The first modern wave of conference realignment hit last summer when the Longhorns and Sooners ditched the Big 12 for the SEC, and now the next biggest shift in collegiate athletics has come flying in from the West.
According to a report from The Mercury News' Jon Wilner on Thursday, UCLA and USC are planning to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten as early as 2024. However, Wilner said the move has not been finalized at the highest levels.
ESPN senior college football writer Pete Thamel later confirmed Wilner's report, and added that the financial disparity between the Pac-12 and Big Ten has proven to be the biggest factor in UCLA and USC's decisions to pursue a move. According to USA Today, Big Ten schools earned payouts that ranged from $43.1 million to $49.1 million in the 2021 fiscal year, while Pac-12 schools earned payouts of $19.8 million.
Thamel also said one Pac-12 source was "stunned" that UCLA would leave Cal behind, splitting the two flagship University of California campuses between two conferences.
UCLA Athletics has yet to respond to All Bruins' request for comment.
There were rumors in 2021, following the reshuffling of the Big 12, SEC and AAC, that the Pac-12 would expand or merge with another conference. Those rumors were put to bed in August, though, when the Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC announced The Alliance – a holistic partnership that would double as a voting block to unite the three power conferences in any NCAA or FBS disputes.
Less than a year later, the Bruins and Trojans appear to have unhitched their wagons from the conference they have been keystone members of since the 1920s.
While UCLA football was not among Forbes' top 25 most valuable college football programs in the country last year, it was at No. 24 as recently as 2018, according to the Wall Street Journal. USC, meanwhile, still came in at No. 17 last year, despite boasting a 22-21 record over the past four seasons.
The Trojans brought in Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley at the end of last season, and they are expected to once again approach the heights they reached under Pete Carroll in the mid-2000s. Those expectations could very well shift with an impending move to the Big Ten, though.
The Pac-12 has not sent a representative to the College Football Playoff since the 2016 season, while the Big Ten has had Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State appear in the four-team bracket over the past eight years.
UCLA men's basketball is the winningest program in NCAA history, and USC is on the rise as well. Again, though, the Pac-12 hasn't produced a men's basketball NCAA champion since 1997.
The Big Ten hasn't had a men's basketball national champion since 2000, despite Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin making frequent trips to the Final Four in that time.
Football and men's basketball – being the highest-grossing sports in the college landscape – will undoubtedly draw most of the focus for this reported move by the Bruins and Trojans. Both schools, however, have over 100 total NCAA championships and thrive in Olympic sports more so than revenue sports.
Travel expenses, scheduling and an imbalance of which schools endorse which sports will all be important topics of discussion as the situation develops.
Whether the Pac-12 replaces UCLA and USC – for example, with Boise State and San Diego State – or returns to a 10-team league also remains to be seen.
This article will be updated as more information becomes available.