Weekly Column: UCLA & USC Move East for Opportunity

In his capacity as a Columnist for California Sports Lawyer®, Founder Jeremy Evans has written a column about UCLA and USC leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten conference in 2024. 

You can read the full column below.

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The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Southern California (USC) are leaving the Pacific Athletic Conference of twelve (Pac-12) after a storied history dating back to the 1920s, which now has ten members after adding the University of Colorado and University of Utah in recent years (remaining schools include Cal Berkley, Stanford, Arizona State, Arizona, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, and Washington State). UCLA and USC are heading east to the Big Ten conference in 2024, which includes the University of Michigan, The Ohio State University, Michigan State University, Indiana University, the University of Wisconsin, University of Nebraska, Penn State University, University of Illinois, University of Iowa, University of Maryland, University of Minnesota, Northwestern University, Rutgers University, and Purdue University. UCLA and USC make the Big Ten the “Big Sixteen” and thus the largest of the Power Five conferences—and arguably the largest college sports conference in America.

The Southeastern Conference (SEC) is soon to include sixteen schools with the University of Texas at Austin and Oklahoma University joining the SEC in 2025. The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) has fifteen schools, but possibly fourteen with the University of Notre Dame rumored to be considering a move to the Big Ten in addition to one mystery school, possibly leading to the "Big Eighteen" conference. The Big 12 conference has ten schools with Brigham Young University, University of Central Florida, University of Cincinnati, and the University of Houston set to join in the near future to aptly fulfill its namesake of twelve teams and then some. There is also the possibility of the Pac-12 and Big 12 joining forces for a super conference.

What does all of the conference realignment mean and why it is occurring? What are the new challenges and opportunities presented by UCLA’s and USC’s moves to the Big Ten?

Television Dollars

There is a stark difference between the financial distributions from television dollars and other revenues to schools in the SEC and Big Ten compared to the Pac-12, ACC, and Big 12. For 2020-2021, the SEC is $50+ per school per year. The Big Ten is $40-50+ million per school per year. The Pac-12, $19 million per year per school. The ACC and Big 12 are around $35-36 million per year per school. Individual schools also receive NCAA distributions from March Madness television contracts along with College Football Playoff payouts. UCLA and USC stand to double their payouts every year by a move to the Big Ten. Interestingly, UCLA reported $62.5 million in athletic department debt for 2021. The Big Ten is also in the middle of negotiating its next television contract--think adding UCLA and USC from Los Angeles in the largest or second largest media market will increase the purchase price?

Interesting Scheduling Match-Ups and Travel Plans

Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State at the Rose Bowl playing UCLA and vice versa at their home stadiums. It is a repeat of the Rose Bowl Game before January 1st every year that usually pits the Pac-12 against the Big Ten. If that tradition holds, imagine the increased rivalry between two schools that left and the remaining Pac-12 members. USC playing in match-ups against high caliber teams, in prime time television—not late games where everyone east of the Rocky Mountains and Mississippi River are sleeping. The basketball match-ups with UCLA, Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, and Michigan State will be nationally broadcast games. There is a huge geographical gap between Los Angeles, California, and the closest school west in Nebraska. The entire West, Southwest, and parts of Midwest of the United States all sit between UCLA, USC, and the Big Ten, which stretches to New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Travel works both ways though-it means that half of UCLA’s and USC’s games will be played in the central or eastern time zones, but so too will the Big Ten schools travel to Los Angeles and Pasadena, California.

Recruiting and National Exposure

UCLA and USC already have national name recognition. However, playing in the Big Ten, with additional financial resources, and additional exposure with better television times and increased geography will help both schools grow. Competition will be steep, as it is with the Pac-12, but it creates an opportunity for UCLA and USC grow in all of their sports programs.

The Effect of Name, Image, and Likeness

The college sports industry has changed. NIL opened the door to, whether or not intentional, using dollars to recruit student athletes. Conference realignment preceded NCAA approval of NIL, but NIL has exasperated its recent growth. In fact, the Big 12’s new commissioner is the former Roc Nation COO, which is in the business of representing athletes. The Pac-12’s commissioner is a former Las Vegas entertainment and gaming executive. It would be easy to say realignment is about money. The changes in college sports is about competing. The next challenge might honestly be in salary and talent caps for conferences—at ridiculous at that may have sounded years or even months ago.

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About Jeremy M. Evans:  

Jeremy M. Evans is the Chief Entrepreneur Officer, Founder & Managing Attorney at California Sports Lawyer®, representing entertainment, media, and sports clientele in contractual, intellectual property, and dealmaking matters. Evans is an award-winning attorney and industry leader based in Los Angeles. He can be reached at Jeremy@CSLlegal.com. www.CSLlegal.com.

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Jeremy M. Evans is the Founder of California Sports Lawyer® and serves as Senior Counsel at Klinedinst PC, representing entertainment, media, and sports clients in California.