UCLA and USC should leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten

In recent years, as the Pac-12’s fortunes in football have waned – and the league has been crippled by a TV deal that pays its schools tens of millions of dollars less a year than the Big Ten contract – schools like Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia and Clemson have routinely mined Southern California for elite talent.

Beyond football and men’s basketball, UCLA and USC are strengths in so-called Olympic sports. USC, for example, has won national championships in beach volleyball, women’s outdoor track and field, and men’s tennis over the past decade. For its part, UCLA has recently won titles in baseball, beach volleyball, women’s gymnastics, women’s soccer, softball and women’s tennis. Both schools have also won titles in water polo, which is not a Pac-12 sponsored sport for men or women.

Overshadowed by the potential financial windfall is the increased burden placed on athletes, whether football players or distance runners, who will regularly travel back and forth from Los Angeles to distant campuses at State College, Pennsylvania; New Brunswick, NJ; and College Park, Md., for the competition.

The deal could lift a shadow over the tenure of Kevin Warren, the Big Ten commissioner since 2019, who drew criticism in 2020 when his league initially decided not to play the fall football season due to the pandemic. Although the conference ultimately reversed its decision and held a fraction of the games it had planned, the episode has followed Warren ever since. (The Pac-12, under Larry Scott, also canceled and restarted its 2020 football season.)

Meanwhile, the departures from USC and UCLA pose a tough test for George Kliavkoff, who became commissioner of the Pac-12 a year ago. Last August, following decisions by Oklahoma and Texas, the league said it had no plans to expand “at this time”, in part due to “the current competitive strength and cohesiveness of our 12 universities”.

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