AP source: USC, UCLA in process of joining Big Ten

UCLA running back Kazmeir Allen, left, makes a touchdown catch as Southern California...
UCLA running back Kazmeir Allen, left, makes a touchdown catch as Southern California cornerback Isaac Taylor-Stuart defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Los Angeles.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Published: Jun. 30, 2022 at 5:21 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

UCLA and Southern California are planning to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten Conference in a surprising move that could lead to another major realignment of college sports.

A person who has been briefed on the discussions between USC, UCLA and the Big Ten said the schools have taken steps to request an invitation to join the conference. The person spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday on condition of anonymity because the schools’ talks with the Big Ten have not been made public.

The move would come as soon as 2024, after the Pac-12′s current media rights contracts with Fox and ESPN expire, and increase the size of the Big Ten to 16 schools.

The decision by the Los Angeles schools — two of the NCAA’s most decorated athletic programs — comes almost a year after Oklahoma and Texas formally accepted invitations to join the Southeastern Conference in July 2025.

The Big Ten would become the first conference to stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific, build on previous expansion into the nation’s largest media markets and help the league keep pace with the SEC as one of the most powerful entities in college sports.

Big Ten leadership, including the council of presidents and chancellors, would still have to sign off on extending an invitation to the two schools.

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.

The move to the Big Ten would greatly enhance USC and UCLA’s 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).

Losing flagship schools like USC and UCLA would be 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.

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 uncertain if the Big Ten takes two of the Pac-12′s biggest brands.

USC and UCLA would be severing conference relationships that go back a century.

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 into the Athletic Association of Western Universities, which melded into the Pac-8 in 1968, the Pac-10 in 1978 and Pac-12 in 2011.