Thursday morning, Jon Wilner reported that Pac-12 founding members UCLA and USC were planning to leave the conference for the Big Ten in 2024. Hours later, the two schools were notified their application to join the conference had been accepted. The two Los Angeles-based schools are set to compete in the Big Ten in all sports except beach volleyball. This is just the latest news in the recent run of conference realignments in collegiate athletics, and many expect it to cause a ripple effect for the remaining members of the Pac-12 and other conferences. Already in the few hours after the news broke, several schools across the country have reportedly contacted different conferences about joining.
The Daily’s Tammer Bagdasarian, Ells Boone, Noah Maltzman, Kaushik Sampath, Jibriel Taha and Zach Zafran offer their thoughts on the future of the conference, what it means for the Cardinal and more.
What are your initial thoughts on UCLA and USC planning a move to the Big Ten?
Noah Maltzman (NM): This is the start of the dissolution of the Pac-12 Conference, no doubt about it. After what occurred this past year — Cincinnati, Houston, BYU and UCF moving to the Big 12 and Texas and Oklahoma moving to the SEC — it is evident that schools are shifting to join bigger conferences for their name and reputation. I see a lot of similarities between this and athletes transferring to bigger schools to gain more exposure which could lead to a bigger NIL deal, for example forward Kevin Obanor transferring from Oral Roberts to Texas Tech. But as far as I am concerned, this is purely a financial move in order to gain more revenue for the Los Angeles schools.
Zach Zafran (ZZ): Money grab, money grab! But what isn’t nowadays? The worst part is that the decision is short-sighted. Not in terms of time, but depth of impact. This is a decision obviously keeping the best interest of football and basketball in mind, and nothing else. What about the other sports? The only positive thing to come of this choice is that the Pac-12’s marketing team will have an easy job of digging out old Pac-10 merch from boxes in the back of the closet.
Tammer Bagdasarian (TB): I grew up a diehard Bruins fan (I know, heresy for a Cardinal). There was an identity there, a unique west coast feel, a pride in the competition and storylines grounded in decades of history. I’ll never stop rooting for the downfall of the lesser caniform (the Cal Bears), waiting for a chance to jump on the grimy Arizona State Sun Devils or holding my breath for a moment that we may, one day, be able to put the prideful Oregon Ducks into the ground. The unshakeable enmity toward our superior conference rivals that makes a football game feel like Hellenistic warfare is the product of more than two decades of mediocrity, but it was a mediocrity we lived and died by. Simply put, the move hurts a bit. It does make sense, though. The past few years have shown nothing if not that the NCAA’s big name sports are, first and foremost, a business. The country’s second biggest media market wasn’t going to stay in a middling conference that has been slowly losing legitimacy for years.
Kaushik Sampath (KS): This is an unbearable loss for the Pac-12. USC and UCLA are the two most visible college sports brands in the conference, and both are bluebloods in at least one of the revenue sports. Additionally, the quality of play within the conference will likely go down in both football and men’s basketball. Both football teams were looking to be very good for the foreseeable future, and both had accomplished and experienced head coaches directing their programs. In basketball, the Pac-12 only sent three teams to the NCAA tournament this past year, and two of them were UCLA and USC. The Pac-12 just hasn’t been good in any of the revenue sports for the past half decade, and many of the programs in the conference have limitations like academics or poor in-state talent that prevent them from reaching the top. These two programs had the most potential to bring back success and national recognition to the conference, but now that ship has sailed.
What does this mean for the future of Stanford Athletics?
Jibriel Taha (JT): It’s unclear at this point, but it doesn’t look great. Aside from the obvious revenue loss that comes with this move, two of Stanford’s biggest recruiting rivals will now play in a superior conference, and are able to sell having more eyeballs and thus more NIL money to their athletes. What Stanford decides to do next is a mystery. Will it try to stay with the Pac-12 and poach teams from smaller conferences? Look to convince a power conference to take them because of the Bay Area market and Stanford’s academic prowess? Become independent? Join the Ivy League? Stanford’s administration will have decisions to make in this fluid situation.
ZZ: I would argue its direct impact on Stanford is minimal, but indirectly, the move further hinders an athletic reputation that has seen colossal regression during recent years. Losing control of the Director’s Cup back-to-back years (after a 25-year streak) coupled with poor performances across many media-heavy sports has reduced Stanford to little in the you-get-some-respect-for-your-sports circle. Now that USC and UCLA, heavy hitters for the Pac-12 across all sports, will be gone from the conference, Stanford fans can’t even default to their position in a reputable conference.
TB: I’d have to imagine that Bernard Muir is panicking a bit right now. Though, for the man who was willing to cut 11 storied programs at the snap of a finger, maybe athletic legitimacy isn’t at the top of the priority list. As Zafran highlighted, Stanford Athletics has been on a steady decline for years now. Maybe this is the wake-up call that Palo Alto needed. Still, what are our options? Jump ship and try to assemble another conference? While appealing, it’s unclear whether the Bay Area college sports market holds much weight in negotiations. Try to dominate the soon-to-be Pac-10? That wouldn’t mean much, especially if Oregon exits the conference soon too. Hire Andrew Luck as head coach and go win a national championship? One can only hope. Making predictions is a waste of energy in such a tumultuous industry. Nonetheless, whatever move comes next will help define the future of a Stanford Athletics program that desperately needs to rediscover its identity.
Ells Boone (EB): Point blank period, this is not good for Stanford. It forces the administration and Bernard Muir to make a decision about what they want the future of Cardinal athletics to be, and given that group’s recent track record with decisions about Stanford sports, it could be a scary time for us diehard fans. It will ultimately come down to how aggressive the administration is. Do they immediately search for a way into the Big Ten or the Big XII? Do they sit back and hope George Kliavkoff and the Pac-12 can hold on to the rest of its members and look to add in outsiders like San Diego State or Boise State? Do they become disillusioned by the future of big time collegiate athletics and jump ship for the Ivy League, doing away with athletic scholarships altogether in what would be a nightmare scenario? The future, for now, is unclear, but a decision will have to be made in the coming months as conference realignment waits for no man.
NM: At a superficial glance, this looks to be great for Cardinal recruiting. Both David Shaw and Jerod Haase could benefit from this if they capitalize on the power vacuum in both football and basketball respectively. Specifically, both could recruit without competing as much against Lincoln Riley’s Trojans – who have taken advantage of the transfer portal to land key players like quarterback Caleb Williams and wide receiver Jordan Addison – and Mick Cronin’s Bruins – who just this year landed two five-star recruits in combo-guard Amari Bailey and center Adem Bona. Hopefully, Stanford will have an easier time attracting players to their teams because these recruiting powerhouses will no longer be in the conference; however, this hinges on the Cardinal’s ability to win games consistently. If this was last decade, when David Shaw was just starting his Stanford career, or even earlier during the Lopez twins’ (‘10) era, this would hands down be fantastic for Stanford Athletics. Stanford needs to start winning again to gain these possible recruits (specifically for football and men’s basketball — the two most profitable sports) — and this winning needs to start with the coaching.
Will we ultimately see college conferences merge into two “super-conferences”?
KS: It’s hard to say. The Big Ten and the SEC already concentrate most of the top programs in the country in football and basketball. But there are a few schools out there that are a powerhouse in one sport but are mediocre in the rest. These include Kansas, Duke, Clemson and others. It remains to be seen how the conferences will deal with them. Also, what will happen to those who are powerhouses in one sport, but don’t offer football like Gonzaga? If the SEC or Big Ten decide to invite these schools then I believe that we will essentially be dealing with two power conferences, and if you’re outside these conferences, certain college sports won’t be worth having from a monetary standpoint. In the far future, there’s also the possibility that both the SEC and Big Ten merge into one conglomerate conference. The demand for the top teams in both conferences to play each other frequently may incentivize this. I mean who wouldn’t want to see a football game between Ohio State and Alabama frequently?
EB: It certainly looks like things are trending that way. The SEC will already effectively be a super-conference once Oklahoma and Texas officially join and bring the conference’s membership to 16 schools. The Big Ten will be at 16 once USC and UCLA complete their move, and are sure to try to add even more. The ACC may be able to hold off on losing members from its 15-team conference, but there have been rumblings that the Big Ten could be looking at Duke and UNC. I am sure the SEC would love to have Clemson, Florida State and Miami. Hopefully, the ACC stays as it is now, and the Big XII gets boosted by the additions of BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF. If the ACC starts to lose members, the super-conference era is upon us. However, if they stay intact, collegiate athletics should be able to move forward under the same model.
NM: Like Boone said, the train certainly seems to be headed in that direction – with a lot of coal left in the tank. Judging the current collegiate athletic landscape, specifically for football and men’s basketball, schools are trending to join better conferences for financial gain. If I were to guess which two conferences would be the “super-conferences,” it would probably be the Big 10 and the SEC, the two conferences definitively the best at the most profitable sport: football. Is this a good thing? Absolutely not. Conferences bring diversity to tournaments like the College Football Playoff (CFP) or March Madness, getting rid of this diversity will only lead to more of the same teams getting into the playoff. This is already a problem for the CFP, which has an easy solution (expand the playoffs to at least eight teams!!), but having two “super-conferences” will further worsen the issue in football, and make an issue out of nothing for both men’s and women’s March Madness tournaments.
Is this fair for non-revenue sport athletes in regards to travel time and other considerations?
ZZ: If you think about current Big 10 schools scheduling for USC and UCLA, it’s not that bad. They can schedule competitions back-to-back, make one trip out to the West Coast and call it a day. Even the football schedule could be accommodating if they schedule one LA school for a home game and the other for an away game during each season. But on the flip side, it’s an absolute nightmare. How is someone with a full course load and involvement in other activities supposed to handle this? Games with Rutgers will be a nightmare: a flight over five hours long in addition to an hour-plus drive. And it’s not like the Penn State or Maryland trips will be much better. And are we forgetting about sports like baseball or softball? Teams consistently play north of 60 games a season? Forget calling them student-athletes, this move effectively strips them of being a student at school.
TB: It is becoming increasingly clear that the country’s biggest programs pay little attention to the “college” part of college athletics. Certainly, travel time will be devastating to the health of many non-football athletes at UCLA and USC, many of whom will soon spend the vast majority of their season in buses, planes and hotels. But what about the actual competition, something that UCLA and USC maintain they truly care about? For most sports, the Pac-12 is one of the most balanced and well-distributed conferences in the country. Once the schools move to another conference, we will undoubtedly see a weakening of the majority of their non-revenue sports. These programs are truly signing their fates as “football schools.”
What’s one storyline you’ll be keeping your eyes on as this story progresses?
JT: How quickly will the rest of the Pac-12 abandon ship? Oregon and Washington have compelling brands, so I doubt they will sit tight. With the Big 10 demonstrating its willingness to disregard geographic concerns, these two schools could try to follow the LA schools. Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah could all look to join the Big 12, and I assume that the Big 12 would love to have all four of them. I also think that the Big 12 would take Oregon and Washington, if the Big 10 does not want them. So will these schools stick with the Pac-12 for now, or quickly give up on the conference?
TB: The Nerd Conference! If the Pac-12 ends up completely splintering, Stanford will be forced to look somewhere else for competition. Proposed originally on Twitter by @PFTCommentor, a nerd conference could comprise Stanford, Notre Dame, Duke, Northwestern and Rice. Add in Virginia and Vanderbilt and you have a real collection of schools defined by “intellectual brutality.” Though the concerns about geography would still remain, at least this conference would be a fun one, filled with powerhouse programs that would absolutely stomp on Stanford Basketball.
KS: What teams will the Pac-12 try to bring in next? I could see the Pac-12 trying to invite some MWC schools like Boise State or San Diego State due to the success of their football programs and basketball programs in recent years. However, these additions definitely would not recoup the money the Pac-12 will lose from UCLA and USC jumping ship. The Pac-12 could try to go the direction of the Big East and specialize in one sport like basketball. Gonzaga and St. Mary’s joining the conference would be a nice first step towards that. Whichever way they go, the Pac-12 offices need to come up with a quick plan and take action fast or else the conference will be left in the dust.
EB: The future of the Pac-12. Will it still be a conference in five years? Will it be aggressive and hold on to its remaining members and look to fill in two to four more schools? As Taha mentioned, Oregon and Washington will almost certainly be trying to join the L.A. schools in the Big 10. Colorado — a former Big XII member — along with Utah, Arizona and Arizona State may be enticed by the Big XII. That leaves Stanford, Cal, Washington State and Oregon State to fend for themselves. Maybe the conference restructures around those four and tries to incorporate parts of the Mountain West Conference, by bringing in the likes of San Diego State, Wyoming, UNLV, Boise State, Colorado State and Nevada. The biggest splash the Pac-12 could make would be adding Gonzaga from the West Coast Conference. That would help to restore some relevancy to its basketball league that was hit hard by UCLA’s departure. Admittedly, it is not looking good for the flagship conference of the west coast.
ZZ: I refrained from answering whether or not we will see the rise of two super-conferences, partially because I don’t want to manifest it. But that storyline is exactly what I’ll be looking out for. Already we’re seeing college sports begin a period of evolution in many regards: NIL, conference realignment, media involvement — you name it. One byproduct of this process very well may be a pair of super-conferences that largely parallels a lot of professional sports leagues. But will the formation of such a system facilitate exciting, competitive play? We will have to wait and see.
NM: Before coming to Stanford, I was (and still am) a massive Michigan fan. How USC and UCLA will affect the Big 10 is a huge story for both Big 10 and Pac 12 fans alike. USC and UCLA are hoping to join the Big 10, but personally, I just do not think they belong. They do not have the Big 10 grit and tenacity that cold winters bring to football games. Try all they want, I think that the move will be a detriment to all parties involved: USC, UCLA, the Pac 12 and the Big 10. For USC and UCLA, they are playing significantly more challenging opponents in the three highest-revenue collegiate sports (football, men’s basketball and baseball). Like I said, I am very biased, but moving to a conference where three teams have made the CFP and another two could very realistically do it will be hard for their football programs. In addition to the team strength, the fans of Big 10 schools are a different breed of loyal. Those conference matchups at Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and company will be tough, regardless of their five hour flights, minimum two-hour time difference and level of team they play — homefield advantage is a serious aspect of Big 10 football that the two Los Angeles schools will not be ready to handle. But back to the original question, should the move happen, I think the main story will be how UCLA and USC fit in with the Big 10 aesthetic and attitude, which I predict will not be the fit they wanted.