The era of the university super conference is almost upon us.
Pac-12 Flagship Programs USC and UCLA Prepare to Jump to the Big Ten in 2024, as The Times confirmed Thursday, leaving the West Coast for a conference promising early football kick-off times and long plane rides in exchange for huge paychecks. The drastic move is shifting the entire college football landscape, consolidating more power to the Big Ten and Southeast Conference and weakening the Pac-12 to the point where the “Conference of Champions” is on its last legs.
Here’s what you need 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 is a revenue leader among Power 5 schools since it signed a lucrative media rights deal in 2017 and its member schools are still enjoying the loot. The Big Ten reported more than $768 million in revenue during fiscal year 2019-20 — the latest before the COVID-19 pandemic — compared to about $533 million for the Pac-12. As a result, the Big Ten’s 12 longest-standing members each collected approximately $54.3 million, according to tax returns† In the meantime, Pac-12 Schools Settle for $33.6 Million Each† (Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers received $27.6 and $11.4 million in 2020, respectively.)
The numbers plummeted the following year due to the pandemic, but Pac-12 schools were among the hardest hit. The Pac-12 spread over $19.8 million to each of its members a 40% reduction from the pre-pandemic number last year. According to USA Todaythe Big Ten paid its 12 longest-serving members between $43.1 million and $49.1 million, down 9.6% to 20.6% from the prior year average.
The Last of the Pac-12 College football play-off appearance came in 2016 when Washington scored the sacrificial number 4 seed that would be destroyed by number 1 Alabama.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten has appeared in six of the eight playoff semifinals, led by Ohio State’s four playoff berths. The Big Ten had four teams that finished in the top 25 last year, while the Pac-12 hasn’t even had three top-25 finishers since 2017.
The Pac-12 tries to pass its battle as “parity,” but it took another blow last year when Pac-12 teams went 0-5 during the bowl season. The Big Ten sent 10 of their 14 teams to bowl games last season and went 6-4.
Participating in a conference with better teams and stronger planning is expected to lead to more CFP opportunities for: UCLA and USC and better recruiting spots, as top athletes want opportunities to compete against the best for the top prizes.
Joining the Big Ten, which has regular 9:00am and 12:30pm PDT kickoffs, will help make the days of #Pac12AfterDark are over for UCLA and USC. While the infamously chaotic late-night games were fun on Twitter, they’re also major annoyances for athletic departments hungry for fan interest. East Coast fans and media just didn’t stay up until 1am EDT to watch two Pac-12 teams fidget the ball back and forth.
Now if USC or USC travels east to play against one of their Big Ten opponents, West Coast fans are almost guaranteed a game that starts in the morning or early afternoon. Then say Michigan travels west to meet USC at the Coliseum. Kick-off time will remain outside the infamous 7:30 PM PDT slot to please fans in Ann Arbor. LA college football fans will soon be able to rest easy on Saturday nights.
Why this makes sense for the Big Ten
Traditionally known as a Midwest conference, The Big Ten 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.
Early reports indicate that the Big Ten’s next media rights deal, set to start in 2023, will could be worth $1 billion† The possibility of adding the LA schools could further increase the number.
Fight fire with fire
The SEC fired its opening salvo last year by announcing it will add Oklahoma and Texas in 2024. Thursday’s news is the Big Ten’s response, looting major programs from the nation’s largest media market with a Power 5 school.
With the SEC and Big Ten getting richer, the transition to a “Power 2” college football landscape seems inevitable.
What it means for the rest of the Pac-12
Oregon is the meme of confused John Travolta looking around an empty room. The Ducks, the last Pac-12 team to nose the CFP with a No. 5 finish in 2019, are the best football program in the West. Rival Washington, another conference original, is also looking for company.
Another marriage may lie ahead
The Pac-12 could easily fall apart for good once UCLA and USC leave. Now all the remaining schools must find a way to recover. Maybe that means combining with the Big 12 that will be without Texas and Oklahoma or wobbling in the mighty Big Ten, as the likely destination for Oregon and Washington might be.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times†