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USC, UCLA Will Leave Pac-12 to Join Big Ten in 2024

The move is a done deal and will greatly impact Cal and the conference. Will Cal or other schools leave the Pac-12 too? The Pac-12 issues a statement

The move of UCLA and USC from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten is complete, based on confirmation by the two schools and numerous reports Thursday evening. This will have a major impact on the Pac-12 in general and Cal in particular.

USC and UCLA have confirmed they are moving to the Big Ten and will compete in their new conference starting in 2024.  That means two more uncomfortable years facing the Trojans and Bruins in Pac-12 football, basketball and all other sports. It also means the other 10 schools in the Pac-12 have to determine if they want to stay in the Pac-12 (Pac-10?) past the 2023-24 school year, or which schools will be invited to join the Pac-12.

UCLA released a report confirming the move to the Big Ten, and USC released a similar report confirming the move..

ESPN.com cited the following statements from USC and UCLA officials on the move.

"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 in a statement. "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."

UCLA chancellor Gene Block and athletic director Martin Jamond said in a statement: "Entry into the Big Ten will also help ensure that UCLA preserves and maintains all 25 current teams and more than 700 student-athletes in our program. Additionally, it means enhanced resources for all of our teams, from academic support to mental health and wellness. And although this move increases travel distances for teams, the resources offered by Big Ten membership may allow for more efficient transportation options. We would also explore scheduling accommodations with the Big Ten that best support our student-athletes' academic pursuits."

The Pac-12 issued the following statement:

While we are extremely surprised and disappointed by the news coming out of UCLA and USC today, 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 is home to many of the world’s best universities, athletic programs and alumni, representing one of the most dynamic regions in the United States. We’ve long been known as the Conference of Champions, and we’re unwavering in our commitment to extend that title. We will continue to develop new and innovative programs that directly benefit our member institutions, and we look forward to partnering with current and potential members to pioneer the future of college athletics together.

That statement includes no hint of what the Pac-12 will do now. That may be because the conference may not know what to do next. It is probably still formulating possible strategies regarding the addition of two other schools or staying with 10 members and providing incentives for the remaining Pac-12 schools to stay in the conference. 

And what will Cal do? Will the Golden Bears and athletic director Jim Knowlton sit tight and see what develops, or will they look for another conference to join, perhaps the Big 12. Or would Cal -- and possibly Stanford -- try to join USC and UCLA in the Big Ten.

***Cal options now that USC and UCLA are gone

Boise State and San Diego State would seem like the leading candidates to join the Pac-12, with Fresno State and TCU also being in contention. The real coup would be if the Pac-12 could persuade Notre Dame to join the Pac-12. Would FCS powerhouse North Dakota State enter the Pac-12 conversation? The names of other schools -- such as BYU, Houston, Oklahoma State and Kansas -- have also been floated as Pac-12 candidates, although those seem less likely. 

But the simple truth is that no two outside schools can adequately take the place of USC and UCLA.

Meanwhile the Kansas City Star is already inviting readers to cast their vote for the Pac-12 schools they would like the Big 12 to invite. It's a god bet the Big 12, which is losing Oklahoma and Texas, would be interested in luring one of the Pac-12 top remaining drawing cards to its conference. Would Colorado go back to the Big 12? Would Washington or Oregon or Utah leave? 

USA Today reported the news of a possible move Thursday morning, and its early story included this telling excerpt:

Losing the two schools to the Big Ten would be devastating for the Pac-12 and could lead to another round of conference realignment impacting every league in the Power Five.

It's clear that the departure of USC, the Pac-12's most prestigious football school, and UCLA, the Pac-12's most respected basketball program, will be a major problem for the Pac-12 in general and Cal in particular. Los Angeles is a major media center and the loss of that market is a huge blow.  

UCLA's relationship to Cal apparently made UCLA hesitant to make the move to the Big Ten, as noted here:

Cal Sports Report requested a comment from Knowlton in response to the news, but Knowlton is making no public statement at this time.

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Cal relies on its rivalries with the two Los Angeles schools for much of its exposure and revenue. When the Pac-10 became the Pac-12 with the idea of creating two six-team divisions based on regional proximity, Cal would not agree to putting Cal in a different division from UCLA and USC until it was stipulated that Cal would still play USC and UCLA every year in football. (Teams from one division typically play only four teams from other division each season.)

As it stands, either USC or UCLA comes to Berkeley each season. Aside from the Big Game against Stanford, the Bears' home game against either USC or UCLA typically draws the most interest from fans and has the highest attendance.

Would the Golden Bears want to stay in a conference that does not include USC and UCLA? Would Cal look to join another conference? Would Cal consult with its rival, Stanford, to see what they want to do as a pair in terms of conference affiliation?

And what would that mean for the Pac-12? A conference that is already suffering image problems in football would slide further in terms of its prestige.

Which schools would the Pac-12 pursue to maintain its 12-team structure? Or would it go back to being the Pac-10?

Can the Pac-12 maintain its status as a Power Five football conference without USC and UCLA?

Will Washington, Oregon and/or Utah decide to leave the Pac-12 as well?

Two ESPN.com reporters responded to the question: What's next for the Pac-12?

Kyle Bonagura: The Pac-12 as a conference and the other member schools were completely caught off-guard by this move. It's going to take some time to have any real sense of what happens for the conference because schools such as Oregon and Washington have clear incentive to leave as a form of self-preservation. Do other schools recognize this and also seek preservation options? Do Utah and Colorado look to the Big 12? If the Pac-12 seeks replacement options, schools such as San Diego State or Boise State do very little to make up for the loss of USC and UCLA. This has the potential to serve as essentially a death blow for the Pac-12. It can still exist but the idea that it can compete in the national landscape without the Los Angeles schools is absurd.

Paolo Uggetti: As one rival Pac-12 staffer put it soon after the news surfaced, this is great for the L.A. programs but the toughest possible outcome for the rest of a conference that was already struggling.

There's a real sense of surprise among those schools that were likely banking on USC's boomerang to the top of the conference to have a positive trickle-down effect. Now, the Pac-12's marquee program is gone and what's left is a lot of questions for commissioner George Kliavkoff to answer.

For those L.A. schools, it's easy to understand the incentive. Should Oregon and Washington, maybe even Utah, follow, the conference can wave goodbye to any semblance of prestige or power.

Athlon Sports also addressed the question of what's next for the Pac-12 through Steven Lassan and Ben Weinrib:

Steven: Stating the obvious first: Losing USC and UCLA would be massive for the conference. Those two programs are great brands and two teams with the ability, resources and recruiting footprint to compete at a high level. Without USC and UCLA, the Pac-12 certainly takes a hit in the conference rankings, and it's fair to wonder what is next in terms of membership or realignment. The Pac-12 can't replace the brands of USC and UCLA, so who can they add that moves the needle? Also, the Pac-12 should be worried about the Big Ten coming for more of its members. The first move for commissioner George Kliavkoff should be to shore up the 10 remaining members. Is expansion necessary or could the Pac-12 remain at 10 for a while? If expansion is a must, the conference could look to programs like Boise State, BYU, Houston, Oklahoma State, or Kansas to bolster the membership.

 Ben: The Pac-12 needs to come up with answers fast because the other conferences will be circling like vultures. The Big 12 did a great job of making sure no other members left when Texas and Oklahoma bolted for the SEC, but they've picked off some of the low-hanging G5 fruit like BYU and Houston who could've been good fits. Boise State is an obvious fit, and San Diego State could help make sure they have a footprint in Southern California. Perhaps it's wishful thinking to consider North Dakota State and other FCS teams as an option, but the Pac-12 will likely have to look beyond the west coast to stay relevant.

No doubt there are other ramifications that have not yet been considered.

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Cover photo by Richard Mackson, USA TODAY Sports

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