Fall of the Power Five: USC, UCLA leaving Pac-12 for Big Ten in 2024

In shocking news, USC and UCLA decided to leave the Pac-12 in favor of the Big Ten beginning in 2024. Is this the end of the Power Five?

SEC who? The Big Ten stole the college football spotlight, stripping the Pac-12 of two of its most historic programs in the process. Thursday afternoon, rumors began to swirl that USC and UCLA would join the Big Ten Conference. But they were just rumors … until they weren’t. The news became official later in the day, with both UCLA and USC officially announcing the move will take effect in 2024.

USC, UCLA leaving Pac-12 for Big Ten

Weeks after Texas and Oklahoma announced their move from the Big 12 to the SEC last summer, the ACC, Pac-12, and Big Ten formed an alliance. Its primary focus was to slow down — if not eliminate — the poaching of teams from different conferences. Additionally, it distanced alliance members from the sprawling SEC and diminished Big 12.

Well, the Trojans and Bruins blew that right up. While the news broke on Thursday, talks had been ongoing for weeks. USC and UCLA’s applications to join the Big Ten received a unanimous vote in favor of the decision by the conference’s presidents and chancellors.

Most — if not all — of the decision came down to money. The SEC and Big Ten are projected to earn almost double the revenue of some other Power Five conferences this decade. Thus, USC and UCLA decided to sit at the table rather than fight for the scraps under it.

In a statement following the vote, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said, “The unanimous vote today signifies the deep respect and welcoming culture our entire conference has for the University of Southern California, under the leadership of President Carol Folt, and the University of California, Los Angeles, under the leadership of Chancellor Gene Block.”

The Big Ten was obviously all for expanding their conference with two renowned programs. Yet, the Pac-12 didn’t share the sentiment.

“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 that we’re confident will continue to thrive and grow into the future,” the Pac-12 said in a statement. “We’ve long been known as the Conference of Champions, and we’re unwavering in our commitment to extend that title.”

What the move means for USC and UCLA

Let’s not mince words; USC and UCLA absolutely made the best decision for their programs. As much love as there is for #Pac-12AfterDark, thousands of East Coast viewers missed out on what the conference had to offer. Now in the Big Ten (and under the lenses of their superior TV rights and time slots), the Trojans and Bruins will be able to showcase their players to an even greater audience.

The schools benefit from an increase in revenue, enrollment, and exposure. The players will receive bigger NIL deals, have better odds of catching the eyes of the nation, and get the chance to face stiffer competition. Those last two will be particularly significant for draft prospects. Playing in noon ET games against Ohio State, Michigan, and the like will do wonders for their stock, especially coming from battling the Arizonas and Colorados of the world when half the country is asleep.

Additionally, the Trojans and Bruins now have a legitimate shot of reaching the pinnacle of the sport. Since the College Football Playoff format was implemented eight years ago, the Pac-12 has sent just two representatives (Oregon in 2014 and Washington in 2016) to the four-team dance. The Big Ten will be a steep hill to climb, but at least it won’t be the Mount Everest that was the Pac-12.

Furthermore, USC and UCLA should be able to retain more of the homegrown recruits that historically migrated out of state. They should also have an easier time luring athletes to their campuses from the transfer portal.

What the move means for the product on the field

The contrast in competition level and weather will also shock the LA-based squads. The memes are already flying about how USC and UCLA aren’t prepared to take on the Big Ten in their element — outdoors with snow piling up and temperatures dipping below 30 degrees. That may be true for a season or two, but the teams will adjust.

On the field, the programs add excitement to a conference known for their slow-paced tilts and low-scoring outputs (excluding Ohio State, of course). Lincoln Riley, Caleb Williams, and USC are primed to explode in 2022. And even though Williams might be in the NFL by the time 2024 rolls around, Riley is one of the best offensive minds in the nation. As for UCLA, Chip Kelly hasn’t taken the Bruins to heights never before seen. However, the offense has predictably put up points under his tutelage.

But the Big Ten isn’t the Pac-12. The offenses will run the ball down your throat and take shots downfield when you begin to fill the box. The defenses will smother you with a similar physicality and play alignment-sound coverage against the pass. However, time will tell how the two teams fare against their new conference foes.

What the move means for the Power Five

Texas and Oklahoma stuck a knife in the back of the Power Five last summer. And now, USC and UCLA effectively twisted it before pulling it out. We are entering an era of two superconferences with the SEC and Big Ten, akin to the NFL’s NFC and AFC. Both conferences currently hold 16 total (current and future) members. And the moves are far from over. Oregon and Washington seem like the next dominoes to fall, with both presumably taking their talents elsewhere.

If they do, the Pac-12 will be without four of its top football programs, severely weakening its standing. To stop some of the bleeding, the conference will likely have to pull a Big 12 and bring in multiple teams from the Group of Five ranks. Could the Big 12 and Pac-12 merge, attempting to form a third superconference? Will the SEC and Big Ten aim for the top remaining programs (Clemson, Notre Dame, Florida State, etc.) to fill out their depth?

There is a lot of uncertainty about the future of college football, but one thing is clear — this is only the beginning. We shouldn’t be surprised. Money has always made the world go round. And as much as we love the traditions and rivalries we have now, new ones will be created. Change is often met with resistance. It’s human nature. Yet, it’s happening, so you better jump on the train or risk becoming the elderly man/woman preaching about “the good ol’ days.”

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