Why did the Big Ten add UCLA and USC? Takeaways from commissioner’s remarks

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren on Tuesday morning made his first public comments since the conference approved the admission of USC and UCLA starting in 2024, putting an end to the schools’ near-century-old relationship with what’s now the Pac-12.

Here are five takeaways from Warren’s 45-minute news conference to kick off Big Ten football media days in Indianapolis:

USC and UCLA will be full members

The Times’ UCLA beat reporter Ben Bolch was on the ground at Lucas Oil Stadium and asked Warren whether USC and UCLA would join as full members — meaning that they would receive the same revenue distribution as the current 14 members.

“USC and UCLA will come in as full members,” Warren said. “They bring a lot of value to our relationship, a lot of panache to our relationship. We look forward to welcoming them to the Big Ten family in 2024.”

“Panache” was quite the word choice. Whatever it is that USC and UCLA and the Los Angeles market bring the Midwestern-based, now-national Big Ten, it is widely assumed that their addition to the league will push the Big Ten’s next media rights package well past $1 billion.

And the vow from Warren that USC and UCLA will be receiving the same amount as Michigan and Ohio State from day one is welcome news for the Trojans and Bruins, who will want to quickly make up ground on their new conference peers in the college sports’ arms race.

Warren has been eyeing USC, UCLA since 2019

Warren said that he has been evaluating expansion options since the day he interviewed for the role of Big Ten commissioner, which he assumed in September 2019, taking over from longtime leader Jim Delany.

USC and UCLA, he said, were always attractive to him as targets.

“We had to be forward thinking about what we need to do,” Warren said. “You look at some of the alumni from USC, the Steven Spielbergs, at UCLA, Jackie Robinson, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Stan Smith at USC, you think of all the different positive, powerful alumni who have a diverse background. …

“In 2019, I studied every one of the universities across the country, and one of the things that jumped out about USC and UCLA is the largest section of Big Ten alumni other than in the Midwest is in Los Angeles.”

Warren wants to remain bold

Warren said in his opening statement that the Big Ten is open to future expansion.

Of course Warren did not talk about specific schools being considered, but Notre Dame is the obvious next target.

“Where we are right now, I’m focused on being realistic about the state of college athletics, about accepting our responsibility to shape college athletics, to be bold, to be strong, to be innovative,” Warren said. “And regarding expansion, I get asked every single day, ‘What’s next?’ It may include future expansion, but it will be done for the right reasons, at the right time, with our student-athletes’ academic and athletic empowerment at the center of any and all decisions that we will make. We will not expand just to expand. It will be strategic. It will provide additional value to our conference.”

Warren supports playoff expansion

Warren said he supports College Football Playoff expansion. He also stressed that his desire was for the playoff to have multiple media partners and not just ESPN, which was assumed to be part of the reason that the Big Ten (which has Fox as its main media partner) did not vote for an expanded playoff earlier this year.

“I’m 100% supportive for College Football Playoff expansion,” Warren said. “What is that right number we’ll figure it out. I still feel strongly we need to open it up to have multiple media partners. We need to take a holistic view and make sure we protect some of the critical bowl relationships.”

Warren said that the Big Ten is “finalizing our deals” in its current round of media rights negotiations and that he looks forward to an announcement sooner rather than later.

If Notre Dame decides to join the Big Ten, those deals would certainly take a different shape than if the Fighting Irish remain a football independent past the negotiating window.

“The [financial] target that we’re looking for, we’re still working through that,” Warren said, “but as I said, even regardless of the size of the deal, the thing I’m most excited about has been the creativity of what we’re going to deliver to our fans, to our student-athletes, and to their families. I’m very conscientious from the media partners standpoint not to focus on the money but how we can deliver content in a way that has never been delivered in college athletics ever before.”

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