The schools are moving in 2024, and the Midwestern migration will include all sports except beach volleyball, men’s volleyball and men’s and women’s water polo.
USC and UCLA officially announced the news on Thursday afternoon after the Big Ten accepted the programs.
With the Big Ten and Southeastern Conferences lapping the Pac-12 in revenue and football success during the past decade, USC in recent years has been continuously evaluating its options for future conference alignment, even considering joining rival Notre Dame as an independent. Texas’ and Oklahoma’s move from the Big 12 to the SEC in July 2021 made it clear momentous changes were already afoot and accelerated the Trojans’ push to secure themselves a seat at the leadership table for whatever is to come during a tumultuous time in college athletics.
USC’s math eventually added up to a move to the Big Ten, a calculated decision that — coming on the heels of the stunning hiring of head football coach Lincoln Riley in late November — furthers the message that the Trojans are committed to returning to their traditional stature as national title contenders.
That was the promise made by Mike Bohn when he was hired as USC’s athletic director in November 2019. Bohn was well aware at the time of the issues facing the conference, which made several missteps during the course of then-commissioner Larry Scott’s turbulent 11-year tenure.
USC’s influence in the Pac-12 had also declined over that period, as former athletic director Lynn Swann never took an active role at the conference level. Bohn immediately took the opposite approach upon taking over, making it clear that USC planned to sit at the head of the conference table.
In orchestrating its exit, USC has instead flipped the table over entirely.
USC and UCLA have been flagship members of the West Coast’s power conference for nearly a century. Their departure to the Chicago-based Big Ten signifies a death blow to the notion of the Pac-12 as a competitive, top-level football conference and serves to bolster the Big Ten in its efforts to keep up with the SEC, which last summer grew to 16 schools with the Longhorns and Sooners. The Trojans and Bruins joining will boost the Big Ten to 16, too.
Others could be close behind.
The “Power Five” is moving closer to a “Power Two” as college sports continues to reimagine its future in the era of name, image and likeness and player empowerment.
The Pac-12 has lagged behind other major conferences for years in media rights revenue, distributing $344 million among its schools in the 2021 fiscal year. In the same year, the Big Ten handed out $680 million.
The Big Ten is currently negotiating its next media rights deal and is expected to be able to fetch upwards of $1 billion per year. Adding the Southern California media market to its product would only make the league’s offerings more desirable at just the right time.
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff has stressed a commitment to fixing his league’s prolonged football struggles during his first year in the position. Kliavkoff also understood how crucial USC would be in improving that standing. When the new commissioner toured the Pac-12 footprint last summer, he made a point of visiting USC’s campus first.
But the league’s revenue issues are hard to deny, even with the prospect of an improved media rights package starting in 2024.
While ESPN has made a significant investment in the Southeastern Conference and FOX is already helping negotiate licensing deals on behalf of the Big Ten, the direction Kliavkoff might take the Pac-12 remains a concern. That the conference just lost two of its bellwether programs won’t help in negotiations.
In moving to the Big Ten, USC and UCLA also solve another issue that’s long plagued the Pac-12: Kickoff times. Both schools were often relegated to the late window on Saturday nights, neither often finishing before half the country was asleep.
As members of the Big Ten, those late kickoffs are almost assuredly a relic of the past.
The most glaring problem for the Pac-12, however, has long been what happened after kickoff.
The Pac-12 has not had a team reach the College Football Playoff since Washington in 2016. Only one other team — the Oregon Ducks in 2014 — has made it.
USC’s struggles to find stability in the aftermath of Pete Carroll’s departure and NCAA sanctions 12 years ago have hurt the conference’s competitiveness nationally. But now the Trojans are taking a step out on their own, leaving behind long-held relationships for new blue-blood bedfellows like the Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines, and bringing crosstown rival UCLA along for the ride.
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