USC and UCLA have been accepted as the newest members of the Big Ten conference with league officials approving their membership Thursday night. The programs have announced their respective departures from the Pac-12 beginning in 2024 with the pair marking a significant acquisition for the Big Ten that will significantly change the college sports landscape.
"Ultimately, the Big Ten is the best home for USC and Trojan athletics as we move into the new world of collegiate sports," USC athletic director Mike Bohn said. "We are excited that our values align with the league's member institutions. We also will benefit from the stability and strength of the conference; the athletic caliber of Big Ten institutions; the increased visibility, exposure, and resources the conference will bring our student-athletes and programs; and the ability to expand engagement with our passionate alumni nationwide."
"After careful consideration and thoughtful deliberation, UCLA has decided to leave the Pac-12 Conference and join the Big Ten Conference at the start of the 2024–25 season," said UCLA chancellor Gene D. Block and AD Martin Jarmond in a combined statement. "... Each school faces its own unique challenges and circumstances, and we believe this is the best move for UCLA at this time. For us, this move offers greater certainty in rapidly changing times and ensures that we remain a leader in college athletics for generations to come. As the oldest NCAA Division I athletic conference in the United States and with a footprint that will now extend from the Pacific to the Atlantic, Big Ten membership offers Bruins exciting new competitive opportunities and a broader national media platform for our student-athletes to compete and showcase their talents."
Big Ten presidents and athletic directors first met Wednesday night to discuss adding USC and UCLA to the league, sources told CBS Sports' Matt Norlander. A subsequent vote was held Thursday night to officially welcome the programs into the league beginning Aug. 2, 2024.
"As the national leader in academics and athletics for over 126 years, the Big Ten Conference has historically evaluated its membership with the collective goal to forward the academic and athletic mission for student-athletes under the umbrella of higher education," Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said. "The unanimous vote today signifies the deep respect and welcoming culture our entire conference has for the University of Southern California, under the leadership of President Carol Folt, and the University of California, Los Angeles, under the leadership of Chancellor Gene Block."
Representatives of the 10 remaining Pac-12 programs are scheduled to speak Thursday evening, sources tell Dodd. The Pac-12 would prefer to stay together, but key players acknowledge that may be difficult in the middle of a crucial period. There are reports that multiple Pac-12 programs have already contacted the Big Ten about potentially joining its membership.
The Pac-12 is left reeling as it has lost two of its signature programs amid ongoing negotiations for a new media rights deal. Given its current contracts expire on June 30, 2024, Thursday was the last day for USC and UCLA to inform the Pac-12 of their plans to depart without likely incurring additional financial penalties, sources told Norlander.
"While we are extremely surprised and disappointed by the news coming out of UCLA and USC today, we have a long and storied history in athletics, academics, and leadership in supporting student-athletes that we're confident will continue to thrive and grow into the future," the Pac-12 said in a statement. "... We will continue to develop new and innovative programs that directly benefit our member institutions, and we look forward to partnering with current and potential members to pioneer the future of college athletics together."
This movement also comes at a key time for the Big Ten, which will be expanding its conference with a couple major brands while in the midst of its own negotiations for a new media rights deal. That deal could start as soon as next season and reportedly exceed $1 billion per year in value.
The transition of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten is similar to the one that rocked college sports last summer when Texas and Oklahoma opted to leave the Big 12 for the SEC, a move set to transpire ahead of the 2025 season. That kicked off a realignment bonanza in which the Big 12, American and other conferences saw teams move in and out of their membership.
A similar domino effect is expected to ensue here as the Pac-12 could see additional teams exit.
"This is all about SC at the end of the day: SC's willingness to move, and then they need a partner in crime," a Pac-12 source told Dodd. "This comes down to USC's football value that is driving this and the L.A. market."
The move constitutes a stunning divergence in direction for UCLA, which is partners with Cal in the University of California system and had previously suggested the universities would remain linked. USC initially decided to explore leaving the Pac-12, reaching out to the UCLA as a partner before, according to multiple reports, both schools contacted the Big Ten to explore whether the conference would be interested in their membership.
In acquiring the Trojans and Bruins, the Big Ten transforms from largely a midwest conference to one that extends from New Jersey to the West Coast. It's a significant shift in the college sports landscape at the Power Five level, which has largely been localized with teams mostly belonging to leagues in their geographic area.
USC and UCLA bring the Big Ten to a total of 16 teams, the same number as the SEC once Texas and Oklahoma enter the league. The ACC has 14 teams, while the Big 12 will settle at 12 with BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF in the fold after UT and OU depart.
This acquisition is a significant coup for fourth-year Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, the first Power Five boss to cancel the 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic. By contrast, it's a potentially devastating blow for Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff, whose one-year anniversary on the job came as the news broke Thursday.
The Big Ten raiding two of the Pac-12's most prominent programs comes less than a year after the two conferences -- along with the ACC -- announced a strategic alliance following the SEC's additions of Texas and Oklahoma. That alliance was light on substantive action from the start, and the Big Ten's poaching of USC and UCLA only further undermines the notion that the leagues would work together in combatting the SEC's growing hold on power in college sports.