USC and UCLA, two of the Pac-12’s flagship programs, are planning to leave the conference for the Big Ten as early as 2024, and a move is considered imminent, sources confirmed to ESPN on Thursday.
There is still a formal notification process, as the two schools have to let the Pac-12 know their intentions to leave. USC and UCLA also have to formally apply to the Big Ten. According to a source, that process is underway.
Multiple sources told ESPN on Thursday that the move is expected to happen. A source called the next steps “formalities,” and an announcement could come within the next 24 hours.
A source said that the exploration of finances and what it would take to make the move has been going on for weeks. While finances are playing a big role in the move, competitiveness, brand and the overall landscape of the future of the sport have played a bigger role.
“USC and UCLA have to make the decisions to position them best for the long term,” a source familiar with the move told ESPN. “The future is so uncertain we need to be operating from a position of strength.”
The Mercury News first reported the news of USC’s and UCLA’s planned departures.
The reason this move would be less disruptive than potential moves in the ACC is that USC and UCLA have a grant of rights tied to the current Pac-12 television contract, which expires after the 2023 football season and 2023-24 school year. That’s why the expectation is that both schools can go to the league for the 2024-25 season and not suffer any financial penalty.
Pac-12 officials had been nudging both Los Angeles schools for years to extend the grant of rights. The fact that they didn’t hint that they had greater ambition.
“We just got Sooner’d and Horn’d,” a high-ranking university official at one of the Pac-12 schools told ESPN, referring to the decision made last year by Texas and Oklahoma to leave the Big 12 conference for the SEC .
The financial pressures being felt by the Pac-12 are similar to those being felt in the ACC and beyond, as conference revenue projections — which can vary and are not always linear — have the SEC and Big Ten making nearly double the amount of some of the other Power 5 leagues later this decade. Those financial pressures left USC and UCLA with the choice of bullying the Pac-12 for unequal revenue shares or going elsewhere and having a seat at the table for the long term. The impact of the finances will allow them to not only stay competitive nationally in football but also sustain the support for all sports, including women’s sports and non-revenue sports.
“With Texas and Oklahoma going to the SEC, it became evident for those schools that there was only one option,” said the source familiar with the move.
It will be interesting to see how this will affect Fox’s upcoming television deal with the Big Ten, which is expected to be announced in the coming weeks. The addition of the two schools would bring in both the West Coast and one of the country’s most appealing media markets.
The move is gutting for the future of the Pac-12, as Fox’s added investment in UCLA and USC inventory in the Big Ten means that investments in the Pac-12, which Fox has long owned part of, will be decreased significantly. This move leaves the conference with Oregon and Washington as its top schools after losing the two biggest brand names.
“I was always of the opinion that UCLA couldn’t leave Cal,” a Pac-12 source told ESPN. “There’s no more political state than that or system than that. That was very surprising.”
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff was not immediately available for comment.