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Wisconsin athletics: Impact of USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten

A Wisconsin-centric view of how the additions of USC and UCLA impact the conference.
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Now that the news that USC and UCLA are Big Ten bound is official, with a tentative timeline of 2024 in mind, it is time to look at what it could mean for the conference, and most importantly, the Wisconsin Badgers.

The Big Ten is no stranger to realignment after annexing Nebraska from the Big 12, Maryland from the ACC, and Rutgers from the Big East in the early 2010s. The moves helped pave the way for a conference championship game in football and helped the Big Ten become one of the most influential conferences in college athletics.

A decade later, the inclusion of USC and UCLA will undoubtedly set in motion other dominoes in the coming months and years that will further impact Wisconsin.

Let's take a quick look at some of the ways in which Thursday's news will affect Wisconsin athletics based on the information available at this time.

Money

Make no mistake, the positive financial outcomes associated with this move largely guided it to happen in the first place. USC and UCLA's applications to the conference saw unanimous approval by the teams involved for a reason, all of the Big Ten teams stand to make even more money with the two Los Angeles teams in the fold.

FOX and many other media conglomerates are speaking with the Big Ten about media rights deals worth more than $1 billion, which would give the conference the highest paying TV deal in college sports.

The Big Ten and SEC have been at the forefront of expanding the past few months, and their upcoming TV contracts are a motivating factor.

Exposure

Beyond money, one of the other advantages gained by adding the two West coast powers is additional exposure and brand awareness. While everyone knows and follows the Big Ten at a somewhat national level, the conference will now span from coast to coast, making it a national brand. This means additional eyeballs on the Big Ten Network, but more locally, Wisconsin athletics.

The Badgers could see a positive impact on recruiting across all sports stemming from the additions. The fact that California athletes will have the chance to play in front of their parents more often, and their games will now likely be on televisions out West is a bonus. A recruiting uptick is not necessarily a given, however, as all of the Big Ten will see increased exposure, and recruiting is a much more national endeavor now.

Security

The Big Ten and SEC have bolstered their place at the top of college athletics, which is great news for Wisconsin. The Badgers are set to remain in the top tier of college sports with this move, while other teams and conferences across the country are now scrambling to make sense of what the merger could mean for the long-term health of their institutions.

There was little doubt that the Big Ten would be fine amidst the changes happening across the world of college athletics, but the conference adding two top brands only strengthens that position.

Impact by sport

  • Football

Football was the driving factor leading the agreement between the Big Ten and USC/UCLA. The conference adds two of the biggest brands out West, which should immediately improve the level of competition within the conference. With the Big Ten wiping clean the 2023 schedules from team pages, the need for divisions no longer present, everything points to a Big Ten super conference with no divisions in the future.

For Wisconsin, adding two more quality opponents will undoubtedly make the path to a conference title game and a college football playoff birth more difficult. However, it does mean more great matchups to watch, which is ultimately the goal. USC playing in Madison in November, for example, will be entertaining.

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The move to add both teams also essentially kills the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin will play in Pasadena more frequently now with UCLA part of the conference, but it will be interesting to see if the Big Ten uses the venue for conference championship games down the line, at least in a rotational manner.

  • Men's basketball

Big Ten basketball will be even better with USC and UCLA in the league. UCLA is one of the premier teams in college basketball history, and USC is also an annual contender in the NCAA Tournament.

Wisconsin has had tremendous success in men's basketball dating back multiple decades, so adding both teams should make for an exciting product to watch. The Big Ten will arguably be one of the strongest basketball conferences based on these acquisitions.

  • Non-revenue sports

USC and UCLA should also elevate some of the other sports in the Big Ten. They are each extremely well positioned in many Olympic sports, and their academic status should fit nicely in the conference. For example, Big Ten volleyball is even more loaded with both schools joining the league.

Geographically speaking, this will be harder on the budgets for non-revenue sports though. The cost of travel will increase for non-revenue sports, and there is not a one-to-one alignment in sports offerings because of weather. Overall, the increased cash flow from football and basketball should help alleviate some of these concerns, but there are unintended consequences that will pop up from this decision.

What's next?

There are plenty of rumblings that USC and UCLA are just the beginning. The Big Ten is now up to 16 member institutions, and I could see that number climb to 18 or 20 by the time the two Pac-12 schools join in 2024.

Colorado, Oregon, Stanford, and Washington make a ton of sense from an athletic and academic standpoint, while I could also see the Big Ten looking towards the ACC. Notre Dame will always be at the top of the conference wish list. Maybe this improves the odds that the Fighting Irish would join as well?

Overall, I do not think that this story is over. There will be an additional realignment as teams jockey for positioning. However, for Wisconsin, while the fit is not perfect, it does ensure that the Badgers will continue to play in one of the top conferences in sports and that the athletic department will be financially viable. 

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