLA moving to the Big Ten.
One solution would be to make the game a permanent fixture for a College Football Playoff semifinal – something it has been doing on a rotating basis every few years since the CFP’s creation.
What’s the Pac-12 doing now?
The Pac-12 has instantly gone into survival mode as USC’s and UCLA’s departure forces them to open themselves for expansion to add new schools. Unfortunately, it may be too little, too late for the so-called “Conference of Champions.”
Oregon and Washington will likely be the Big Ten’s next targets as it attempts to continue loading up on big-name programs to combat the SEC’s impending additions of Oklahoma and Texas.
Backed by the dollars of Nike founder Phil Knight, the Ducks have grown into one of college athletics’ biggest powers and would be a huge get for the Big Ten. Washington would give the conference a foothold in the Seattle area and keep the Big Ten with an even number of teams.
The rumor mill already has the Big 12 eyeing Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, and Colorado, a move that would essentially end the Pac-12’s standing as a major conference.
Keeping Oregon and Washington is the next biggest challenge facing the Pac-12 as it begins the fight to maintain its existence.
Is the Big Ten done adding programs?
The Big Ten is now the popular kid at school with everyone wanting to latch on and become part of the inner circle. Sources told Higgins that ten different programs have already reached out to the conference in the past few days.
If the Big Ten wants to continue its western expansion, Oregon and Washington would be strong fits. The conference has already seen early-season matchups between Ohio State versus the Ducks and Michigan versus the Huskies in recent years, so there’s some football history there.
A further push south could see the addition of North Carolina – a school that would significantly bolster the men’s basketball competition in the conference. Clemson’s recent football brilliance would also be very appealing to the Big Ten if it were to look at the ACC powerhouse.
Rumors will be flying into overdrive with plenty of schools mentioned in the coming weeks. However, one institution has been linked to the Big Ten for years and makes the most sense to become the next one added.
And that brings us to our final question.
Will Notre Dame now join a conference?
If you thought the idea of Notre Dame to the Big Ten had legs before this recent expansion, get ready to see that turned to the max in the coming months.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith made his thoughts clear a couple of days after the announcement of USC and UCLA became official.
Notre Dame has famously remained an independent in football with a standalone TV contract with NBC reportedly pulling in $15 million per season. It participates in the ACC for the other sports, but joining the Big Ten on all fronts would certainly boost overall revenue.
Geographically speaking, the Indiana-based school fits perfectly in the Big Ten’s footprint – something that has been thrown off by the addition of USC and UCLA. Academically, Notre Dame would instantly bring even more reverence to the conference along with perhaps the most storied football past in the sport.
For the near future, Notre Dame will likely keep its independent status as it still has an inside track to the College Football Playoff. However, the Fighting Irish might be forced to finally make the leap if the Big Ten and SEC continue to hoard the top programs in the country and force a change to the playoff format.