USC, UCLA leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten

UCLA and the University of Southern California, two of college sports’ best-known forces, will abandon their age-old ties to the Pac-12 conference in a seismic shift toward the Big Ten, the schools announced Thursday.

The stunning announcement means that by the fall of 2024, the Big Ten, headquartered in Rosemont, Illinois, will have affiliate schools as far west as Los Angeles and east as far as Piscataway, New Jersey and College Park, Maryland.

USC and UCLA confirmed the move in separate statements Thursday, acknowledging their long history in the Pac-12, as well as the opportunities the Big Ten offers student athletes. And with both schools rescheduling conferences, the rivalry in the city remains intact.

“Plus, it means more resources for all of our teams, from academic support to mental health and wellness,” UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Black and athletic director Martin Jarmond said in a statement. “And while this move increases travel distance for teams, the resources provided by the Big Ten membership could enable more efficient transportation options.”

For fans, UCLA said, the shift will translate into better TV timeslots for road races. Pac-12 football fans have long complained about the late kick-off times set by networks in their current TV deal.

The Big Ten also provides greater visibility, exposure and resources, as well as the “stability and strength of the conference,” Mike Bohn, president of USC Athletics, said in a statement.

Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said USC and UCLA have submitted applications for membership and the league’s Board of Presidents and Chancellors voted unanimously to add the schools.

They will participate in the conference at the beginning of the 2024-25 season.

It’s the most shocking development yet in the radical reshuffle of major college sports, which has led to other geographically challenged preferences driven by revenues from TV rights to football.

Based in Birmingham, Alabama, the Southeastern Conference now travels as far north as Columbia, Missouri, and by 2025 it will be as far west as Austin, Texas.

The Big 12 Conference, headquartered in Irving, Texas, which has a long ties to the Great Plains, will extend west to Provo, Utah, and as far south and east as Orlando, Florida, by 2023.

The defection of the USC and UCLA is a crushing blow to the San Francisco-based Pac-12, formed in late 1915 as the Pacific Coast Conference by the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Washington, the University of Oregon and Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University).

In a statement, the Pac-12 said it was “extremely surprised and disappointed” by the decision.

“We have long been known as the Conference of Champions and we are unwavering in our commitment to extending that title,” the statement said. “We will continue to develop new and innovative programs that directly benefit our member institutions, and we look forward to working with current and potential members to pioneer the future of college athletics together.”

USC joined the league in 1922 and UCLA in 1928, and the Pac-12 now includes Washington State, Stanford, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah.

The Pac-12 said Friday that the board of directors has given league officials the green light “to explore all expansion options,” in a desperate bid to save the age-old alliance.

“The 10 university presidents and chancellors remain committed to a shared mission of academic and athletic excellence on behalf of our student athletes,” said a statement from the conference.

Soccer powerhouse Oregon, with its close ties to sportswear giant Nike, and Washington, which has won two of the past six Pac-12 title games, could be attractive targets for poachers.

Cal and Stanford, two of the world’s most elite universities that play in America’s sixth-largest TV market, could also land in a new alliance.

The Associated Press contributed

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