In many years of traveling around the United States I have been on the campuses of nine of the 12 schools in the Pac-12 conference.
I’ve been to Washington, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, USC, Stanford, Cal-Berkeley, Arizona State and Colorado.
And as I strolled around their campuses, not once did I ever think, “Someday some of these schools are going to be in the Big Ten.”
There is no single word in the thickest thesaurus able to describe how shocking Thursday’s announcement that USC and UCLA will leave the Pac-12 to join the Big Ten in 2024 is.
This is a Julia Roberts marrying Lyle Lovett moment. And it is even more remarkable because it went from being put together in secrecy to being confirmed as a done deal in the span of only a few hours Thursday afternoon.
“A little bit of fireworks for the Fourth of July. How about that?” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said at the beginning of a press conference Friday morning.
That little bit of fireworks was set off by a lot of money, mainly television money.
The Big Ten saw an opportunity to get into the second-biggest television market in the country. USC and UCLA saw a chance to greatly increase their television revenue and their possibilities of putting teams in the College Football Playoff.
There are potentially some winners and losers in USC and UCLA’s decision.
• The Big Ten. The SEC and Big Ten had already separated themselves from the rest of college football. Now the two super conferences are extending their lead. Everyone else is trying to catch up.
“This solidifies that even more,” Smith said. “Who knows what the other schools and conferences will do in reaction. We’ll just have to see. We weren’t doing it in response to the SEC (adding Texas and Oklahoma). It was about what did the Big Ten need.”
• Ohio State. What’s not to like for the Big Ten’s biggest athletic program?
More money. More high profile match-ups. And even more recruits from California, Arizona and the rest of what was the Pac-12’s home territory, where the Buckeyes already found C.J. Stroud, Chris Olave, Wyatt Davis, Denzel Burke and many others.
• Fox Sports. The network is in negotiations to continue to be the primary broadcaster of Big Ten football, starting in 2023. It also has added 10 percent to its stake in the Big Ten Network and now controls 61 percent of it.
• USC and UCLA. The Trojans have faded since the glory years with Pete Carroll as coach from 2001-2009 and UCLA has just faded for a long time. The Bruins’ last Rose Bowl appearance came in the 1998 season. More money, more competition and more attention could produce a turnaround for both of them.
• Kevin Warren. The Big Ten commissioner got a big win after getting off to a shaky start in his first year on the job in 2020 when the Big Ten canceled its fall football season because of the Covid-19 pandemic but later reinstated it after the SEC and other conferences continued to play.
• Traditionalists. College football says tradition is one of the things that differentiates it from the NFL and makes it better than the pro game.
But more and more traditions are discarded every year. Money isn’t undefeated in its match-ups with tradition, but it has a heck of a winning percentage.
Who ever envisioned a Big Ten where two of its members would be 1,250 air miles from the next closest Big Ten school? This is the Big Ten’s version of the geographic recalibration that happened when Dodgers and Giants moved to California from New York in 1958.
• The Rose Bowl. The Granddaddy of Them All now could become more like The Second Cousin of Them All.
It’s not good but it’s not hopeless for the Rose Bowl. If more high profile Pac-12 teams like Oregon, Washington and Stanford also join the Big Ten, there is a chance to reinvent it, possibly as the Big Ten championship game.
• Oregon State, Washington State and to a lesser degree, the other remnants of the Pac-12, now that the two Los Angeles teams have decided to join the Big Ten.
USC and UCLA were the Pac-12’s brand names. They’ve represented the league in 46 of the 108 Rose Bowls which have been played. Now they’re on the other side.
And even if the Pac-12 could be rebuilt, it would have a hard time landing a generous television contract if it replaces USC and UCLA with someone like, say, Boise State or Fresno State.
• College athletes. Anyone who has ever flown to the West Coast from the Midwest or East and back knows jet lag hits harder after the return flight than after the outgoing flight.
It’s 2,000 miles from Columbus to Los Angeles and it is 2,700 miles for Rutgers athletes going from Newark to Los Angeles. And the athletes don’t even get the frequent flier miles.
• Notre Dame. The situation is not dire for ND. But this move and the end of its current television contract with NBC in 2025 might make Notre Dame explore joining a league more than it has in a long time.
Jim Naveau writes for The Lima News.