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BTP Roundtable: Breaking Down The UCLA/USC Additions

Our staff gives their thoughts on the latest Big Ten move.

NCAA Basketball: PAC-12 Conference Tournament Semifinal - USC vs UCLA Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

With the massive recent news announcing UCLA and USC’s move to the Big Ten, it seemed like a good time to reconvene the BTPowerhouse staff and break things down. There’s little doubt the move will shake the foundations of college athletics.

Here’s what our staff thought about the move.

1. What a last few weeks. A quiet offseason turned into one of the most momentous weeks in college sports, as the Big Ten opted to add UCLA and USC as full-time members. What was your initial reaction?

Thomas Beindit: Whiplashed is probably the right term for it. We all knew the status quo was living on borrowed time, but to see a move like this was pretty wild. This wasn’t a small step in expanding the Big Ten, it was a momentous one that will change the league forever. You don’t just add two schools on the other side of the country and expect things to stay the same.

With that said, it’s also an exciting move. Adding brands like UCLA and USC only deepens the strength of the league and sets the Big Ten and SEC on a collision course. We’re going to see plethora of high profile games with these two in the conference.

Kevin Knight: Honestly, that this was the dumbest thing I have heard in a long, long time. While it may be the smart move for the Big Ten and USC/UCLA, that doesn’t mean it’s the thing fans who value the regional nature of college athletic conferences want to see. It is also a huge hit on student-athlete welfare with the travel for every sport besides football. Having said that, Big Ten regular season games at the Rose Bowl and the Pauley Pavilion are a nice thing to look forward to at least.

Bryan Steedman: Surprised for a second, then spent the next second seeing if the initial “source” tweet came from a reputable reporter. Then I posted it in the group chat with my best friends. In hindsight, the move makes sense if we’re really going all in on the “super conferences” thing and it’ll make things interesting for sure. I still remember massive blowback from fans about Maryland and Rutgers and people thinking Nebraska was too far out of the Big Ten “market” so adding two schools from SoCal is kind of funny, if we’re being honest. Throwback to when Boise State was rumored as potentially joining the Big East.

Ryan Hodes: My first reaction was similar to Kevin’s: this whole thing is so so dumb. And I’m not talking about from a money/exposure perspective. It’s an insult to the tradition and regionality of the Big Ten. Frankly, I don’t give a crap about USC or UCLA in football or basketball, and making student-athletes travel across three time-zones multiple times in a year for conference games just rubs me the wrong way. It was pretty clear something like this was coming, and it’s only going to get worse. Historic rivalries will end, all sports (not just basketball) will have less heart, and conferences will become a footnote rather than a centerpiece. Maybe I’m overreacting, but the conglomeration of super-conferences is probably my least favorite storyline of the last 20 years.

2. Why do you think this happened? And why now?

Beindit: The game changer was the SEC’s move adding Oklahoma and Texas. Everyone expected the dominoes to fall after that one and this is certainly the next one.

Knight: It happened because the SEC added Texas and Oklahoma, so the Big Ten had to keep up with the Joneses/beat them out. A coast-to-coast league now with huge brand names added and a massive media market is arguably a stronger move than adding Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC was a year ago. Why now is because of media rights. The Pac-12 grant of rights ends in August 2024 and I would bet the pressure on the Bruins and Trojans was growing by the week to extend those. With the media deal being arranged now by the Big Ten for after 2023 and the Pac-12 needing to start strategizing its own new deal, now seems like the inevitable shotgun marriage moment.

Steedman: Money. For the Big Ten the timing makes sense because they’re working on their future television contracts. They not only added two marquee powerhouses (one in football, one in basketball), but they expanded their reach into the massive LA market. That’s a win win and likely going to net them a pretty penny. On the other side, both USC and UCLA were dealing with the Pac-12’s own disastrous network and underwhelming TV deals. This not only will increase the money the Big Ten brings in, but should see both Cali schools see a nice uptick in their television revenue.

Hodes: It’s eat or be eaten at this point. If the Big Ten wants to keep up with the SEC in football (where the money is), this was an essential move.

3. Do you think the expansion ends here?

Beindit: Ever since Nebraska’s addition to the Big Ten, we’ve come to learn these things happen in phases. Somebody makes a move, there’s a scramble, and then a period of calm. I expect the same thing here. Expect a few minor moves reshaping things after this, such as the Pac 12 adding two teams to replace UCLA and USC. However, I think your next marquee move won’t happen for another year or two. All eyes will be on Notre Dame.

Knight: I don’t see how it does. Why stop at 16 and with USC and UCLA on the remote island in the league they sit in right now? It is an over three hour flight to the closest Big Ten program for the two LA schools. While reports are the Big Ten isn’t going to continue pillaging the battered remains of its closest ally, I have a hard time believing this arrangement works without adding a few more Pac-12 schools.

Steedman: Nope. Analysts and those dialed into the business related aspects of college sports keep talking about the creation of “super conferences” and it might not just be two (Big Ten and SEC), but it’s likely we’ll inch towards 20 teams sooner or later. The bigger question is who do they add? Do they go after some Big 12 or more “middle” Pac-12 schools (Utah, Colorado). Do they finally try to land Notre Dame? If the opportunity arises I feel like they’ll make a push for Oregon.

Hodes: Definitely not. As Bryan mentioned, we’re heading towards 20 teams, and I’d bet we get there sooner than later. And it’s not just the Big Ten; the SEC is nationalizing fast, and will soon be adding teams that are neither south nor east. The Big 12 is also looking to poach up to six teams from the Pac-12, per PFF College. There’s been buzz about Gonzaga—yes, Gonzaga—joining the Big East. Who knows what lies ahead, but it’s going to be crazy.

4. How do you think this plays out for the Big Ten, UCLA, and USC? Do things go well?

Beindit: Yes and no. While that seems like I’m avoiding answering the question, hear me out. Yes, the move is going to be successful financially for the Big Ten and all of its member schools, including UCLA and USC. Their addition significantly boosts the value of the Big Ten Network and the league’s associated media rights. The Big Ten is going to demand more eyes balls than ever and the dollars will be there. The league will likely boast about how great its done and the success of the move.

However, I can’t help but feel like this is the death nail in the college sports fans have grown up with over the last century or so. Conference realignment has always been a part of the process, but this one feels different because it’s the first time one or the power players (Big Ten and SEC) have completely sold their souls for money. You can argue some of the prior moves (looking at your Maryland and Rutgers) were about money as well, but at least there were some semblance of regional fit. UCLA and USC aren’t even in the same time zone as any other Big Ten schools. That’s going to permanently change the Big Ten’s identity.

The repercussions of this will also be substantial. Whatever you think of the Pac 12, it’s a league with an extensive history on the gridiron and the hardwood. College sports are better where a western power conference exists and this move will almost certainly begin (or finish?) the Pac 12’s demise. It’s just disappointing to see and I can’t help but feel we’ll all look back at this era (2012-2022) as a mistake in the history of college athletics.

Knight: With how much of an arranged marriage it still sometimes feels with Maryland and Rutgers, I am not sure how this will look long term with the even more culturally distant addition of UCLA and USC. While like minded brands and academic schools, the United States is a country of regional geography and there are some odd tensions that arise when intermingling them sometimes. Add into that the drain of travel on budgets and programs and it could get interesting what happens down the road, especially if others aren’t added from the western states.

Also, when will we see the Big Ten Tournament scheduled for arena? Do we actually want that even?

Steedman: From the Big Ten perspective it’s going to earn them more money so they’ll be happy. Sending teams across the country in what was originally a “midwest” conference will seem foreign, but if both the SEC and Big Ten continue to expand we’ll likely see more conferences branch outwards and it’ll seem less problematic. The move gives the Big Ten a potential football powerhouse in USC, which would bolster the western side of the conference. UCLA is definitely a big get for the basketball side of things.

It’ll be interesting to see how it impacts USC and UCLA. They’re going to earn more money, especially in football and basketball. They’re likely going to lose A LOT of money in most of the other sports, traveling across the country to play in the midwest to small crowds and minimal TV interest. It’ll be interesting to see if both schools’ athletic department revenue soars and they end up gutting some of their athletic programs regardless.

Hodes: I think it’ll go fine for both parties. The Big Ten will get more money, along with adding a strong presence in another major market. I saw a tweet that the conference now has teams in 5 of the 7 biggest US metro markets: New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and now Los Angeles. Whatever my personal thoughts are on the expansion, it is objectively a no-brainer for the conference.

5. Any other thoughts on the expansion?

Beindit: I included this a lot above, but I can’t help but feel like this is a seminal moment in the history of college sports. Perhaps you could argue that moment actually occurred with Oklahoma and Texas going to the SEC, but this one just feels different to me. It feels like the band-aid has finally been completely ripped off. There’s no going back anymore.

Knight: The merry-go-round has started once again. Round and round it will go, but when will it stop and will we like what we see or will we be frantically searching for the nearest trash can for our lunch’s unwelcome uprising in protest? On a more serious note, the final tally of what the Big Ten makes in its new media rights deal and will ESPN be a part of it now should be fascinating to see.

Steedman: Expansion will continue for the foreseeable future, so I have two things to say about all of this:

  1. It’s going to be wild watching some of the inevitable football games that will be scheduled. UCLA traveling to Rutgers for a noon kickoff would be a 9am local kick for the Bruins. And of course both California schools likely having to play on the road in November, possibly in the snow
  2. It’s going to be interesting to see where conference expansion goes. We keep hearing about these massive conferences we’re running towards, but if the money ever slows or some schools find the means to create a more competitive and profitable conference, you could see scenarios where some future ~24 school league splits into two 12 school conferences. Hell, that’s happened on a smaller scale back in the late 90s , when a 16 school WAC split into the WAC and MWC conference, with both immediately working on adding new schools (and the MWC poaching the best teams from the WAC). The reality is even if things slow down, we’ll still see things changing year after year.

Hodes: There’s no stopping this train, however much I wish there were. While I’m not a fan of this trajectory for the whole of college sports, there’s no denying that it’s excellent content to watch. My only hope is that we can keep as much of the tradition and rivalries intact as possible.

I also feel bad for the smaller conferences, who now have to contend with the ever present threat of their best teams getting poached by either a giant power conference, or by the downward snowball that is caused by all this madness.