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 media rights contracts with Fox and ESPN expire. It will make the Big Ten the first conference to stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
The announcement, which caught the Pac-12 off-guard, came almost a year after Oklahoma and Texas formally accepted invitations to join the SEC in July 2025.
Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said USC and UCLA, members of the Pac-12 and its previous iterations for nearly a century, submitted applications for membership and the league’s Council of Presidents and Chancellors voted unanimously to add the Los Angeles schools.
USC and UCLA will remain in the Pac-12 in beach volleyball, men’s volleyball and water polo, the Los Angeles Times reported.
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.
“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 will gain blue-blood programs in football (USC) and basketball (UCLA), and big-name brands that will enhance the value of the conference’s new media rights package currently being negotiated.
Losing flagship schools USC and UCLA is a major blow to the Pac-12, which has had a long, amicable relationship with the Big Ten, best exemplified by its Rose Bowl partnership.
“While we are extremely surprised and disappointed by the news coming out of UCLA and USC (on Thursday), we have a long and storied history in athletics, academics, and leadership in supporting student-athletes that we’re confident will continue to thrive and grow into the future,” the Pac-12 said in a statement.
The Pac-12′s next move was unknown, but adding schools to replace USC and UCLA is a possibility.
“We look forward to partnering with current and potential members to pioneer the future of college athletics together,” the Pac-12 said.
The Big Ten has expanded twice previously 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 will greatly enhance USC’s and UCLA’s revenues.
The Pac-12 distributed only $19.8 million per school in fiscal year 2021, by far the least among Power Five conferences. The Big Ten’s per-school distribution was $46.1 million per school, second to the SEC’s $54.6 million.
The Pac-12 has had difficulty getting its conference television network on track, while the Big Ten Network is the most established of the conference networks.
USC and UCLA will be taking a step up in football, in visibility and competition. “Pac-12 After Dark” televised games that kick off in the middle to late evenings in most of the country, making it difficult for the conference to get exposure. The Pac-12 has had teams in the College Football Playoff just twice, Oregon in the 2014 season and Washington in ‘16.
USC president Carol L. Folt said she and university leaders considered the coast-to-coast travel that will come with competing in the Big Ten. Nebraska is the westernmost school in the conference now, and Lincoln is almost 1,500 miles from Los Angeles. Rutgers, the easternmost Big Ten school, is a nearly 5½-hour flight from Los Angeles.
“We are fortunate we can spend the next two years working with the conference on travel and scheduling plans,” Folt said.
The Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC 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.
With the exits of USC and UCLA, the Pac-12 will have 10 programs: Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, California, Stanford, Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado.
By RALPH D. RUSSO and ERIC OLSON AP College Sports Writers