College Football Power Shift
The University of Southern California (USC) and University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) announced their departure from the Pac-12 and their entrance into the Big Ten, come the 2024 season. This has shifted the landscape of college football and practically gives the go-ahead for super conferences to commence.
The Big Ten and the SEC are undoubtedly the most competitive conferences in the NCAA; home to programs like Georgia, Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State, and several other multi-championship winning teams. The Pac-12 on the other hand, has been losing credibility for a while, and this was capped by failing to win a bowl game or send any team to the playoffs last season. And while this move would be a lot more exciting if it were being made to stir up the competition in the Big Ten, that’s not the reality. The reality may not make sense, but it makes cents.
Why The Move For USC & UCLA?
The Big Ten’s newfound access to the LA market has now given the Big Ten a presence in the country’s top 4 TV markets (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia) and stretches the league from coast (New Jersey) to coast (California). Not to mention, once this move is made, the Big Ten will have five football stadiums with a capacity of 90,000 or more. This all means more money for them, which means more money for their teams.
Conference revenue projections already have conferences like the Big Ten and the SEC making double the amount of the other Power 5 conferences like the Pac-12, so the monetary discrepancies are likely to duplicate after this move. Last season, following the pandemic, the Pac-12 awarded its member schools roughly $19.8 million in revenue sharings each. The Big Ten paid their members between $43.1 million and $49.1 million, in the same time period.
Ironically, and despite posting a 4-8 record during last year’s football season in the Pac-12, USC believes that they are better suited to compete in the Big Ten. “We also will benefit from the stability and strength of the conference; the athletic caliber of Big Ten institutions; the increased visibility, exposure, and resources the conference will bring our student-athletes and programs,” said USC Athletic Director Mike Bohn.
Is The Pac-12 Still The “Conference of Champions?”
Perhaps the group that’s most affected by this change is not the Big Ten, but the Pac-12, which is left with little to no leverage in the Power 5 conferences, something they already couldn’t afford to lose. USC and UCLA are two flagship programs of the Pac-12, having been there for 100 years and 94 years, respectively and accounting for the majority of championship appearances. The LA market is the engine of the Pac-12, and without it, the conference could very well stall.
The Pac-12 issued an initial statement saying that they are “extremely surprised and disappointed” with the decision of UCLA and USC to leave. This was followed by them announcing their plan to “explore all expansion options.”
With USC and UCLA bowing out, it leaves little incentive for competitive schools like Washington, Oregon, Stanford, and Berkeley, to stay in the Pac-12 and it’s very likely that we see some of these schools start to follow along simply as a form of self-preservation.
The Big 12, who recently lost Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC (starting in 2024), may be a popular destination for Pac-12 teams looking to make a jump or a viable option for the Pac-12 to merge with. If they really wanted to, the Pac-12 could stick it out and add other Western schools like San Diego State or Boise State, but realistically, those programs couldn’t even begin to fill the void left behind by the Trojans and Bruins.
Texas and Oklahoma’s move to the SEC was one thing, but USC and UCLA’s move to the Big Ten is the start of a trend. Schools will likely start to look for entrance into these two conferences and sooner or later the Power 5 conferences will become the Power 2 conferences.
Looking forward, USC and UCLA stand to make somewhere in the realm of $80 million annually by joining the Big Ten and contribute to a possible $1 billion annual paycheck for the Big Ten from television deals alone. And, by waiting until 2024, UCLA and USC will not incur any financial penalties from the Pac-12, as their grant-of-rights agreement expires in 2023.
However there are still so many unanswered questions that will surface as these teams make arrangements for their big move and repercussions unfold. What does this mean for college football playoffs? How will the weekly cross-country travel affect the student athlete? What will Notre Dame do? Stay tuned to find out.