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Ohio State’s Kristina M. Johnson, Gene Smith Discuss Big Ten’s Addition Of UCLA, USC

"You have two institutions that have great history and tradition in everything, not just athletics, but academics ... They just align with us."

Ohio State university president Kristina M. Johnson and athletic director Gene Smith met with the media for roughly 35 minutes on Friday morning to discuss the Big Ten’s addition of UCLA and USC, which will begin conference play in 2024.

Here’s a bullet-point recap of what Johnson and Smith had to say:

  • “We’re just so excited about our future. It’s phenomenal,” Smith said.
  • Johnson mentioned there are 25,000 alumni in California, the most in the country.
  • “Something that is often talked about is we are actually one of the largest research institutions in the country,” Johnson said. “UCLA and USC share that mission, as well.”
  • Smith said UCLA and USC submitted formal application on Thursday morning. A conference call immediately followed.
  • “There have been overtures over time from different schools about the Big Ten,” Smith said.
  • Smith on the potential for more teams to be added to the Big Ten: “Obviously, we’re in an unbelievable, crazy time in college athletics with many moving parts … I wish I had a crystal ball.” Added he wouldn’t have been able to project these additions a few months ago.
  • “Geographically, it seems really challenging,” Smith said. “But when you think about it, we have a number of Olympic sports that compete in (Los Angeles) or compete in Washington or compete in Texas, so they go those long distances.”
  • Smith acknowledged that travel may be tougher for other schools in the league, but has no concern for Ohio State. “The flights to L.A. are really outstanding.”
  • Johnson said she would be “surprised” if this is the last move from a conference realignment standpoint. “I think it’s too early to tell now.”
  • Johnson mentioned her time as a student-athlete at Stanford as a reason she’s excited about the addition of UCLA and USC. “I’m excited about the opportunity for them to have another venue to compete in nationally.”
  • Smith said this move wasn’t a response to the SEC adding Oklahoma and Texas. “This helps move the needle (with television partners). It had nothing to do with Texas and Oklahoma or us setting up mega-conferences for the future.”
  • “At the end of the day, we needed to look at what’s best for our 14 schools,” Smith said.
  • Smith said the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 Alliance is still exists, but the “fallout from this move is still fresh.”
  • On if other Pac-12 school could soon join the Big Ten, Smith said, “I really can’t answer that. We’ve been so focused on these two.”
  • Smith said the addition of UCLA and USC takes some of the weight off of Ohio State’s shoulders in terms of carrying the conference. “Ohio State has been a program for the Big Ten over the years that has been at the top of the pyramid. Now we have two others who can contribute to that weight.”
  • “You have two institutions that have great history and tradition in everything, not just athletics, but academics,” Smith said. “They just align with us.”
  • Smith said it doesn’t change anything regarding the Big Ten and Pac-12’s contract with the Rose Bowl. “I haven’t heard anything from our commissioner (Kevin Warren) about the Rose Bowl.”
  • Smith on Notre Dame: “I love my alma mater, except when we play them, and I’ve always thought they should be in a conference … I hope they're considering that, and I hope it’s the Big Ten.”
  • “The Big Ten and SEC separated themselves prior to this,” Smith said. “This solidifies that even more.”
  • Smith noted how the Big Ten will have member schools in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago – the three largest televisions in the country.
  • Smith said that Ryan Day and Chris Holtmann are very supportive and excited about the additions of UCLA and USC. “They see the vision for this thing.” He notes that 2024 is still a long way away for them.
  • Smith noted the only time he considered leaving the Big Ten (and going Independent) was during the COVID-19 pandemic. "My emotions were driving me more than my rational thinking ... There's no reason to think about leaving something that is very strong, and we just made it stronger."

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