By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Those who claimed the Big Ten Conference couldn’t match the SEC’s power and influence over conference realignment and expansion were sorely mistaken.
Because the Big Ten is on the verge of answering in impressive fashion as news broke on Thursday that the conference will add both UCLA and USC as members.
The Big Ten chancellors and presidents have voted to accept membership applications from USC and UCLA, and the vote was unanimous according to the Athletic, which credits an anonymous source.
Sources at this point have spoken anonymously 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.
That would increase the size of the Big Ten to 16 schools, and the Big Ten would also become the first conference to stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
By adding UCLA and USC, the Big Ten gains two of the NCAA’s most decorated athletic programs and would also tap into the vast southern California television market.
The road trips will be long and expensive – just imagine UCLA playing Rutgers in baseball in late March in Piscataway – but that seems a small price to pay for what the Big Ten will be gaining from an athletic and from an academic standpoint.
But let’s don’t fool ourselves, this decision is based mostly on what the two Los Angeles-based schools will bring to the Big Ten from an athletic standpoint, and that’s okay.
The Big Ten had to show that it had an answer for the SEC’s plans for expansion, and the Big Ten certainly has met that challenge.
It was almost a year ago that news broke that Oklahoma and Texas both had accepted invitations to join the SEC in 2025.
The SEC was praised for its aggressiveness, for its vision, and for having the most power and influence in college sports.
There were rumors that schools such as Kansas and Iowa State were being considered as possible additions for the Big Ten.
But now it’s obvious that the Big Ten decision makers were thinking much bigger than those types of schools.
To add both UCLA and USC is a major accomplishment for the Big Ten, and also sends a message to the SEC that the Big Ten isn’t ready to concede anything from a power and influence standpoint.
There also are reports surfacing saying the Big Ten isn’t finished with expanding and that it might add more teams from the Pac-12.
As for the Iowa Hawkeyes, being a member of the Big Ten Conference brings with it so many advantages, and those advantages will only get better with the addition of USC and UCLA.
Kirk Ferentz doesn’t like playing games on the West Coast, but even he would have to say that adding two schools of this stature is good for the conference.
The Pac-12, meanwhile, might want to consider joining forces with the Big 12 Conference because neither conference seems capable of competing against the Big Ten or SEC expansion on their own.