This article was last updated July 1 at 10:22 a.m. to include a statement from Michigan Athletics.
After teams from the Big 12 shook up conference alignment this past year, changes came to the Big Ten involving two new — and distant — members.
As originally released by college sports insider Jon Wilner, reports surfaced Thursday that the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles, will join the Big Ten beginning in the 2024-25 academic year. Those expansion talks were completed Thursday night by a unanimous vote of Big Ten presidents and chancellors.
“After receiving written applications from the two universities, Big Ten Conference Commissioner Kevin Warren, alongside conference athletics directors and the Council of Presidents and Chancellors, evaluated the applications based on a dynamic model weighting four primary principles with supporting criteria,” The Big Ten released in a statement. “The principles include academics and culture; student-athlete welfare, competition, and logistics; commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in sports; and financial sustainability.”
The consideration of those schools was likely a long process, but the move went into increased motion earlier this week. As other insiders reported meetings occurred throughout the week involving high-up athletics administrators. Academic rigor and athletic history appear to be key factors in the acceptance of both schools.
“We are pleased to confirm this decision and extend a warm welcome to our newest members, both of which are renowned research universities, members of the Association of American Universities and championship-level athletic departments,” Michigan said in a joint statement by Athletics Director Warde Manuel and President Mary Sue Coleman.
While the move has significant implications for the landscape of college football, it affects most sports across the Big Ten directly.
This transition to the Big Ten is a major shakeup of the college conference distribution. Both USC and UCLA played in the Pac-12 conference’s various iterations since the 1920s. As they leave that history behind, they will enter the Big Ten fold as the 15th and 16th schools in the conference, the first all-sport additions since Maryland and Rutgers joined in 2014.
And the impact that expansion has on football will likely be significant. After hiring former Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, the Trojans embarked on an offseason reinvention that included 14 transfer portal additions. USC is expected to be one of the NCAA’s strongest football teams next season, and it could remain in this state for years to come if Riley’s program establishes strong foundations across the next two seasons. That type of powerhouse opponent will add significant strength to Michigan’s football schedule in the future.
But joining the Big Ten is more than a football move for both schools. Michigan teams will face increasingly tough opponents across their conference schedules as games against the Trojans and Bruins become part of the regular schedule. Adding UCLA in softball and both schools in women’s soccer will boost the overall strength of the conference.
The move also shifts Big Ten schools’ presence in different sports. UCLA and USC both include beach volleyball programs, a sport in which Nebraska is the conference’s lone representative. However, the Big Ten does not consider itself a beach volleyball conference, and the move is rumored to not include the sport. That would mean that both schools would continue to play Pac-12 beach volleyball, but that could change in the future if more Big Ten schools offer the sport.
In other sports like hockey, however, neither school fields an NCAA level team, and no program additions have been announced by either school.
However, the added travel costs and time to compete against the West Coast schools will be significant. With two years left to consider how they will tackle that issue, Big Ten schools have to plan accordingly.
“In the coming days and months, and ahead of UCLA and USC officially starting Big Ten Conference competition, there will be many logistical questions and considerations for the membership to carefully consider,” Michigan’s statement said. “We will be inclusive and thoughtful in the many important aspects of our new conference makeup with a full commitment to a positive student-athlete experience and fiscal sustainability to support our mission.”
While USC and UCLA won’t join the Big Ten for another two seasons, the announcement of the move has a dramatic impact on the Big Ten moving forward. And as news of super conferences takes center stage, Michigan’s conference is one step closer to creating that reality.