The era of the college super conference is almost here.
Pac-12 flagship programs USC and UCLA are preparing for a 2024 jump to the Big Ten, after the move was announced Thursday, leaving the West Coast for a conference that promises early football kickoff times and long plane rides in exchange for massive paychecks. The drastic move shifts the entire college football landscape, consolidating more power to the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference and weakening the Pac-12 to the point where the “Conference of Champions” may be on its last legs.
Here’s what to know about the situation:
Why this makes sense for UCLA and USC
Simply put, a move to the Big Ten could mean a huge payday for USC and UCLA.
The Big Ten has been a leader in revenue among Power Five conferences since it signed a lucrative media rights deal in 2017 and its member schools are still enjoying the spoils. The Big Ten reported more than $768 million in revenue during the 2019-20 fiscal year — the last before the COVID-19 pandemic — compared with roughly $533 million for the Pac-12. As a result, the Big Ten’s 12 longest-standing members collected about $54.3 million each, according to tax returns. Meanwhile, Pac-12 schools settled for $33.6 million each. (Big Ten newbies Maryland and Rutgers received $27.6 million and $11.4 million, respectively, in 2020.)
The numbers dropped drastically the following year because of the pandemic, but the Pac-12 schools were among the hardest hit. The Pac-12 distributed about $19.8 million to each of its members last year, a 40% cut from the pre-pandemic number. According to USA Today, the Big Ten paid its 12 longest-standing members between $43.1 million to $49.1 million, a drop ranging from 9.6% to 20.6% compared to the previous year’s average.
The Pac-12’s last College Football Playoff appearance came in 2016 when Washington scored the sacrificial No. 4 seed that would get destroyed by No. 1 Alabama.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten has appeared in six of eight playoff semifinals, led by Ohio State’s four playoff berths. The Big Ten had four teams finish in the top 25 last year, while the Pac-12 hasn’t even had three top-25 finishers since 2017.
USC and UCLA are leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten, a shift that will move college football’s ‘Power Five’ closer to a ‘Power Two.’
The Pac-12 tries to pass off its struggles as “parity,” but it suffered another blow last year when Pac-12 teams went 0-5 during the bowl season. The Big Ten sent 10 of its 14 teams to bowl games last season and went 6-4.
Getting into a conference with better teams and a higher strength of schedule is expected to lead to more CFP opportunities for UCLA and USC and better recruiting pitches as top athletes want chances to compete against the best for the top prizes.
Joining the Big Ten, which enjoys regular 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. PDT kickoffs, could mean the days of #Pac12AfterDark are over for UCLA and USC. While the late-night, infamously chaotic games were fun on Twitter, they are also major annoyances for athletic departments starving for fan interest. East Coast fans and media simply weren’t staying up until 1 a.m. EDT to watch two Pac-12 teams fumble the ball back and forth.
Now if USC or UCLA travels east to play one of their Big Ten opponents, they’ll be almost guaranteed a game that starts in the morning or early afternoon for West Coast fans. Then say Michigan travels west to face USC in the Coliseum. The kickoff time will likely remain out of the infamous 7:30 p.m. PDT slot to appease fans in Ann Arbor. L.A. college football fans could soon be resting easy on Saturday nights.
Why this makes sense for the Big Ten
The Big Ten, traditionally known as a Midwest conference, added Rutgers and Maryland in 2014, citing the larger media markets as positives for expansion. Eight years later, the Big Ten has added an even bigger media fish by claiming the Los Angeles market.
Initial reports indicated that the Big Ten’s next media rights deal, which is scheduled to start in 2023, could be worth $1 billion per year. The opportunity to add the L.A. schools could boost the number even higher.
Fighting fire with fire
The SEC fired the opening salvo last year by announcing it will add Oklahoma and Texas in 2025. Thursday’s news is the Big Ten’s answer, poaching major programs from the nation’s largest media market with a Power Five school.
With the SEC and Big Ten getting richer, the transition toward a “Power 2” college football landscape seems inevitable.
What it means for the rest of the Pac-12
Oregon is sweating
Oregon is the meme of confused John Travolta looking around an empty room. The Ducks, the last Pac-12 team to sniff the CFP with a No. 5 finish in 2019, are the top football program left in the West. Rival Washington, another conference original with a desirable media market, is also looking for company.
Stick it out or move on?
USC and UCLA divorcing the Pac-12 leaves the remaining schools trying to find a way to rebound. Perhaps that means more schools will bolt. The Big 12, which lost Texas and Oklahoma, could be looking for suitors. Perhaps the Big Ten would welcome more West Coast teams for its newest additions. Or what’s left of the Pac-12 could pick up the pieces together.
In a statement released Thursday, the Pac-12 said it was “extremely surprised and disappointed” by UCLA and USC leaving, but the “Conference of Champions” was “unwavering in our commitment to extend that title.”
“We will continue to develop new and innovative programs that directly benefit our member institutions,” the statement continued in part, “and we look forward to partnering with current and potential members to pioneer the future of college athletics together.”