The Big Ten Conference announced Thursday that its 14 members voted unanimously to accept traditional Pac-12 powerhouses UCLA and USC into their ranks beginning with the 2024-25 academic year, sending shockwaves throughout college athletics.
"As the national leader in academics and athletics for over 126 years, the Big Ten Conference has historically evaluated its membership with the collective goal to forward the academic and athletic mission for student-athletes under the umbrella of higher education," Big Ten commissioner Warren said in a statement. "The unanimous vote today signifies the deep respect and welcoming culture our entire conference has for the University of Southern California, under the leadership of President Carol Folt, and the University of California, Los Angeles, under the leadership of Chancellor Gene Block. I am thankful for the collaborative efforts of our campus leadership, athletics directors and Council of Presidents and Chancellors who recognize the changing landscape of college athletics, methodically reviewed each request, and took appropriate action based on our consensus."
Impact was seismic and immediate.
Existing Big Ten institutions were quick to issue their own statements. Michigan State University president Samuel Stanley Jr. said, "We are very excited to add two outstanding schools to the Big Ten Conference, not only creating a more competitive atmosphere for our student athletes but also increasing MSU's exposure nationwide." Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle and his counterpart at Iowa, Gary Barta, are likewise "excited." Wisconsin AD Chris McIntosh noted that he is "especially thrilled for our West Coast alumni. They will now be more connected than ever to the conference and to their alma mater. I can't wait for our teams and fans to come together on a regular basis in Southern California." A joint statement from president Darryll Pines and athletic director Damon Evans at the University of Maryland, which joined the Big Ten during its latest expansion in 2014, read in part, "UCLA and USC have championship pedigrees in athletics and we are excited to compete against the Bruins and Trojans. The University of Maryland welcomes UCLA and USC to the Big Ten Conference."
Pete Fiutak of YahooSports! quickly produced a short list of who might join the conference next — ranking longtime Big Ten target Notre Dame, the Big 12's Kansas, relative SEC newcomer (2011) Missouri, and Pac-12 staples Washington and Oregon in ascending order.
Where would two more defections leave the Pac-12?
In its statement Thursday, the league so far could only say, "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. The Pac-12 is home to many of the world’s best universities, athletic programs and alumni, representing one of the most dynamic regions in the United States. We’ve long been known as the Conference of Champions, and we’re unwavering in our commitment to extend that title. We will continue to develop new and innovative programs that directly benefit our member institutions, and we look forward to partnering with current and potential members to pioneer the future of college athletics together."
And where does all of this leave a Pac-12 school such as Utah, which jumped with Colorado from the Big 12 as recently as 2011?
"This is a significant development that impacts each Pac-12 member institution and alters that landscape of intercollegiate athletics," Utah president Taylor Randall and athletic director Mark Harlan said in a joint statement, as reported by KSL in Salt Lake City. "We have been in frequent communication with each other since this information came to light, and we will continue to stay in close communication with Conference leadership and our fellow Conference members as developments unfold."
What unfolds might amount to complete collapse for the Pac-12, according to Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated.
In a 1,300-word reaction piece Thursday, Forde itemized the potential, likely and inevitable collateral damage caused by the Big Ten's decision. "It makes sense, but it also sucks," Forde wrote. "College athletics has continued its descent into soulless professionalism. Beyond adding big bucks, what’s lost is substantial."
According to Forde, who is quoted directly here:
- The Alliance is trashed. Remember that announcement last summer? When the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Atlantic Coast Conference all put their arms around one another and swore they’re in this thing together? Basically joining forces to combat SEC hegemony? Yeah, what solidarity.
Now, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren has stuck a shiv in the ribs of Alliance compadre George Kliavkoff of the Pac-12, breaking the agreement between the three leagues not to raid one another for members. And Warren has absolutely destabilized Jim Phillips’s ACC in the process, undoubtedly escalating the wanderlust of schools in that league. The most marketable remaining schools in both those leagues—Oregon and Washington in the Pac-12; Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina in the ACC—figure to be exploring their own exit strategies. Keep an especially sharp eye on the Pacific Northwest in the coming days/weeks/months.
The next time anyone in any league talks about sticking together and loyalty, it’s perfectly acceptable to laugh in their faces.
- West Coast tradition is gone. California, UCLA’s brethren in the UC university system, first played the Bruins in football in 1933. USC first played Stanford in 1905. Now those relationships have been tossed in the dumpster.
- Regional sensibility continues to take a beating. The idea of UCLA and USC being in the same conference with Rutgers and Maryland is, of course, ludicrous. But it isn’t overly efficient for them to be in the same league with teams from the Midwest, either. The L.A. to West Lafayette commute ain’t easy. (Also: California football fans who hated the idea of 9 a.m. local kickoffs had better accept them. They’re inevitable now.
- The premise of enhancing the all-around college experience for athletes is more counterfeit than a dollar bill with Chip Kelly’s face on it. Assuming that this Big Ten expansion will encompass all sports, the travel demands on the players just grew exponentially bigger. Anyone who has traveled from the Eastern time zone to the Pacific and back knows what that does to the body clock and how much time it consumes. Example: When Penn State travels all day on a Monday to play UCLA in basketball on a Tuesday and then flies home overnight, 60% of the academic week is trashed. Coursework will be harder to maintain. In-season fatigue will increase. Mental health consequently will suffer. All the buzzword off-field stuff administrators pretend to care about will be further jeopardized. Don’t believe them when they say otherwise.
- In addition to the direct hit to the Pac-12 and the threat to the ACC, the Big 12 could be thrown back into chaos. Sources told Sports Illustrated last year that the eight remaining members of the Big 12 after the Texas and Oklahoma defections were offered, as a package, to the Pac-12. A similar overture is believed to have been made to the ACC. Neither conference wanted to make that deal—but the landscape has shifted. Both the Pac-12 and ACC could be more willing to add members now. Brett Yormark was just announced this week as the new commissioner of the Big 12, and he could be parachuting into a tornado. Or maybe Yormark parachutes in as a poacher, with the Big 12 looking to pick off some remaining members of the Pac-12.
- As we trend toward survival of the richest and fittest, how secure should the less marketable and successful schools feel within the Big Ten and SEC? If everything is negotiable and every agreement is breakable, is the Big Ten really committed to keeping Purdue and Minnesota for the long term? What about Vanderbilt and the Mississippi schools in the SEC? Watch your backs, Boilermakers and Gophers and Commodores and Rebels and Bulldogs.
- If the Pac-12 further splinters or outright collapses, the almighty Rose Bowl and its sacred sunset could become a Big Ten property.
- Don’t discount the added stress on independent Notre Dame, which has long rebuffed overtures from the Big Ten. The Fighting Irish hitched their wagon to the ACC in every sport but football and absolutely want to maintain their independence, but that latitude could dwindle in a world increasingly dominated by the SEC and Big Ten.
In the wake of the announcement that Texas and Oklahoma would be leaving the Big 12 for the SEC no later than 2025, AB interviewed former Big Ten Conference athlete Stephanie Herbst-Lucke, whose research into the impact of conference realignment reveals that few positives are realized for the parties involved.
When contacted Thursday by AB about the Big Ten's latest expansion plans, Herbst-Lucke, now a member of the Georgia State University business faculty, said, "Unfortunately, it appears that no new leadership has emerged in the absence of the NCAA to correct the course of this system. The time zones and brand names may help media dollars, but they are certainly leaving their customers and heritage behind, which will be reflected in every other revenue stream — and eventually in the branding-oriented ones like media."