On Thursday, Jon Wilner of the Mercury News dropped an atomic bomb on the college football world.
Per Wilner’s sources, both UCLA and USC are planning a move from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten, with the summer of 2024 targeted for the shift.
Source: USC and UCLA are planning to leave for the Big Ten as early as 2024. Move *has not been finalized* at the highest levels of power.
— Jon Wilner (@wilnerhotline) June 30, 2022
The story was later confirmed by Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic, who reported the same summer 2024 date. She also reported that the announcement could come as early as today.
USC and UCLA's move to the Big Ten is all but wrapped up, sources tell @TheAthletic.
Could be an announcement today.
— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) June 30, 2022
So, this seems important in the greater college football landscape.
First, this would be a potential death blow to the Pac-12 prior to the expiration of the conference’s existing TV deals. Losing both UCLA and USC would be brutal, given that both are among its most successful schools across both football and men’s basketball, the two most significant college sports across the country. It would also cut the conference off from not just the Los Angeles market, but also the entire Southern California market. That would affect not just its standing in the nation’s second-largest market, but also its revenue – LA cable and satellite providers are likely to be far less willing to shell out increased carriage fees for the Pac-12 Networks if there’s no local team (let alone two local teams) in the conference.
Additionally, the Pac-12’s next TV deal will undoubtedly be hurt by losing the LA teams. No longer having an an anchor in that region makes the conference far less appealing to national TV partners, even if you’re just looking at in-market fans tuning in to live games involving those teams. Even if UCLA and USC are replaced by schools in the area (just say…San Diego State and UNLV. Whatever, work with me here), the schools would inevitably be less popular and historically successful than the two departing titans.
As for the Big Ten, the geographically absurd move makes a lot of sense in expanding its footprint. On Saturdays in the fall, the conference could easily run four game windows (noon, 3:30 PM, primetime, 10 PM ET) most weeks, further enhancing its schedule. It also increases the inventory of games for networks, further allowing for the possibility that the package could be hacked up between three, rather than two, partners for football.
Earlier this year, it was reported that CBS and NBC were both interested in getting in with the conference, with the former interested in mid-afternoon games to replace the SEC and the latter interested to pair with Notre Dame games to create weekly doubleheaders. With Fox already on board, it’s easy to imagine a three-partner rights deal with Fox airing games at noon, CBS airing them at 3:30, NBC airing the conference in primetime, and FS1 getting 10 PM games. Or hell, go all-in and add ESPN as a fourth partner to siphon up some basketball games and take those late night games.
Perhaps the wildest part of this story is that we may not be done with this round of expansion. Per The Action Network’s Brett McMurphy, the Big 12 could look to deliver a death blow to the Pac-12 by adding the two Arizona schools, Colorado, and Utah, while the Big Ten might keep adding more teams after adding the two LA schools.
USC & UCLA move to Big Ten should be completed by Friday & Big Ten may not stop at 16, sources told @ActionNetworkHQ. Big 12 may get aggressive & look to add Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado & Utah. “We’re headed to super conferences,” source saidhttps://t.co/um8DBJVJ9s
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) June 30, 2022
I can’t even pretend what the next steps would be after that. Maybe the Big Ten would continue expanding into the larger Southern California market, raiding the Mountain West for San Diego State and UNLV (not an LA team, of course, but closer than any other school currently in the Pac-12). The remains of the Pac-12 and Mountain West could merge, which would make sense geographically. Would the Big Ten actually be able to raid the ACC, given the conference’s TV deal with ESPN and the company’s investment in ACC Network?
Anyway, this probably isn’t the final domino to fall. Those rights negotiations for the Pac-12, Big Ten, and even the Big 12 just got a lot more interesting.