(AP) — In a surprising and seismic shift in college athletics, the Big Ten voted Thursday to add Southern California and UCLA as conference members beginning in 2024.
The expansion to 16 teams will happen after the Pac-12’s current media rights contracts with Fox and ESPN expire and make the Big Ten the first conference to stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
The announcement, which caught the Pac-12 off-guard, came almost a year after Oklahoma and Texas formally accepted invitations to join the Southeastern Conference in July 2025.
Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said USC and UCLA, both members of the Pac-12 and its previous iterations for nearly a century, submitted applications for membership and the league’s Council of Presidents and Chancellors voted unanimously to add the Los Angeles schools.
“Ultimately, the Big Ten is the best home for USC and Trojan athletics as we move into the new world of collegiate sports,” USC athletic director Mike Bohn said. “We are excited that our values align with the league’s member institutions. We also will benefit from the stability and strength of the conference; the athletic caliber of Big Ten institutions; the increased visibility, exposure, and resources the conference will bring our student-athletes and programs; and the ability to expand engagement with our passionate alumni nationwide.”
The Big Ten is building on previous expansion into the nation’s largest media markets, and the move allows the conference to keep pace with the SEC as one of the most powerful entities in college sports.
The Big Ten will gain blueblood programs in football (USC) and basketball (UCLA) and big-name brands that will enhance the value of the conference’s new media rights package currently being negotiated.
Losing flagship schools like USC and UCLA is a major blow to the Pac-12, which has had a long and amicable relationship with the Big Ten best exemplified by its Rose Bowl partnership.
“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.
The Pac-12’s next move is unknown, but adding schools to replace USC and UCLA is a possibility.
“We look forward to partnering with current and potential members to pioneer the future of college athletics together,” the Pac-12 said.
The Big Ten has expanded twice in recent years, with Nebraska joining in 2011 and Maryland and Rutgers in 2014.
USC and UCLA fit the Big Ten’s academic profile. Both schools are among the 65 members of the Association of American Universities, which is made up of top research universities. All Big Ten schools except Nebraska are members.
“From increased exposure and a broader national platform for our student-athletes, to enhanced resources for our teams, this move will help preserve the legacy of UCLA Athletics for generations to come,” UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond said.
“We have deeply valued our membership in the Pac-12, and we have great respect for the conference and our fellow member institutions, but each school faces its own unique challenges and circumstances. We believe this is the right move for UCLA at the right time.”
USC and UCLA stand to significantly increase their revenues. The Pac-12 distributed only $19.8 million per school in fiscal year 2021, by far the least among Power 5 conferences. The Big Ten’s per-school distribution was $46.1 million, second only to the SEC’s $54.6 million.
The Pac-12 has had difficulty getting its conference television network untracked while the Big Ten Network is the most established of the conference networks.
USC and UCLA would be taking a step up in football, both in visibility and competition.
“Pac-12 After Dark” televised games that kick off in the middle to late evenings in most of the country have made it difficult for the conference to get exposure. The Pac-12 has had teams in the College Football Playoff just twice — Oregon (2014 season) and Washington (2016).
USC President Carol L. Folt said she and university leaders considered the coast-to-coast travel that will come with competing in the Big Ten. Nebraska is the westernmost school in the conference now, and Lincoln is almost 1,500 miles from Los Angeles. Rutgers, the easternmost Big Ten school, is a nearly 5 1/2-hour flight from LA.
“We are fortunate we can spend the next two years working with the conference on travel and scheduling plans,” Folt said.
The Big Ten, Pac-12 and Atlantic Coast Conference last August formed an alliance in the wake of Oklahoma and Texas joining the SEC. The conferences said the 41 members would take a collaborative approach to charting the future of athletics. The three conferences set up scheduling arrangements in some sports and have pooled resources to promote athlete welfare.
Less than a year later, the future of the alliance would appear bleak with the Big Ten taking two of the Pac-12′s biggest brands.
USC and UCLA will be severing longstanding conference relationships. USC joined California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington and Washington State in the Pacific Coast Conference in 1922, followed by UCLA in 1928.
They went together in 1959 to the Athletic Association of Western Universities, which became the Pac-8 in 1968, the Pac-10 in 1978 and Pac-12 in 2011.
“This is a great day for Indiana University with the news of the acceptance of requests from UCLA and USC to join the Big Ten Conference. Both are highly respected academic institutions that share our commitment to premier education and research. They also both have rich and storied intercollegiate athletic programs that will enhance the world-class opportunities that our Indiana University student-athletes already enjoy. Their arrival will strengthen the Big Ten’s long-standing reputation as the preeminent conference in all intercollegiate athletics.”
Statement from Pamela Whitten, Indiana University president, and Scott Dolson, vice president/director of intercollegiate athletics at IU
“Dear Bruin Community:
“For the past century, decisions about UCLA Athletics have always been guided by what is best for our student-athletes, first and foremost, and our fans. Our storied athletics program, based in one of the biggest media markets in the nation, has always had unique opportunities and faced unique challenges. In recent years, however, seismic changes in collegiate athletics have made us evaluate how best to support our student-athletes as we move forward. After careful consideration and thoughtful deliberation, UCLA has decided to leave the Pac-12 Conference and join the Big Ten Conference at the start of the 2024–25 season.
“UCLA has deeply valued our membership in the Pac-12 for many years, and we intend to be a member of the conference for the next two years. We have grown close to the other member schools and have tremendous respect for their commitment to the student-athlete experience. The Pac-12 has always shared our values and continues to innovate, working hard on behalf of its student-athletes and many fans. At the same time, each school faces its own unique challenges and circumstances, and we believe this is the best move for UCLA at this time. For us, this move offers greater certainty in rapidly changing times and ensures that we remain a leader in college athletics for generations to come.
“As the oldest NCAA Division I athletic conference in the United States and with a footprint that will now extend from the Pacific to the Atlantic, Big Ten membership offers Bruins exciting new competitive opportunities and a broader national media platform for our student-athletes to compete and showcase their talents. Specifically, this move will enhance Name, Image and Likeness opportunities through greater exposure for our student-athletes and offer new partnerships with entities across the country.
“Entry into the Big Ten will also help ensure that UCLA preserves and maintains all 25 current teams and more than 700 student-athletes in our program. Additionally, it means enhanced resources for all of our teams, from academic support to mental health and wellness. And although this move increases travel distances for teams, the resources offered by Big Ten membership may allow for more efficient transportation options. We would also explore scheduling accommodations with the Big Ten that best support our student-athletes’ academic pursuits.
“For our fans, Big Ten membership equates to better television time slots for our road games, but the same number of home games either at the Rose Bowl, in Pauley Pavilion or other UCLA venues. We will make efforts to preserve our traditional regional rivalries and are pleased that our crosstown rival, USC, will also be joining the Big Ten in 2024–25. While we are fierce competitors on the field, we have a rich tradition of collaboration that we look forward to continuing.
“We recognize these are big changes. We value the talent and dedication of our student-athletes as well as the passion of Bruins fans far and wide. The best way to respect that is to protect our program from the great uncertainty it would face if we did not make this transition. Because of our unique circumstances, we believe this is the right move for the UCLA Bruins and the right time. We hope you will share our enthusiasm as we take this step to preserve the legacy, tradition and high standards that have epitomized the UCLA Bruins for the century that has passed and the centuries that lie ahead.”
Gene D. Block, chancellor at UCLA
“I am writing with exciting news about the future for our student-athletes and university community. We are announcing today that USC will join the Big Ten Conference, with plans to begin membership in August 2024. This decision was made after serious deliberation and analysis, and with great appreciation and respect for our Pac-12 colleagues with whom we have enjoyed a wonderful history and relationship.
“We have worked hard over the past three years to ground university decisions in what is best for our students. One of our priorities was to build a student-centric athletics program deeply committed to ensuring that all our student-athletes can compete at the highest level athletically and achieve at the highest level academically. We have made that a reality under our terrific athletic director, Mike Bohn, along with his leadership team, coaches, staff and, of course, our student-athletes.
“Reflecting that commitment, we also announced today that all USC student-athletes — regardless of scholarship status — will have the opportunity to receive direct financial support in the form of Alston academic achievement awards beginning in the upcoming academic year.
“Our move to the Big Ten positions USC for long-term success and stability amidst the rapidly changing sports media and collegiate athletic landscapes. Equally important, we are joining a conference that shares our values of academic excellence, athletic competitiveness and diversity and inclusion across all sports. The enhanced resources from this move will enable additional support for our student-athletes as well as benefit initiatives surrounding academics, accessibility and affordability.
“In analyzing a move to the Big Ten, we thoughtfully considered the prospect of additional travel for our student-athletes. We are committed to devoting the necessary resources to ensure our student-athletes can continue to thrive in their coursework with minimal travel disruption. We know the Big Ten shares our commitment to prioritizing student-athletes’ well-being and academic demands, and we are fortunate we can spend the next two years working with the conference on travel and scheduling plans.
“We are especially pleased that our crosstown rival, UCLA, will join us in the Big Ten in 2024. While we are fierce competitors on the field, we have a rich tradition of collaboration that we are excited to continue. As we begin to plan for our move, please know we will do everything we can to preserve the wonderful traditions and rivalries we have built in the Pac-12 that our students, alumni and fans have enjoyed for decades.
“While today’s decision is the culmination of extraordinary efforts by so many, it is only the beginning of our journey to the Big Ten. Though we may not have every question answered today, we will by August 2024. In the next few weeks, we will be reaching out to all our constituencies to discuss our announcement in more detail and to offer opportunities to ask questions surrounding our future in the Big Ten.
“I want to thank our entire Trojan Family — generations of loyal Trojans who have supported and loved USC for more than 100 years. We could not do what we do every day without you, and we hope you are as excited as we are about what’s to come.
“In the meantime, I wish you all a happy and safe rest of the summer.”
Carol L. Folt, USC president
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Two major college programs may soon join the Big Ten.
The San Jose Mercury News says the schools may leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten. The move could happen as early as 2024.
ESPN also says a source has confirmed the story.
The Big Ten currently has 14 member schools and two associate schools.
This is a breaking story and will be updated.