Jul 12, 2022 - Sports

Big Ten welcomes the West Coast

Illustration of the USC and UCLA logos riding away in a convertible
Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

The recent Big Ten shakeup feels wrong for old-school fans, but money trumps tradition these days in college sports.

Driving the news: The Big Ten announced June 30 that UCLA and USC will join for all conference sports in 2024, the year they can leave the Pac-12 without any financial penalty.

  • "We wanted to operate in a position of strength, and that was the Big Ten," UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond told ESPN.

Why it matters: The California additions have massive financial implications at a revolutionary time in college sports, when athletes are getting paid and TV revenue is a high priority.

The big picture: The West Coast expansion is the latest move to grow the Big Ten. Other major conferences have also realigned in recent years.

  • Penn State joined the conference in 1990, followed by Nebraska in 2011 and Rutgers and Maryland in 2014.
  • The departures could cripple the Pac-12 and foreshadow the Big Ten becoming one of two superconferences, along with the SEC, that could dominate college football.

By the numbers: USC and UCLA stand to make a lot more money.

  • The Pac-12 distributed $19.8 million to each of its schools in the 2020-21 fiscal year, compared to $47.8 million each in the Big Ten.
  • And that's with the old media rights deals in place. The Big Ten's next TV deal could reach $1 billion. Apple reportedly reached out to "re-engage" in talks right after the UCLA-USC announcement.

What's next: All eyes are on Notre Dame, as the Fighting Irish seem like a natural fit for the new 16-school Big Ten.

  • The football team's TV deal with NBC is worth $15 million annually and ends in 2025, per the Washington Post.
  • "We don't feel any particular urgency," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told ESPN. "We think there's ample time for us to let the landscape settle."

💭 Everett the editor's thought bubble: My first journalism job was covering UCLA football, and I can tell you with certainty those fans aren't traveling to Iowa in November.

  • But while this is mainly about the money, there could be some interesting ripple effects for current Big Ten schools outside of the insane TV deals. Recruiting California athletes could get easier, and the conference's coaching battles are going to be a blast. Sign me up for Mel Tucker vs. Lincoln Riley and Chip Kelly vs. Jim Harbaugh.
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