USC and UCLA moving to Big Ten: What it means for the schools and conferences

USC football coach Lincoln Riley watches his players during a practice session in March.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Big bucks

Simply put, a move to the Big Ten could mean a huge pay day for USC and UCLA.

The Big Ten has been a leader in revenue among Power 5 schools since it signed a lucrative media rights deal in 2017 and its member schools are still enjoying the spoils. The Big Ten reported more than $768 million in revenue during the 2019-20 fiscal year — the last before the COVID-19 pandemic — compared to roughly $533 million for the Pac-12. As a result, the Big Ten’s 12 longest-standing members collected about $54.3 million each, according to tax returns. Meanwhile, Pac-12 schools settled for $33.6 million each. (Big Ten newbies Maryland and Rutgers received $27.6 and $11.4 million, respectively, in 2020.)

The numbers dropped drastically the following year because of the pandemic, but the Pac-12 schools were among the hardest hit. The Pac-12 distributed about $19.8 million to each of its members last year, a 40% cut from the pre-pandemic number. According to USA Today, the Big Ten paid its 12 longest-standing members between $43.1 million to $49.1 million, a drop ranging from 9.6% to 20.6% compared to the previous year’s average.

Better competition

The Pac-12’s last College Football Playoff appearance came in 2016 when Washington scored the sacrificial No. 4 seed that would get destroyed by No. 1 Alabama.

Meanwhile, the Big Ten has appeared in six of eight playoff semifinals, led by Ohio State’s four playoff berths. The Big Ten had four teams finish in the top 25 last year, while the Pac-12 hasn’t even had three top-25 finishers since 2017.

The Pac-12 tries to pass off its struggles as “parity,” but it suffered another blow last year when Pac-12 teams went 0-5 during the bowl season. The Big Ten sent 10 of its 14 teams to bowl games last season and went 6-4.

Getting into a conference with better teams and a higher strength of schedule is expected to lead to more CFP opportunities for UCLA and USC and better recruiting pitches as top athletes want chances to compete against the best for the top prizes.

Media exposure

Joining the Big Ten, which enjoys regular 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. PDT kickoffs, will help ensure the days of #Pac12AfterDark are over for UCLA and USC. While the late-night, infamously chaotic games were fun on Twitter, they are also major annoyances for athletic departments starving for fan interest. East Coast fans and media simply weren’t staying up until 1 a.m. EDT to watch two Pac-12 teams fumble the ball back and forth.

Now if USC or USC travels east to play one of their Big Ten opponents, they’ll be almost guaranteed a game that starts in the morning or early afternoon for West Coast fans. Then say Michigan travels west to face USC in the Coliseum. The kickoff time will remain out of the infamous 7:30 p.m. PDT slot to appease fans in Ann Arbor. L.A. college football fans could soon be resting easy on Saturday nights.

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