Ten years after their last expansion that left the Big Ten Conference with fourteen teams, the league grew again this week when news broke that USC and UCLA, formerly of the PAC-12, would join the conference on August 1, 2024. The move extends the reach of the Big Ten from the Atlantic to the Pacific and follows the expansion of the SEC last year by adding Texas and Oklahoma.
For the Big Ten, the benefits are obvious. First, in keeping up with the SEC, they show they are serious about competing for championships in a future of super-conferences. Adding traditional powerhouses in high revenue sports, USC for football and UCLA for basketball, also gives the conference an added boost in media rights, with their next deal expected to surpass $1 billion. Another bonus, and huge revenue generator, is the opportunity to expand the reach of the Big Ten Network into southern California and the nation’s second-largest market.
For USC and UCLA, the benefit is mostly money. In 2019, the last pre-pandemic season, the PAC-12 dispersed approximately $33.58 million to its member schools. The Big Ten schools, however, took in $54.29 million. By the end of this decade, that number is expected to be $100 million. In that regard, the PAC-12 just could not keep up.
The downsides for both sides include increased travel times and costs, though that is expected to hit the two Los Angeles-based schools harder as they will have more frequent travel to the far reaches of the conference. With the additional time comes increased time missed in the classroom, which will impact the non-revenue generating sports harder. The biggest loser in this agreement may end up being the Rose Bowl, the traditional New Year’s Day meeting ground between the Big Ten and the PAC-12.
Logistically, this means Purdue will most likely move to the East division in football, helping to maintain their yearly battles against Indiana but also ensuring more games against Michigan and Ohio State, making their road to a bowl game more difficult. Sixteen teams may also force the introduction of divisions into the basketball ranks as well.
Is this the end? It seems unlikely, as this move will cause ripples throughout the NCAA. With more consolidation into fewer elite conferences, good schools in the remaining conferences, like the rest of the PAC-12 and the ACC, for example, may start looking for new landing spots. Notre Dame may see that, with many of their traditional rivals now located in one conference, their desire to stay independent will start to wane. Only time will tell where this eventually ends up.