Official: USC, UCLA join Ohio State as Big Ten Conference will grow to 16 teams in 2024

·4 min read

Southern California and UCLA are leaving the Pac-12 to join the Big Ten starting in 2024, the schools announced Thursday night.

The bombshell news will reshape college sports, turning the Big Ten from a Midwest/Eastern conference geographically to a national one while poaching two of the Pac-12's marquee programs. The Big Ten will have 16 schools after admitting the Los Angeles-based schools in a unanimous vote by the chancellors and presidents.

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USC and UCLA moving to the Big Ten is akin to the move last year by Texas and Oklahoma to the Southeastern Conference. That move, however, was less of a geographical shift than adding the Trojans and Bruins would be for the Big Ten.

In a statement, the Pac-12 said it was surprised and disappointed by the defections.

The move was initiated by USC and UCLA, not the Big Ten, according to USA Today.

Ohio State issued a statement on behalf of president Kristina Johnson and athletic director Gene Smith welcoming USC and UCLA to the Big Ten.

“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," the statement read. "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.”

Big Ten power could rival SEC with expansion

With the addition of USC and UCLA, the Big Ten and SEC will become the dominant Power-5 conferences. It severely weakens the Pac-12, which already has a less-lucrative media-rights contract than those two schools. USC has traditionally been the conference's top football program, though the Trojans have been prone to boom-and-bust cycles. USC recently hired Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma with the expectation of another resurgence.

UCLA has not been as successful historically in football as its cross-town rival. But its men's basketball program dominated under John Wooden and made the NCAA Final Four under former University of Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin.

Both schools are among the elite nationally in several other sports, including volleyball, tennis, baseball and softball. Men's volleyball is not a Big Ten sport. Ohio State competes in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association.

The Big Ten last expanded when Maryland and Rutgers joined the conference in 2014. Nebraska joined in 2011.

What does Big Ten Conference expansion mean for the conference?

The addition of USC and UCLA gives the conference a presence in the country's top three media markets. Rutgers gave the Big Ten a spot in New York, though the Scarlet Knights are only a speck in the area's sporting scene. Northwestern is in Evanston, an adjoining suburb of Chicago.

It was just last August that Big Ten commission Warren, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff and ACC commissioner Jim Phillips announced that the three conferences had formed what was called The Alliance, which was designed to provide strength in numbers against the Southeastern Conference's growing clout.

"Hopefully, this alliance will really stabilize the different issues that we're facing in college athletics," Warren said then.

"We need to make sure that we have shared values. We keep academics first. We keep our integrity and honor and collaboration together. And I look forward to not only the coming days and the coming months, but also the coming years, and the impact of us forming this alliance will have on college athletics as we look over the horizon."

When asked if there was a signed contract to prevent one league from poaching schools from another, Kliavkoff replied, "There's no signed contract. There's an agreement among three gentlemen, and there is a commitment from 41 presidents and chancellors and 41 athletic directors to do what we say we're going to do. If there's any lack of specificity in the press release, it's because we want to make sure we could deliver 100% of what we promised. So we're aligned in how we want to approach this, but there's no contract. There's no signed document and there doesn't need to be."

Bill Rabinowitz covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at brabinowitz@dispatch.com or on Twitter @brdispatch.

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio State, Big Ten Conference welcome USC, UCLA