The Cheap Seats: Big Ten Strikes Gold
The Big Ten’s acquisition of the University of California Los Angeles and the University of Southern California creates realignment speculations for the rest of college athletics.
Waking up on the opposite side of the country from most of their new conference’s teams, the University of California Los Angeles and the University of Southern California announced that they would be joining the Big Ten in 2024. Last Wednesday, the news from UCLA and USC left a devastated Pac-12 scrambling to look for future ways to expand their conference, while the Big Ten gained two teams with name recognition, a Los Angeles television market ranked second in the nation and a college football monopoly.
A monumental and geographically relevant shift, the move mirrors the Southeastern Conference’s news that the University of Oklahoma and University of Texas at Austin — which formerly belonged to the Big 12 — would be joining their ranks to propel the SEC forward as a college football powerhouse. As the Big Ten’s new additions make headlines, so does the notion of a complete realignment of college sports. While the Big Ten and SEC clearly sit at the top, what does this mean for the teams left behind? More importantly, what does this mean for conferences such as the Big 12 and Pac-12?
Many people eye the University of Notre Dame as a team that could be a complementary addition to the Big Ten if they choose to keep competing with the rapid development of the SEC. Although the Big Ten does not have immediate plans for expansion, Notre Dame could become the key to enticing the conference to make space. While most sports at Notre Dame align with the Atlantic Coast Conference, Fighting Irish football acts independently. Stanford University could potentially also be invited to the Big Ten as an opponent for Notre Dame. By moving to the Big Ten, Notre Dame would be welcomed to a conference with historic playoffs, financial resources and the ability to keep some non-conference games (ie: the Fighting Irish’s annual rivalry with the United States Naval Academy). Notre Dame’s move could become even more critical as the SEC eyes some of the best ACC teams: Clemson University, Florida State University and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. If the ACC becomes dismantled, the prospect of Notre Dame becoming part of the Big Ten grows tremendously.
As the Big Ten and SEC rise to hegemony, where does this leave the Big 12 and the Pac-12? Both dismal from the losses of two of their most valuable teams, realignment could involve a merger. Even last summer’s alliance between the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC couldn’t keep the Big Ten restrained. With the notion of trust among college teams and their conferences seemingly long gone, the Big 12 and Pac-12 could take the high road to reform themselves, pulling the best teams from each conference into what CBS sports calls a “hybrid-conference.”
Last but not least, the Rose Bowl, an American football tradition, has for decades hosted the champions of the Big Ten and Pac-12. As the Big Ten moves to football supremacy and the Pac-12 begins to crumble, the odds would be stacked against the Rose Bowl’s Pac-12 team.
Following the Gold
While the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC were founded on geographic distributions, today each conference follows the money. There is no doubt football is the money maker for this endeavor; UCLA and USC will receive exposure like they never have before. With games in the Midwest, these teams will likely have games that air earlier in the day. While in the Pac-12, when UCLA and USC played games at home in the evening, audiences on the east coast were sleeping. Now, everything changes — the Big Ten has the capital and the fanbase for football games to air earlier, possibly allotting UCLA and USC an offer they couldn’t refuse.
Plane time versus play time
As the new identity of the superconference arises, UCLA and USC DI athletes could need an adjustment period as well. Think about the multiple basketball, baseball, softball and soccer games that athletes play in a week — now add to that the time it takes to fly from Los Angeles to a college town in the central or eastern time zone of the country. There is no doubt it can be done with sufficient capital and resources, but the experience of playing teams in the Big Ten for sports that have games more frequently will be harder. For schools that take pride in the accomplishments of teams other than football — UCLA men’s basketball is ranked no. 1 by multiple sources in 2022 — a move to the Big Ten comes with additional consequences.
The Big Ten’s gain is not a spontaneous win for the conference, but rather evidence of a new era of college sports — one driven less by geographical location and more by capital investment. Supposedly, UCLA and USC will swap an annual $19.8 million from the Pac-12 to a $80 million dollar check from the Big Ten every year. By waiting until 2024 to make the move, UCLA and USC will face no financial sanctions from the Pac-12, as their contract ends after the 2022-2023 academic year.
Capital has become a top priority for all conferences and teams that plan to be at the forefront of college athletics. Although the superconferences and seemingly-random geographic distribution of teams may be striking today, moves such as the Big Ten’s look like only the beginning of a historic trend.