I really had to double click on this because I was as astounded at the move as everyone else was.
But upon investigating the rationale behind UCLA/USC’s move to the Pac-12, the opportunity is an absolute no-brainer for both the Big 10 and the two Los Angeles universities.
First of all, conference changes are happening everywhere. See: https://www.cbssports.com/college-basketball/news/conference-realignment-tracker-ranking-top-moves-for-the-upcoming-2022-2023-college-basketball-season/
What you see is universities taking advantage of the opportunities in front of them & consolidating to put themselves into the best positions possible strategically & financially for their programs.
So why are conferences consolidating?
It’s simple: You can make more money together in volume, than you can negotiating separately. If you have a lot of marquee names, you can negotiate for things like TV rights much more effectively than small market names. And university athletic programs are being forced to find more ways to make money to be viable/effective in the future.
But why did UCLA & USC, who have such big brands go to the Big 10?
SEVERAL REASONS FOR UCLA TO MOVE TO THE BIG 10:
I’m sure there’s more than this but this is just what I’ve been able to research so far:
- NIL & ADVERTISING DEBT
The Supreme Court NIL ruling put the power to make money into the hands of the athletes. Conversely, the NIL ruling has taken a massive revenue generation stream away from the colleges. $100Ms of dollars, in some cases & that has to be replaced or the programs will go bankrupt.
The College Football Playoffs represent $600M for the 4 playoff teams today, with $2B on the horizon with the 12-team expansion coming. Schools MUST vie for a spot in the playoffs to be a relevant contender in football and that requires poll & playoff votes & exposure. UCLA needs to be on a national stage to get those poll & playoff votes & that requires playing teams that have a major athletic budget & marketing commitment to football regularly like Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, Penn State, etc.
- MARQUEE NAME REVENUE
ESPN, Fox & service providers pay more for marquee match ups of big markets (Los Angeles, Michigan, Ohio) not small markets (Corvallis, Pullman, Arizona) Separating from lesser known Pac-12 conference members for marquee names in the Big 10 negotiates much bigger revenue for TV game rights. Bottom line: Playing conference games against Michigan, Ohio St, Michigan St, Wisconsin, Penn St, Nebraska, Iowa, Purdue, Illinois, etc. brings in far more revenue from national networks like ABC, NBC, CBS, ESPN, FOX.
- CONFERENCE NETWORK REVENUE
The Pac-12 Network brings in drastically less than what the Big 10 Network brings in & redistributes to it’s members. In 2017, the Pac-12 distributed just $2.5M per member for ALL GAMES vs the Big 10 which distributed $8M per member.
- RECRUITING – EXPOSURE
Recruits/Athletes go to colleges for exposure & the best exposure is being on TV every weekend on the most TVs. The Big 10 has 60M viewers. The Pac-12 Network has 18M viewers.
- RECRUITING – NIL REVENUE
NIL marketplaces/exchanges are far more profitable for athletes – even for Los Angeles – when the athlete’s visibility is broad. The more eyeballs, the more money. And recruits come to the universities where they can make the most money.
- THE BIG PINK ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: “UNDER ARMOUR”
Signed in 2017, UCLA had a 15 year, $280M athletics sponsorship deal with Under Armour… who renegged on the contract in 2020 and was subsequently sued by UCLA. While the matter was in litigation, no money is coming in from that sponsorship & UCLA is out $19M in revenue annually. And even with UCLA signing a new $46M/6yr contract with Nike ($7.7M/year), that’s not enough to fill the revenue hole left by Under Armour.
Reportedly, the move to the Big 10, with the new Big 10 TV contracts being negotiated, can net UCLA $100M in revenue EVERY YEAR.
The move is a big negative for women’s sports and sports other than football and basketball. If I were a top athlete in gymnastics or volleyball, etc. , I would think twice before signing with UCLA or USC and look for another top program with less travel time. Is UCLA really going to charter flights for ALL its athletes in every sport to travel to New Jersey or Pennsylvania? I doubt it. Are university professors going to give all athletes extra days off before and after 8 hour travel days to the east? I doubt it. This does not benefit many of the student athletes who are trying to excel in their sport as well as obtain a quality education. You know, what college is supposed to be about.
Understood. I’ve read & understand many of the arguments against the move to the Big 10 from travel time to flight expenditures to academic impact. And IMHO they’re all justifiable hypothetical concerns.
But they are just that: Hypothetical concerns. What isn’t hypothetical is the fact that UCLA has $102.7M debt that is increasing by $20.1M/yr. Next year UCLA Athletics will owe $122.8M due to the fallout of the Under Armour lawsuit & the diminishing $37M that Pac-12 passes on to UCLA as a conference member, despite it being a marquee program that brings in the greatest brand value & revenue along with USC.
Additionally, one of the reasons UCLA is a top flight athletics institution is the funding it provides to the sports you reference: Women’s sports included. Given that no other sports other than basketball or football a profit centers for UCLA, you don’t need to be a genius to figure out that the end result of not going to the Big 10 is 1) cutting non-revenue generating sports, 2) reducing the funding for those sports.
Fact: They aren’t cutting men’s basketball or football.
Meanwhile the move to the Big 10 will deliver over $100M/yr to UCLA Athletics – likely more than that after the recent CBS negotiations – and provide brand exposure via the Big 10 Network 200% greater than today’s broadcast, vastly expand recruiting reach, etc.
But is this about money? HELL YEAH IT IS. To be competitive & be relevant nationally, programs need money & UCLA Athletics has been unabashed about their desire to be on the national stage for the University brand & for its athletes. This is the only way to do it because of our current sponsorship situation (a meager Nike deal) and the fact that the Pac-12 is a terrible conference for revenue generation.
Additionally, you’ve made several statements above that I would like to challenge:
YES, UCLA is going to charter flights for all its athletes across all sports because now it can. Flights are petty cash compared to the revenues the Big 10 membership will bring. This was factored in and discussed in the presser.
YES, professors are going to give all athletes extra days off and provide extra dispensation for education. This is just an extension of what already exists for travel ball today and the athletics dept already addressed that as well in their presser.
I would be cautious about painting with as broad brush as you are regarding how this “benefits student athletes”. Until I see measurable & quantifiable “impact” on athletes about how students “excel at sports” and “obtain a quality education” none of what you’re claiming has any real basis in fact. University of Hawaii travels for ALL their away games 6hr flights – I should know, I’m from Hawaii – and still maintains top 10 volleyball, baseball, softball & golf programs. Rutgers joined the Big 10 and has 4 hour flights to most away opponents. I’m not saying there won’t be an impact, but there’s plenty of evidence that the sky is not falling as you say it is.