Canzano: USC and UCLA head to the Big Ten
Will Oregon and Washington be next?
I reached out to a half dozen Pac-12 Conference athletic directors early Thursday morning. I was poking around football season-ticket sales trends and trying to figure out why they’re soft in some places.
Nobody answered me.
Not a one.
It was unusual. It raised some red flags. Within 90 minutes, the news broke that UCLA and USC were defecting to the Big Ten Conference as soon as 2024. The move was later finalized when the Big Ten presidents and chancellors voted unanimously to approve the addition.
Paging George Kliavkoff to a courtesy phone…
Some questions (and my answers):
Question: Did the rest of the Pac-12 Conference see this coming?
Answer: Nope. A source told me that Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens and his staff had no indication the USC/UCLA news was coming. Nor did Scott Barnes at Oregon State. In fact, nobody in the conference outside of USC and UCLA knew. They all learned like you did — via news reports. The conference and its ADs have scheduled a meeting for Friday, per a source.
Q: Is it possible this is a consequence of Larry Scott’s mismanaged tenure as the Pac-12 commissioner?
A: Yup. The Pac-12 has fallen behind with exposure, media rights’ revenue and finds itself scrambling to keep pace with the Big Ten and SEC. Larry Scott was in charge when that all happened. USC and UCLA are in the Los Angeles media market and knew the television value they’d bring to any conference that would have them. The table was set here years ago when Scott’s attempts to monetize the conference’s football games fell woefully short of the Pac-12’s peers. UCLA and USC, for example, received $20 million less in media rights fees in the last fiscal year than Ohio State and Michigan. I’m told FOX initiated this conversation. Their executive team has a heavy USC contingent.
Said one source: “No way USC or UCLA reached out first.”
Q: Will Washington and Oregon follow?
A: They’re the two most attractive programs left to the Big Ten. Both fit the mission of the Big Ten Conference and have AAU status, which the Big Ten covets. Washington brings the Seattle television market. Oregon is a national brand. It feels like the Pac-12 has to play good defense with the Huskies and Ducks right now. Said one conference insider: “Can’t have every USC/UCLA road game be a four-plus hour flight.”
Q: Who else?
A: I could imagine a Big Ten “West” division that might include USC, UCLA, Oregon, Washington… after that? Maybe the Big Ten would consider Arizona, Colorado, Utah Stanford or Cal but none of them add value like the Ducks and Huskies. Clemson, North Carolina, Duke and Florida State are still out there, too.
Q: What happens to West Coast football?
A: The entire Pacific Time zone is already feeling left out of major college football. Just look at the recent College Football Playoff matchups. I think the LA market would get a boost, but everywhere else? Probably not in the best interest of a healthy college football model to lop off a significant part of the country, but I doubt the Big Ten viewed that as its primary mission.
Q: What are Mike Bohn (USC AD) and Martin Jarmond (UCLA AD) thinking here?
A: Neither one of them got their start in the Pac-12. Jarmond previously worked at Michigan State and Ohio State. Bohn grew up in Colorado and was the AD in Boulder when the Buffaloes joined the Pac-12. But I doubt either put much weight in the intangible or historical effect of a USC/UCLA defection to the Big Ten. This is a business move all the way. One driven by FOX, who was looking to replace the loss of the Texas/Oklahoma inventory.
Q: Would the presidents at USC and UCLA veto the move?
A: The Pac-12 CEO Group fashions itself as a cohesive entity. They move like bison on the prairie. This kind of defection is unusual and will be met with a definite reaction from the other university presidents and chancellors. I’m sure George Kliavkoff has already been on the phone with Oregon president Michael Schill and WSU president Kirk Schultz, who are persuasive allies on this front. Bohn and Jarmond didn’t act alone here, though. They had the blessing of campus leadership at USC and UCLA. This is done.
Q: What do you really think of this Canzano?
A: I don’t like it one bit. I’m an old-fashioned purist. I like the Rose Bowl being a Big Ten vs. Pac-12 matchup, for example. I realize college athletics is amid a major transition but I’d prefer to see the core of the Pac-12 stay unified amid that transition. USC and UCLA are tentpoles in football and men’s basketball. I like the early part of Kliavkoff’s leadership, but he’s now in the biggest fight of his tenure. I’ll have more on the statewide radio show and here in print soon.
Q: What happens next?
A: The Pac-12 has to retain Oregon and Washington at all costs. That’s priority No. 1. Meanwhile, the Ducks and Huskies have to think about what’s best for them. Is that joining the Big Ten? Staying put in the Pac-12? Something else? The SEC? You’d better believe Phil Knight has his checkbook out.
Also there are now questions about what connects Arizona, ASU, Colorado and Utah to the Pac-12 after 2024? That glue used to be the Los Angeles programs But they’re gone in 2024. Would any of the others now leave for the Big 12?
Q: What about Oregon State and Washington State?
A: Those two are in the most precarious position. They aren’t going to be attractive additions to the Big Ten and SEC. The best-case scenario for the Beavers and Cougars is that Oregon and Washington stay put in the Pac-12. The worst case? They wake up soon and find that they’ve been abandoned by their rival universities and see Arizona/ASU, Colorado/Utah gone to the Big 12. Right now, OSU and WSU are in a tough spot because they don’t have a proactive move. They have to wait and hope.
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