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USC and UCLA's Big Ten move widens college sports' inequality gap

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

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

USC and UCLA's stunning decision to join the Big Ten conference could cost the Pac-12 conference as much as $200 million a year on its new rights deal.

Why it matters: The sky-high valuation of live sports media rights is driving schools to switch conferences, and the Big Ten and SEC have created their own super conferences that are worth billions annually in TV money, dwarfing erstwhile peers.

  • For conferences like the Pac-12, which now has to negotiate its next media rights deal without two of its most popular and historic schools, a period of austerity likely awaits.

State of play: The Big Ten could finalize its next media rights deal as early as this month. The current deal is set to expire after the coming school year.

  • Fox, given its 61% stake in the Big Ten Network, will almost assuredly keep its rights. Disney, the Big Ten's other rights holder, is set to take over SEC rights from CBS in 2024, opening the door for NBC, Amazon and even Apple to make a play.
  • The Pac-12's current media deal expires a year later in 2024, and the 2024-25 school year will be the first for USC and UCLA's as part of the Big Ten. Former president of Fox Sports Networks Bob Thompson believes that USC and UCLA's move to the Big Ten will cost the Pac-12 around $200 million a year on its new rights deal.
  • "There's still economics out there for the new Pac-12, but going forward, a reconfigured Big Ten as well as SEC are going to consume between them the majority [of] the college sports money bucket that pay TV distributors and advertisers and sponsors have to allocate," Pat Crakes, a former Fox Sports executive who now works as a consultant, tells Axios. "In the end, the Pac-12 will have to fight for what's left."

By the numbers: The two Southern California schools could be upping their media rights payouts by as much as $40 million a year.

  • SEC schools will receive roughly $66 million per year starting in 2024, when ESPN's $3 billion deal kicks in, Axios' Kendall Baker reports. The Big Ten is looking at $1 billion each year for its new rights deal, though its member schools should get a similar payout.
  • USC and UCLA were getting around $21 million as part of the Pac-12.

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