Another summer, another wave of turmoil in the college sports scene.
On Thursday, the top ten advisors and presidents voted To accept USC and UCLA in its conferencestarting in 2024. The move comes nearly a year after Texas and Oklahoma decided to move from the Big 12 to the SEC.
There’s no doubt that the seismic shift will lead to more domino declines in the coming months, including the expected new TV rights deal for the Big Ten. There are also many questions about the repercussions and what is to come.
Sports IllustratedPat Ford, Richard Johnson, and Kevin Sweeney break the latest.
What is happening now to the Pac-12?
fordy: The Pac-12 has serious trouble, especially if the Big Ten also follows Oregon and Washington, as has been speculated. Even if it’s only for USC and UCLA, losing teams in Los Angeles is a huge blow – athletically, academically, competitively and financially. LA is the conference recruiting mecca, the largest television market, and a potential source for huge funds for name, image and likeness. The Big 12 is wobbly but still standing without Texas and Oklahoma, but the Pac-12 could head to cloth face first. It’s pretty frustrating for people who hate the corporate giant as a byproduct of modern college athletics.
Johnson: I’m very curious about what happens to the rest of the Pac-12. There will surely be rumors that some of the remaining schools might jump into the Big 12, for example. There are also people who think the Big Ten hasn’t finished expanding either. But the other burning question around the conference is whether this leads to Stanford and/or Cal de-emphasizing athletics or at least football, or will they try to promote themselves to be the new big dog alongside Oregon?
Why UCLA and USC, and not the other Pac-12 programs?
fordy: They bring a huge television market to the Big Ten, open up the West Coast to more loot, widen the league’s television window around the clock and hold the traditional distinction in many sports. Yes, UCLA is underrated football, as is USC men’s basketball; But the Trojans are legitimate blue blood for soccer and the Bruins are legitimate men’s collars. Both excel in Olympic sports. When that drops, the Big Ten will now have five football fields with a capacity of 90,000 or more. Big brands, big cities, big revenue dollars.
Johnson: It doesn’t hurt that both teams are cornering the Los Angeles television market as the Big Ten looks to negotiate its new television deal with West Coast-based Fox Sports. It looks like UCLA and USC have a bet here. The sparrow in hand (which will soon conclude the Big Ten media rights negotiations) is outsmarting the Pac12’s uncertain future. Both schools have already lived through this league so far behind, and it seems they can’t afford to stay in the future.
Yes, we’re all wondering: What about Notre Dame?
fordy: The proud freelancer is stubbornly drawn into the corner relentlessly. Options: stay independent and see if it can be defended as a great athletic force; staying independent and less focus on athletics; Join the ACC in all sports; He finally gave up and joined the Big Ten.
Of these four options, I wouldn’t be frankly shocked to see Notre Dame choose the path of least conduct and less focus on athletics—especially if the Irish fighters eventually join the likes of Stanford, California and some of the ACC’s more academically-minded schools (Duke, Georgia Tech, Boston College Wake Forest, North Carolina, Virginia). These schools could form a league of their own, one grounded in a traditional college sports mindset. There might be an alliance (to use an embarrassing term at the moment) with the Ivy League. It would be a radical departure from one of the most successful football schools in history, but I think Notre Dame is serious about keeping athletics tied with an academic broadcaster.
Johnson: This seems to largely boil down to the ACC trying to find a way to take advantage of the Irish, but it seems the drums are back with Notre Dame becoming full members once again.
How will this affect non-football sports, such as basketball and Olympic sports?
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Sweeney: For men’s basketball, there are wind effects to consider, namely the windfall money that comes to the USC, UCLA, and the rest of the Big Ten when they start a new TV deal. None of these programs have lacked financial strength before, so I don’t. Expect a massive change in how these programs operate compared to other higher education majors. Instantly, the Big Ten added one of the most popular men’s basketball programs to a league that was already perhaps the best sports conference. Aside from the NCAA Championship Clash, the Big Ten has been in the top three in the KenPom Conference rankings for four consecutive seasons. Joining a true national convention can help with recruitment, especially in talent-rich California (although college basketball recruiting is already entirely patriotic). Besides some inevitable agonies about travel schedules that will start to look like an NBA team, it’s hard to take this as anything but a positive for the Big Ten.
Notably, UCLA has not been the best-ranked Pac-12 team in the KenPom since 2007–08, while USC has taken the crown only once during that time period. However, the loss of a legacy brand (UCLA) and a consistent NCAA League (USC) program are major blows to a league that was already limited to three Big Dance performances in three of the past five years. Without the USC and UCLA, the gap between the Pac-12 and the major intermediate leagues like Mountain West and WCC continues to shrink.
Johnson: Both programs have a lot of sports, but not an amount in Ohio (36). Every sport has a natural home except for those played in the Mountain Pacific Athletic Association, which includes the sports the Pac-12 doesn’t. Baseball will have a higher chance of recruiting and better selling in the baseball outpost of Southern California. The Pac-12’s gymnastics and softball proportions are handled for hits here as the UCLA Brigade holder goes to the Big Ten. There will be fierce competition in every sport against the mighty Michigan.
fordy: It’s a big change in other sports, too. For one thing, traveling in the middle of the week will be an even bigger headache and a huge drain for athletes and coaches. (As mentioned in my column, if any of these folks start talking about squaring this expansion with sponsoring student-athletes, feel free to laugh in their faces.) The men’s and women’s basketball competitions are jumping to another level, and both have been really good. . USC and UCLA are great at many Olympic sports, some of which have long been weaker areas for the Big Ten.
Factoring in Oklahoma and Texas too, what are your favorite new rivalry games?
fordy: Well, I’m just getting excited about the USC-Rutgers games. In non-sarcastic tones, and as a self-proclaimed fan of uniform matches, I really like UCLA-Michigan and the USC-Ohio State. Watching games that were largely dedicated to the Rose Bowl being played in different stadiums (and in different weather!) must have been a blast. In terms of where the blood of rivalry boils, Texas-Texas A&M is the obvious choice. And when the SEC acquires Clemson, the Brent Venables-Dabo Sweeney game will make for a good Oklahoma-Clemson to watch.
Johnson: Fortunately, the natural rivalry has been preserved unlike Texas A&M. But there’s a chance of some really cool helmet encounters. There is indeed a spiritual bond between the USC and the Big Ten, as their encounters against Ohio State and Michigan are the most played iterations of the Rose Bowl. Watching those three teams play so often would be great.
How do you rank the power of 5 now?
fordy: In terms of football, the SEC is still ahead. The Big Ten remains No. 2. Once Oklahoma and Texas leave the Big 12, ACC is No. 3, Big 12 is No. 4 and Pac-12 is a fifth further than it already was.
Johnson: If I You have To the fifth, it’s…
5. Pac-10 (Honestly, I’m glad we can use that name again)
3. Big 12 (with or without Texas/OU)
2. Big Ten
What does this mean for “Power 5”?
fordy: The Power 5 concept is dying. It has already been compromised in recent years as the revenue gap between Power 2 (SEC and Big Ten) and Semi-Power 3 (ACC, Big 12, Pac-12) has widened. Now, with alliances divided and distrust of the practical spirit of the era, I can’t imagine those five leagues working in concert on much of anything again. The stronger will get stronger, and the others will regroup and possibly gather forces to survive – the Big 12/Pac-12 merger doesn’t seem so farfetched, although this could get ugly. (Why, for example, would the Big 12 have an interest in adding Oregon and Washington State? Could they end up in a modified Mountain West instead?)
All of this will fuel the deliberations of College Football Playoff, which has always catered to Power 5. The ACC and Pac-12’s reluctance to join an expanded playoff appears to be very costly, as the standards surrounding automatic bidding can be very costly. It changes dramatically by the time a new format is agreed upon.
Johnson: Maybe you mean force 2? I’m already in my opinion that Big 12’s move to hire Brett Yormark as their new commissioner (and also interview an Orlando Magic executive as a finalist) points to a future in which basketball promotion is at the fore after leaving Texas and Oklahoma. Although the rights were granted by the ACC long ago, if everything is on the table now in college sports – and it certainly seems to be – then perhaps the ACC raid might be in order. Either way, the as-yet-unannounced Big Ten rights agreement will catapult it a line or above from the Securities and Exchange Commission.
More reaction to the conference reorganization: