Jul 1, 2022 - Sports

Big Ten bombshell reshapes college sports

Illustration of the USC and UCLA logos riding away in a convertible

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

USC and UCLA will leave the Pac-12 and join the Big Ten in 2024, the schools announced Thursday — a bombshell that caught the sports world completely off-guard.

Why it matters: The future of college athletics seems clear: Two "super leagues" built from the foundations of the SEC, which will soon add Texas and Oklahoma, and the Big Ten, which now spans coast to coast.

  • The Pac-12, which has become something of a laughingstock among the Power 5 football conferences, faces an uncertain future without the Los Angeles schools.
  • Plus: This is expected to trigger more realignment. Could other Pac-12 schools join the Big Ten? What about Notre Dame? What will the ACC and Big 12 do now? Nothing is off the table.

What they're saying: "This move offers greater certainty in rapidly changing times and ensures that we remain a leader in college athletics for generations to come," said UCLA chancellor Gene Block and athletic director Martin Jarmond.

A graphic showing the logo of the Big Ten schools
The impending 16-team Big Ten. Graphic: Axios Visuals

By the numbers: The Big Ten and SEC had already separated themselves from the pack financially. Now, armed with the biggest brands in college sports, it won't even be close.

  • SEC schools will receive roughly $66 million per year starting in 2024, when ESPN's $3 billion deal kicks in. The new-look Big Ten, which is currently negotiating a new TV deal, should pay out even more.
  • By comparison, payouts for Pac-12 and Big 12 schools are roughly $21 million and $20 million, respectively, under their current deals. ACC payouts are even lower at roughly $14 million.
The impending 16-team SEC
The impending 16-team SEC. Graphic: Axios Visuals

The big picture: Major college sports, especially football, are increasingly about one thing: cashing checks. What was once "amateur athletics" is now a TV show — and one of the few that still drive ratings.

  • Millions watch Power 5 football games on Saturdays, and the money trickles down to schools, athletic departments, coaches and — now indirectly through NIL — players.
  • By that token, Thursday's shocking sequel to last year's SEC blockbuster probably shouldn't have been shocking at all. Big schools, big matchups, Big Noon — it's all there.

Yes, but: At what cost?

  • The century-old USC-Stanford rivalry has been thrown in the garbage. UCLA being in the same league as Rutgers is absurd and means huge travel demands and 9am PT kickoffs. The list goes on.
  • Plus, this doesn't just impact football and basketball. USC and UCLA have hundreds of athletes and are two of the three schools with more than 100 NCAA championships.

Zoom out: The Big Sixteen (or is it The Bigger Ten?) may seem strange, but it's part of a larger shift. As the NCAA cedes power to the richest leagues, who may eventually breakaway, membership is a golden ticket.

Conferences were built on culture and geography, and benefited from the framework and cash provided by the NCAA, which governs all schools from the elites to the minnows in Division III.
Now, the biggest conferences have enough brand name member schools to thrive without having to split money with the NCAA's smaller schools.
Rodger Sherman, The Ringer

Looking ahead: We'll soon have two 16-team mega-conferences, but why stop there? Some believe the Big Ten and SEC will end up with 20 schools each, forming the "Power 2."

Go deeper:

Go deeper