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Rumors: USC and UCLA could join the Big Ten as early as 2024, per report

Jon Wilner of the Mercury News’ Pac-12 Hotline reports ongoing talks between the Big Ten and two California schools, per his source.

The 102nd Rose Bowl Game - Iowa v Stanford

The Big Ten Conference may have a coast-to-coast footprint, per a report on Thursday afternoon. According to Jon Wilner of the Mercury News’ Pac-12 Hotline, a source has told him that both USC (University of Southern California) and UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) are in talks with the Big Ten to join the league as soon as 2024.

This certainly brings new meaning to Michigan State athletic director Alan Haller’s remarks late last month about realignment coming to the Big Ten.

Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic also confirmed that Big Ten presidents and athletic directors held a meeting on Wednesday night on the topic of USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten. Bruce Feldman of The Athletic has multiple sources making clear that USC and UCLA approached the Big Ten about their wish to leave the Pac-12 to become members of the Big Ten. Nothing is finalized here as of press time, but things seem to be moving quickly.

Both USC and UCLA have incredible brand strength, particularly USC in football and UCLA in men’s basketball. Both programs have plenty of history competing against Big Ten programs in both revenue sports as well. It would also mean Big Ten programs would play regular season matchups in the Rose Bowl on a regular basis. Indiana, for example, has not played in a Rose Bowl since 1967 and Minnesota has not since 1961.

On the academic side of the house, both schools are members of the AAU, a prestigious research organization all Big Ten programs except Nebraska belong to. The Huskers were voted out of the AAU just months prior to formally joining the Big Ten in 2011, but were a member when applying and being accepted to the league in 2009.

As for the financial side, USC reportedly brought in $116.9 million in revenue for academic year 2017-2018, the last year I was able to identify revenue data for the school at time of publishing. For 2018-2019, the last year prior to COVID-19 impacts that data is available for, UCLA brought in $108,412,967 in revenue. Michigan State that year brought in $140,010,865, for comparison.

The two Los Angeles, California metropolitan area based Pac-12 teams would make an interesting, and perhaps controversial, addition to the oldest Power Five conference in the country that has traditionally been a Midwest based league.

However, if the move were to happen it would also mean an incredibly large geographical footprint for the Big Ten in terms of travel. Currently the furthest distance between two programs in the conference is between Rutgers and Nebraska, 1,322 miles by car or two hours and 52 minutes by plane. Now the distance would be five hours and 24 minutes by plane between Newark International and Los Angeles International.

For Michigan State, that would mean a flying time for athletic teams of about four hours and 20 minutes, up from one hour and 47 minutes as the longest flight right now between Lansing and Lincoln, Nebraska as the Big Ten footprint currently stands.

Additionally, it would require an enormous increase in travel costs for non-revenue sports in order to include the two California based programs. The potential increase in television revenue by adding the two programs would likely help defray this burden on athletic departments, however. The Big Ten is in negotiations with media partners for the next televisions rights deal for the league. Reports have suggested the conference may surpass the $1 billion per year mark in payouts for media rights to be divvied up to the league’s member schools in combination with bowl game, basketball tournaments and other shared revenue sources.

The move would also potentially bring some tensions to the “alliance” announced by the Big Ten, Pac-12, and ACC last year in the wake of the SEC expanding with Texas and Oklahoma joining the league by 2025. That “handshake” agreement was meant to help stabilize college athletics and bring a more collaborative approach to the rapidly changing landscape of college sports.

Further Updates:

News continues to break on this developing story with reports by numerous outlets that the move by USC and UCLA to the Big Ten is imminent with a formal announcement potentially coming in the next 24 hours.