In a landmark college football defining move, the USC Trojans and the UCLA Bruins have signed their national letter of intent to join the Big Ten’s 2024 class. A move that was both unexpected and unsurprising in the same instance has shaken college football to its core.
If you woke up on Thursday expecting this move, then you are either a university president at one of these 16 schools, or you should pay the lottery because you can see the future. This move was made in silence, with back-room conversations, secret Zoom meetings, and confidential feasibility studies. In one swift motion, the Big Ten has ended the Alliance, potentially ended the Pac-12, and set off another round of realignment. The impact of this decision will touch every corner of college football for years to come.
We may never know if this move was a reaction to the 2022 stunner of the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners moving to the SEC. If you ask Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith, and they did, he will tell you, “Our marketing and media rights opportunities along with the relationship with two institutions that fit us were too good to pass up.”
He’s not entirely wrong. The Big Ten would be a laughingstock if they turned down USC and UCLA. Adding them in 2024 at the beginning of their new media deal alone is reason enough, as now the Big Ten stretches from coast to coast and lays claim to five of the top seven TV markets — including the top three in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Whether they were playing catch up to the SEC or not, this move continues to keep the Big Ten in a class of its own. Off the field, the Big Ten is easily the biggest conference. It has the most blue bloods, the best TV markets, rabid fan bases, schools in major cities — not just college towns — and the most lucrative TV contract. This move only furthers that for the conference, but it also may help the Big Ten catch up in the one place it has fallen behind: National Championships.
The Big Ten hasn’t won a football national championship since 2014, when the Ohio State Buckeyes won. They haven’t won a basketball national championship since 2000, when Michigan State brought home the title. In one colossal move, the conference has added another contender in football with USC and will soon join the SEC in calling for a 12-team playoff with as many at-large bids as possible to increase their chances of bringing home the trophy. The same can be said in basketball with UCLA.
This move not only makes the conference better, but should light a spark under some programs who have settled for mediocre coaches, mediocre facilities, and overall just non-serious athletic departments. This move signifies the future of the Big Ten, including the removal of divisions. No longer can you you hide behind winning the weaker West division every few years. No more can you accept being the fourth-best team out of seven, as that can quick turn into the 10th best team out of 16, which has an entirely different ring to it.
The reverberations of this move are not quantifiable right now, but no one is safe — not even the coaches who signed 10-year contracts. Buyouts don’t matter when your school is bringing in over a $100 million dollars annually.
The Big Ten and the SEC have college football in the palm of their hands. The Pac-12 only survives if the Big Ten decides not to take two or even four more teams. It has been reported that Oregon and Washington have already reached out to the Big Ten to inquire about membership. The ACC, while more protected by its outrageous grant of rights, only survives if the SEC doesn’t poach Clemson, Florida State and Miami — teams that must be looking at this movement and the money being thrown around and trying to find any loophole out of that deal.
The ACC must hope that Notre Dame joins full time in football. But let’s be honest, if they’re joining a conference, are they joining the ACC with its 20-year TV deal or the Big Ten where they can play USC, Michigan, and Ohio State on an annual or semi-annual basis.
I have been calling for the Big Ten to stop playing with its food and recognize that it’s only competition in this sport is the SEC. The SEC for years has been willing to utilize its power to influence the sport, while the Big Ten was more comfortable being a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing pretending to understand the plight of the sheep. This move solidifies the Big Ten as a wolf, one of two, and sets the stage for a split in the Power Five.
The Power Five is a thing of the past. There are two elite conferences, three power conferences, and the Group of Five. The move has re-opened the can on realignment that will easily surpass anything we’ve ever seen before. The Big 12, once dizzy and reeling from an SEC haymaker, has a chance to put a dagger in the Pac-12 by adding Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah. Does Oregon and Washington want to stay in the Pac-12? Their first hope is joining the Big Ten, but if that doesn’t work would they consider joining the Big 12? Who else could look to jump ship? Stanford and Cal? What happens with Oregon State and Washington State? The Pac-12 has been put on notice.
The impact of this move won’t be fully realized for years to come, but in the short term the Big Ten is going to be beneficiaries of the largest media deal college football has ever seen. There will be talks of Big Ten Championships in the Rose Bowl and Sofi Stadium. There will be Ohio State vs. USC Big Ten Championship Games, and if all goes to plan, there will be more national champions standing at the top of the mountain with the Big Ten patch on their chest.
Kevin Warren has stepped into his own as commissioner, and the Big Ten has shed its wool and announced itself as a wolf to all of college football. May the odds be in your favor to anyone who tries to get in their way.