Welcome to another round of reshuffling.
The world of college athletics was shaken for the second consecutive summer when news broke on Thursday that UCLA and USC plan to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten†
The news has not yet been officially confirmed by any of the involved parties. But the Texas and Oklahoma bomb leaving the Big 12 for the SEC last year we showed that movements of this significance don’t usually just leak to the media if they’re not about to be completed. This is happening.
Adding UCLA and USC gives the Big Ten 16 members and is an assertive response to the SEC. As the two conferences continue to set themselves apart from the rest of the pack (both on the field and financially), the Big Ten will expand its reach to the West Coast. And not only are UCLA and USC big brands in the world of college sports, the massive Los Angeles media market speaks for itself.
From a business standpoint, the move makes perfect sense for both parties. The appeal of the pending Big Ten’s $1 billion media rights deal made it easy for UCLA and USC to set aside the sentimentality of staying connected to the school’s traditional West Coast adversaries.
And the Big Ten should not be done. Jon Wilner, the longtime Pac-12 reporter who broke the news earlier Thursday, was one of many to express that sentiment.
So where could the Big Ten go from here? And how will the other conferences, including the SEC, respond?
Here are some thoughts on what could be on the horizon.
Notre Dame is the big fish
When Texas and Oklahoma left the Big 12 for the SEC, it first caused a ripple effect at the Group of Five level. Most notably, the Big 12 quickly took over Cincinnati, Houston and UCF of the American Athletic Conference. The AAC then rushed to add members, leveling Conference USA. The Sun Belt also made moves.
Now, it seems inevitable that the Power Five league landscape will change dramatically as the Big Ten and SEC continue to overshadow the ACC, Big 12, and Pac-12.
As these conferences compete for power and stability, one school’s biggest potential prize is Notre Dame.
Notre Dame has maintained its independence in football, but could now be the time for the Fighting Irish to fully join a conference? Notre Dame is one of the most storied programs in college football and carries a national brand. The school is a non-football member of the ACC and maintains a scheduling agreement with the ACC in football.
Adding Notre Dame as a full-time member would be a huge boon to the ACC, especially if it wards off potential poachers (more on that later). But the Big Ten may now be more attractive to Notre Dame than ever.
The financial side of the equation is clear to both sides, especially given that the ACC’s media deal runs through 2036. And there’s also the geographic fit. At its core, the Big Ten is still a largely Midwestern league. From that point of view (for whatever it’s worth right now), it makes more sense for Notre Dame than for the ACC.
Whether Notre Dame is interested in participating in a conference is a mystery. Yet the school has a lot of power.
What about other Pac-12 schools like Oregon and Washington?
Speaking of media rights deals, the Pac-12 negotiations took a huge blow with the departures of UCLA and USC. A source estimated to be Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports that the value of the new deal (the current one will expire in 2024) has fallen by at least a third.
That’s a tough sell for the remaining schools – which have value elsewhere – to want to stay. The Big Ten has already expanded west, so why stop with the two LA schools?
What about Oregon or Washington? The Nike-backed Ducks have become one of the forces of the West and could be an attractive option for the Big Ten. Washington markets the Seattle market and is the most recent Pac-12 school to reach the College Football Playoff.
And where does Stanford fit in? It’s an academic powerhouse, and the Big Ten still value academic prowess on some level.
Will Duke and North Carolina look around?
Speaking of academics, could the Big Ten and Duke be a match? As mentioned, the ACC’s television deal is a huge financial loss to the league. Duke’s football program is one of the ACC’s biggest players, but its academic and basketball talent could make the Blue Devils an attractive option for the Big Ten.
If Duke is flying the loft, it would make a lot of sense for North Carolina to leave the ACC as well. Duke and UNC are huge rivals, especially when it comes to hardwoods, and would give the Big Ten a huge boost from a basketball perspective.
Losing those two basketball players would be a huge blow to the ACC.
Is the ACC Vulnerable to SEC Poaching?
If the Big Ten starts chasing additional members, the SEC won’t sit on its thumbs and watch.
Like the Big Ten, payouts in the SEC are going to skyrocket. In fact, they already are. And they will continue to increase, leaving other leagues in the dust.
So which schools would make sense for the SEC? There are a few in the ACC that are obvious – Clemson and the State of Florida. Clemson has been the ACC’s football powerhouse for the past decade. Florida State is the league’s former powerhouse looking to make a return to the top.
Miami could also take a look for the SEC. The Hurricanes still have name recognition based on past success. The new regime in football seems motivated to regain that status.
The granting of rights by the ACC (until 2036) is a huge hurdle, but you have to ask yourself whether the associated financial blow is worth the long-term stability potential of another conference like the SEC.
Can Big 12, Pac-12 join forces?
With the Pac-12 losing its two most valuable members, the conference’s remaining teams are in a weak position. If Oregon and Washington become the target of, perhaps, a 20-team Big Ten, could the Big 12 look to other Pac-12 members to bolster their membership?
Brett McMurphy of The Action Network reported Thursday that the Big 12 could go after “Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado” to get to 16 members once BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF are officially on board and Oklahoma and Texas leave for the SEC.
What does this look like, Big 12 fans?
If the rest of the Pac-12 stick together, the conference can look forward to stable Mountain West programs like Boise State and San Diego State (which won’t make much of a difference financially). But if there are even more departures, schools like Oregon State and Washington State could be in a precarious position.
Another thought: What about Kansas? The Jayhawks are terrible at football, but are a basketball force coming off a national championship. Could KU find a new home in the Big Ten if the Big 12 doesn’t strengthen itself further?
The bottom line: super leagues are coming
One thing is clear: the recast has entered another chapter. And so-called “super leagues” look like the inevitable outcome.
The Big Ten and SEC are at the top and everyone else is catching up.
Drop the dominoes.