The latest seismic shift in college football is all about the Big Ten challenging the Southeastern Conference to a duel in the undercard, and FOX fighting ESPN in the main event.
The SEC and ESPN got Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12 for a switch in 2025, if not 2024, last summer. And on Thursday, the Big Ten and FOX will get USC and UCLA for 2024, according to a report by Pac-12 expert Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News that was later confirmed by the Pac-12 and the Big Ten.
“To me, it is clear that FOX is behind this move,” Wilner said Thursday on the Paul Finebaum Show on the SEC Network, which is under the ESPN umbrella. “And I think it is reasonable to presume that this is FOX’s counterweight to ESPN having the SEC with Texas and Oklahoma.”
USC athletic director Mike Bohn confirmed the move later Thursday as the Big Ten Conference voted to add USC and UCLA to its league in 2024.
“I am beyond thrilled that USC will be joining the Big Ten,” Bohn said in a release. “We are thankful to the Big Ten presidents and chancellors and commissioner Keith Warren for the opportunity to become a member of the oldest and most storied conference in the country. We will officially begin our membership in August of 2024.”
The Pac-12’s current television agreement with FOX and ESPN expires in August of 2024.
“We look forward to competing these next two years in the Pac-12 and want to express our sincerest gratitude to the conference and its member institutions for decades of wonderful experiences,” Bohn said. “The Trojans’ outstanding athletics heritage will always be synonymous with the Pac-12, and there are so many iconic moments and memories we will cherish forever. We hold the Pac-12 and our respected colleagues in the highest regard.”
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff apparently did not feel the same way.
“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,” a statement released by the Pac-12 read. “We’re confident that will continue to thrive and grow into the future. We look forward to partnering with current and potential members to pioneer the future of college athletics together.”
Bohn said USC’s decision was a product of the times.
“This is the most volatile and uncertain era in the history of American collegiate athletics,” he said. “USC must ensure it is best positioned and prepared for whatever happens next, and it is our responsibility to always evaluate potential opportunities and be willing to make changes when needed. Ultimately, the Big Ten is the best home for USC and Trojan athletics as we move into the new world of collegiate sports.”
The SEC has been aligned with ESPN for decades. FOX has long been associated with the Big Ten and the Big Ten Network and is deeply involved with the conference’s next television deal. Now FOX will be associated with the two major athletic programs in Los Angeles, which is the nation’s No. 2 television market behind New York City.
“And now you’ve got two 16-team leagues,” Wilner said as the SEC and Big Ten each stand at 14 currently before the additions. “And the two conferences have both scooped four universities that are really going to bring value. The SEC and the Big Ten split them up. ESPN and FOX split them up. And now you have two super conferences.”
And to the losers, the leftovers.
“If you’re the ACC, you’re worried,” Wilner said. “If you’re the Big 12, you’re worried. And if you’re the Pac-12, you are just dying.”
And if you’re the SEC, you may speed up your process. With USC and UCLA joining in 2024, the SEC may look to getting Texas and Oklahoma playing in its league in 2024 as well. The SEC has maintained for the last several moments that the two new members will not join until 2025.
Part of the motivation for the move by USC and UCLA is likely because the Pac-12 has been lagging behind the Big Ten and the SEC in revenue in recent years, which is believed to have brought about the departure of Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott a year ago. He was replaced by George Kliavkoff, who suddenly has a difficult job.
“The Pac-12 doesn’t really have many options,” Wilner said and suggested a merger with the previously hit Big 12.
“That’s the best option if the Big Ten and FOX and ESPN would be willing to orchestrate it,” he said.
In USC, FOX and the Big Ten will be getting historically one of the most significant brands in all of college football on an elite par with Alabama and Notre Dame. The Trojans won national championships in 1928, ’31, ’32, ’39, ’62, ’67, ’72, ’74, ’79, 2003 and 2004. USC also has won 39 conference titles.
UCLA was the premier basketball program in the 1960s and ’70s with national championships in 1964, ’65, ’67, ’68, ’69, ’70, ’71, ’72, ’73 and ’75 along with another one in 1995. In football, UCLA won a national title in 1954 and has won 17 conference titles.
The Big Ten in 2024 will be in 12 states and coast to coast – California (USC and UCLA), Illinois (Northwestern and Illinois), Indiana (Purdue and Indiana), Iowa (Iowa), Maryland (Maryland), Michigan (Michigan State and Michigan), Minnesota (Minnesota), Nebraska (Nebraska), New Jersey (Rutgers) Ohio (Ohio State), Pennsylvania (Penn State) and Wisconsin (Wisconsin).