COLUMBUS, Ohio — In a seismic shift in college athletics, the Big Ten voted Thursday to add Southern California and UCLA as conference members beginning in 2024.
The expansion to 16 teams will happen after the Pac-12’s current media rights contracts with Fox and ESPN expire and make the Big Ten the first conference to stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
The announcement came almost a year after Oklahoma and Texas formally accepted invitations to join the Southeastern Conference in July 2025.
“Ultimately, the Big Ten is the best home for USC and Trojan athletics as we move into the new world of collegiate sports,” USC athletic director Mike Bohn said. “We are excited that our values align with the league’s member institutions. We also will benefit from the stability and strength of the conference; the athletic caliber of Big Ten institutions; the increased visibility, exposure, and resources the conference will bring our student-athletes and programs; and the ability to expand engagement with our passionate alumni nationwide.”
The Big Ten is building on previous expansion into the nation's largest media markets, and the move allows the conference to keep pace with the SEC as one of the most powerful entities in college sports.
The Big Ten has expanded twice in recent years, with Nebraska joining in 2011 and Maryland and Rutgers in 2014.
USC and UCLA fit the Big Ten’s academic profile. Both schools are among the 65 members of the Association of American Universities, which is made up of top research universities. All Big Ten schools except Nebraska are members.
“The Pac-12 has always shared our values and continues to innovate, working hard on behalf of its student-athletes and many fans,” UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond said. “At the same time, each school faces its own unique challenges and circumstances, and we believe this is the best move for UCLA at this time. For us, this move offers greater certainty in rapidly changing times and ensures that we remain a leader in college athletics for generations to come.”
The move to the Big Ten would greatly enhance USC and UCLA's revenues.
The Pac-12 distributed only $19.8 million per school in fiscal year 2021, by far the least among Power 5 conferences. The Big Ten's per-school distribution was $46.1 million, second only to the SEC's $54.6 million.
The Pac-12 has had difficulty getting its conference television network untracked while the Big Ten Network is the most established of the conference networks.
USC and UCLA would be taking a step up in football, both in visibility and competition.
“Pac-12 After Dark” televised games that kick off in the middle to late evenings in most of the country have made it difficult for the conference to get exposure. The Pac-12 has had teams in the College Football Playoff just twice — Oregon (2014 season) and Washington (2016).
Losing flagship schools like USC and UCLA would be a major blow to the Pac-12, which has had a long and amicable relationship with the Big Ten best exemplified by its Rose Bowl partnership.
The Big Ten, Pac-12 and Atlantic Coast Conference last August formed an alliance in the wake of Oklahoma and Texas joining the SEC. The conferences said the 41 members would take a collaborative approach to charting the future of athletics. The three conferences set up scheduling arrangements in some sports and have pooled resources to promote athlete welfare.
Less than a year later, the future of the alliance would appear uncertain if the Big Ten takes two of the Pac-12′s biggest brands.
USC and UCLA would be severing conference relationships that go back a century.
USC joined California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington and Washington State in the Pacific Coast Conference in 1922, followed by UCLA in 1928. They went together in 1959 into the Athletic Association of Western Universities, which melded into the Pac-8 in 1968, the Pac-10 in 1978 and Pac-12 in 2011.
Ohio State released a statement Thursday night about the announcement:
“We are excited about the opportunity this new partnership represents for The Ohio State University and for our student-athletes to compete with their peers from two storied athletics programs. USC and UCLA are leading research universities that will enhance the Big Ten Conference in the classroom and on the field of competition. More than 25,000 alumni of Buckeye Nation call the state of California home and will soon have the chance to deepen their connections to the student-athletes who run, pass, swim and play in the sports they love.”