USC and UCLA, two of the Pac-12’s flagship programs, were notified Thursday night that their application to join the Big Ten has been accepted.
The schools will begin play in the conference in 2024.
The Big Ten said in a statement that the vote was unanimous when conference presidents and chancellors met on the addition of the two schools on Thursday evening.
“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,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said.
UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond wrote in a text to ESPN: “College athletics is changing, and UCLA has always led in times of change. For the sake of our student-athletes, and for preserving the legacy of Bruin excellence, we cannot afford to stand still.”
USC athletic director Mike Bohn called the Big Ten “the best home for USC and Trojan athletics as we move into the new world of collegiate sports.”
“We are excited that our values align with the league’s member institutions,” Bohn said in a statement. “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.”
A source told ESPN that the exploration of finances and what it would take to make the move has been going on for weeks. While finances are playing a big role in the move, competitiveness, brand and the overall landscape of the future of the sport have played a bigger role.
“USC and UCLA have to make the decisions to position them best for the long term,” a source familiar with the move told ESPN. “The future is so uncertain we need to be operating from a position of strength.”
The Pac-12 released a statement later Thursday saying it was “extremely surprised and disappointed” by the news of UCLA and USC leaving.
“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 its statement. “The Pac-12 is home to many of the world’s best universities, athletic programs and alumni, representing one of the most dynamic regions in the United States. We’ve long been known as the Conference of Champions, and we’re unwavering in our commitment to extend that title.
“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.”
The reason this move would be less disruptive than potential moves in the ACC is that USC and UCLA have a grant of rights tied to the current Pac-12 television contract, which expires after the 2023 football season and 2023-24 school year. That’s why the expectation is that both schools can go to the league for the 2024-25 season and not suffer any financial penalty.
Pac-12 officials had been nudging both Los Angeles schools for years to extend the grant of rights. The fact that they didn’t hinted that they had greater ambition.
“We just got Sooner’d and Horn’d,” a high-ranking university official at one of the Pac-12 schools told ESPN, referring to the decision made last year by Texas and Oklahoma to leave the Big 12 conference for the SEC.
The financial pressures being felt by the Pac-12 are similar to those being felt in the ACC and beyond, as conference revenue projections — which can vary and are not always linear — have the SEC and Big Ten making nearly double the amount of some of the other Power 5 leagues later this decade. Those financial pressures left USC and UCLA with the choice of bullying the Pac-12 for unequal revenue shares or going elsewhere and having a seat at the table for the long term. The impact of the finances will allow them to not only stay competitive nationally in football but also sustain the support for all sports, including women’s sports and non-revenue sports.
“With Texas and Oklahoma going to the SEC, it became evident for those schools that there was only one option,” said the source familiar with the move.
It will be interesting to see how this will affect Fox’s upcoming television deal with the Big Ten, which is expected to be announced in the upcoming weeks. The addition of the two schools would bring in both the West Coast and one of the country’s most appealing media markets.
The move is gutting for the future of the Pac-12, as Fox’s added investment in UCLA and USC inventory in the Big Ten means that investments in the Pac-12, which Fox has long owned part of, will be decreased significantly. This move leaves the conference with Oregon and Washington as its top schools after losing the two biggest brand names.
“I was always of the opinion that UCLA couldn’t leave Cal,” a Pac-12 source told ESPN. “There’s no more political state than that or system than that. That was very surprising.”