Big Ten, SEC super conferences moving full speed ahead

  • UCLA and Southern California are planning to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten Conference, marking another major realignment of college sports.

    UCLA and Southern California are planning to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten Conference, marking another major realignment of college sports. AP File Photo

 
 
Updated 7/3/2022 6:50 PM

The bolt of lightning metaphor was never more appropriate than what happened Thursday in the world of college sports.

Everything was coasting along as normal and a few hours later, USC and UCLA were formally accepted into the Big Ten.

 

The suddenness of the news was shocking, but it's been inevitable since the last college bombshell -- Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC.

At that point, college sports wasn't exactly facing a fork in the road. It was struggling up a narrow path next to a cliff. The schools holding the power could keep inching up the path or jump off the side and ensure college sports would never be the same.

Cooler heads prevailed at the time when the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC formed their theoretical "Alliance." It was sold as a promise to put the brakes on realignment.

But the Alliance didn't even last a year, and they've quickly returned to the inevitable conclusion: The Big Ten and SEC becoming two super conferences.

Reports say USC and UCLA approached the Big Ten first. Had those schools been denied, they probably would have tried to join the SEC. Per school revenue in the Big Ten is reportedly $20 million more than in the Pac-12, and the two big-name schools in the West Coast's largest market wanted in.

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Adding Los Angeles to its footprint will help the Big Ten increase revenues. The Big Ten Network, with its monthly cable subscriptions, may not be as valuable as it was a few years with a growing number of streamers and cord-cutters. But the network's partner is Fox, which is based in L.A., and there are likely to be no complaints on that end.

What's happening is the original Power Five conferences are being culled. The higher-revenue schools are taking control and will eventually break from the NCAA.

Kansas State and Oregon State (and many others) will be left behind. Mississippi State and Purdue, thanks to alliances made 100 years ago, will continue in the elite group.

It is a little strange to imagine athletes from USC and UCLA flying to Nebraska for a cross country meet. So don't expect USC and UCLA to be the Big Ten's only West Coast partners for long.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Oregon, with its ties to Nike, is the most obvious addition. Washington is a likely choice, maybe Colorado if the Big Ten wants to bridge the gap between Lincoln and Westwood.

Eventually, the Big Ten and SEC will start carving up the ACC. That might be a little trickier, because that league tried to use the launch of the ACC Network to make it difficult for anyone to back out. But schools will be anxious to jump while they have the chance to save themselves.

The Big Ten loves boasting about its academic quality, so invitations for Virginia and North Carolina seem certain at some point. The Big Ten would then have all the top-rated public universities under its umbrella (except maybe Cal-Berkley). At the same time, it's easy to imagine Clemson, Florida State and Miami joining the SEC.

Whether Notre Dame gives up its independence remains to be seen. There are already rumors Notre Dame and Oregon could be the Big Ten's next additions and the league is waiting for the Irish to decide. The Big Ten has been all about expanding its footprint, and Notre Dame doesn't do that. The Irish might be willing to wait, knowing it could also align with the SEC down the road, but who knows?

The next moves would create two 20-team super conferences. There's probably room for a few more schools and competition for those spots will be ferocious.

Another question to be resolved is what happens to the NCAA Tournament if the football powers break from the longtime governing body? Basketball powers like Duke and Kansas don't figure to get absorbed into the football-centric super leagues.

In the meantime, most fans will sit back and wish things could go back to the way they used to be. But college sports turned into a money grab a long time ago and the luxury liner isn't about to turn back now.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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