USC and UCLA Set to Leave the PAC 12 for Big Ten by 2024

Conference realignment and massive TV contracts outweigh regional allegiances and travel concerns as LA giants move east

The latest domino to fall in NCAA conference realignment is the City of Los Angeles.

USC and UCLA, members of the Pac 12 and its prior iterations since the 1920s, are set to leave the PAC 12 for the Big Ten in the 2024/2025 football season. The news was first reported by Jon Wilner of the Mercury News and later confirmed by both UCLA and USC.

Though the Big Ten is headquartered in Chicago and is nominally the conference of the Midwest, the Los Angeles powerhouses now join a conference with members in every time zone except Mountain time, defined most by its lucrative TV deal to distribute its football games, which currently pays out over $50 million annually to each member school.

On its face, this move could be confusing. The Big Ten’s core group of schools (Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, among others) are in the Central Time zone, and the Los Angeles schools are leading a conference with headquarters in California—and eight teams on Pacific Time—for a conference where the closest non-LA opponent will be over 1,500 miles away, and the furthest, a whopping 2,766 miles away.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and Director of Athletics Martin Jarmond summed up the reasoning for the schools to look east in a statement late Thursday afternoon.

“Entry into the Big Ten will also help ensure that UCLA preserves and maintains all 25 current teams and more than 700 student-athletes in our program. Additionally, it means enhanced resources for all of our teams, from academic support to mental health and wellness. And although this move increases travel distances for teams, the resources offered by Big Ten membership may allow for more efficient transportation options. We would also explore scheduling accommodations with the Big Ten that best support our student-athletes’ academic pursuits.”

Whether or not this move bares fruit for UCLA and USC, the moves hint at a concern felt across the collegiate athletic world, that the SEC and Big Ten will become superconferences, with the best TV Deals, recruits, and 20 of the best teams in the country, ruining the regional appeal of college sports.

Indeed, in a follow up report from Brett McMurphy of the Action Network, PAC 12 fans learned that they might not be losing just two teams, as the Big 12 is hoping to add Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah to help offset the loss of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC. The Big 12 had already added the University of Central Florida, Cincinnati, Houston and BYU, but in this era of realignment, a conference can never add enough teams.

In recent years, the discrepancy between the SEC and Big Ten and all other conferences had been felt, both in recruiting and TV deals. The existing Big Ten TV contract paid out more than $10 million to each school above what the new Pac 12 deal, just signed in June, would pay each school.

While the full impact of this move remains to seen, the financial implications are already playing out. John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal reported that Apple TV has reopened negotiations with the Big Ten following the announcement of USC and UCLA joining the conference.

For all the history and regional passion in college athletics, money is king, and the Los Angeles schools know it.

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.