The Crosstown Rivalry’s B1G Midwest Move
In a seismic, unprecedented, and surreal day, both USC and UCLA have bolted the PAC-12 for the B1G-10 in what has become the second tectonic realignment in modern college sports over the past year. Taking a page out of the Sooner/Longhorn SEC playbook, Bruins and Trojans fans will see their teams join their nemesis Rose Bowl automatic bid conference beginning August 2nd, 2024.
Fittingly, on an auspicious day in Los Angeles sports, 8/2/24, the two flagship teams of the PAC-12 and Los Angeles, sandwiched by Kobe Bryant’s two numbers have demonstrated the strategic creativity, unbridled imagination, and tactical instincts to thrive in the next NIL-filled, media conglomerated, super-conference enabled era of collegiate sports.
What This Means For The BIG-10
This is the ultimate countermove to super-conference supremacy when the gauntlet was first laid down by the SEC adding the two crown jewels of the Texoma region to the already decorated pedigree of athletic excellence in the South. Now, the B1G-10 has unprecedented media, sponsorship, and NIL coverage over four of the biggest sports markets in America.
Los Angeles is covered by USC and UCLA, New York is represented by Rutgers, Chicago is epitomized by Northwestern, and Philadelphia is proxied by Penn State. Additionally, the BIG-10 preserves the longevity of the west coast’s most unique and decorated rivalry, but also adds the exponential revenue possibilities of two very distinct and delicious new ones.
USC has always been an outlier in the PAC. The University’s emphasis, pageantry, and expectations on football have always been outsized relative to its conference peers. Trojan fans’ willingness to travel, showcase their pride through an overflowing of apparel and “Fight On” chants, along with their brash swagger from countless championships and Heisman trophies, has made USC the natural villain of all west coast schools. It’s why the flirtation with going independent, emulating their other arch-rival Notre Dame, always used to enter the Trojan Family psyche. USC was always the big, hated fish in a small, peaceful pond. Ohio State has a very similar cultural identity in the Midwest, as most BIG-10 fans’ two favorite teams are their school and whoever is playing the Buckeyes. Now the two bullies share the same playground, and as Darwin’s Theory of Evolution has taught us, there’s only room for one king of the jungle.
UCLA has always been reputed for being an incredible collection of academics, athletics, extracurriculars, and social experiences. It prides itself on being one of the most well-rounded, well-respected, and disarmingly approachable universities in America. An eerily similar blueprint exists for Michigan with its alumni and fans. Furthermore, the Maze-and-Blue are desperately trying to chase down the Bruins for the highly coveted “best public university in the nation” crown that has sat in Westwood for five consecutive years. Now the Wolverines and the Bruins get to directly battle on the gridiron, hardwood, and classroom for who’s the most congenial university in all the conference and all the land.
If this were the art of war, one would anticipate the SEC to counter with the likes of Florida State, Miami, Clemson, Duke, and North Carolina to complete its world domination puzzle. Expect the BIG-10 to make an anticipatory counter-to-the-counter on possible alliances with the likes of Stanford, Washington, Oregon, Notre Dame, and Kansas – five obvious candidates that align athletically, academically, and culturally. The Power Five is becoming the Power Two with the BIG-10 having one of only two seats at the table – and all other conferences (not named the SEC), being on the menu.
What This Means For The Bruins
In addition to the rivalry possibility with Michigan, UCLA now enters a conference with more of its public university peers such as Wisconsin, Illinois, and Purdue, along with schools that have the same degree of academic ambition, such as Northwestern. But far and away, the two massive outcomes from Martin Jarmond boldly leveraging his conference connections, from his days at Michigan State and Ohio State to grease the wheels of this deal behind the scenes, are financial and political.
Financially, the Bruins are now equipped with $100M annually from a proposed conference media rights revenue share agreement that instantly makes UCLA Athletics viable again. The Bruins had a record $62.5M deficit for the fiscal year 2021 that was a combination of COVID, the defaulting of Under Armor’s record $280M apparel deal, a paltry PAC-12 media rights revenue share, and excessive dead money allocated to fired coaches. While the Jordan Brand has brought tremendous cultural cache and social capital to Bruins’ fans and recruits, its approximately $46M contract was still $234M short of the projected revenue from UA. Now, magically with one unanimous vote, all those problems vanish into thin Westwood air and UCLA gets to operate from a position of financial strength. Coupled with its extraordinary campus, facilities, and culture, the Bruins have finally and emphatically arrived in the 21st century as a formidable athletic player.
Politically, for a school that was originally named the Southern Branch of the University of California (SBUC) before earning the right for a name change to UCLA, the autonomy of this decision cannot be overstated. For a school having its mascot be a Bruin, because it meant “Baby Bear” as an ode to the flagship university in Cal, the independent confidence of this choice cannot be over-emphasized.
UCLA, for one of the first times in its history, did not think of itself as an institutional piece of the UC System or as the largest public employer in California, but rather as a stand-alone, dare I say “private” entity. UCLA made the best decision for Bruin Nation alone, and for a school that only has 7% of its budget coming from the state, the institution is starting to realize that it’s “public” in name only. The domino effects from the precedence of this decision within other parts of the university will be profound, paradigm-altering, and historic.
What This Means For The Trojans
Across town, with the infusion of $100M annually from the BIG-10 revenue share, the Trojans finally get to realize their astronomical potential on the football field. SC has done a remarkable job in signing Caleb Williams to Beats-By-Dre and private equity-induced NIL deals via a connection to the real estate and entertainment industries in Los Angeles. Troy has also been exceptional in leveraging the novelty of NIL exchange business models in partnering with Stay Doubted to sign Jordan Addison to NIL deals north of $3M. But given their historic pedigree, the Men of Troy are not competing with the rest of the PAC-12 in football, rather, they’re competing with the other blue bloods of the sport. To do THAT, they had to do MORE. In a world where the likes of Texas A&M, Miami, and Tennessee have reportedly gone north of $9M-$10M in NIL deals for individual players, outspending the PAC-12 doesn’t necessarily translate to wealth nationally. After all, for all the emphasis on how much USC was spending for West Coast standards, SC is still only 3rd in the PAC-12 from an endowment per student perspective (behind Stanford & UCLA).
The Trojans desperately needed this deal to finally be the big fish in the big pond. The Trojans get to match their tradition with the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State, but also showcase their Hollywood ethos that makes them so unique. You have the Shoe and the Big House? We have the Coli. You have Scarlet and Gray? We have Cardinal and Gold. You have Archie Griffin and Charles Woodson? We have OJ Simpson and Reggie Bush.
Furthermore, the Trojans also get to excel in an environment with a greater margin for error. At the end of the day, the College Football Playoff is still the prize…now the Trojans can potentially drop a game (or perhaps even two) and get one of the multiple super-conference bids to the national title invitational. The problem with being a big fish in a small pond is you get penalized for any microscopic bite a harmless jellyfish leaves on you. If the Trojans lose a conference game in the PAC-12, their CFP chances instantly go to practically zero. But now the term “quality loss” will be a concept most Trojan fans will get a doctorate in.
The only potential downside is the longevity of Lincoln Riley at USC. Remember, before the $100M and the access to the university private jet and the Palos Verdes mansion hosting high-profile recruits, a key element that gave Mike Bohn and Brandon Sosna the slightest of openings to pursue Riley was his reported unhappiness with Oklahoma leaving for the super-conference SEC. Gone was Riley’s clear path to the CFP via the Big-12. What Riley saw in USC was not just an opportunity to restore the West Coast’s only true power, but an equally clear path via the PAC-12 backroad. Now, that road is closed due to permanent demolition and Riley once again must stare directly at the glare of the super-conference in the eyes.
Riley always felt like a short-term rental at USC until the right NFL job came calling…now that position has only been fortified. This feels like a three-year job for Riley at most now until his agent’s caller ID has the word “Rams” or “Cowboys” on it. He gets to restore USC, subtly exit just before the competition becomes an annual slugfest, and his stock is at its crypto-bubble peak.
What This Means for The PAC-12
Simply put, the conference was decimated today. There are only two truly national brands in the conference: USC football and UCLA basketball. Those are the only two brands that can dominate the conference in their respective sports for the PAC-12 to have true national legitimacy. Before the term “Oregon football” graces our wonderful readers’ lips, let me address that point.
Oregon has only been nationally relevant since Chip Kelly’s ascension in 2009, with some down-years between him and Mario Cristobal. Furthermore, if Oregon was a stock, all analysts would short it long-term for the simple reason that their athletic department’s revenue source is not sustainable. The biggest misconception is that Oregon has “Nike money.” Sorry, that’s incorrect…Oregon has “Phil Knight money” and that’s a subtle and yet MASSIVE difference. Oregon’s entire university endowment is $1.3B and over the course of his life, Phil Knight alone has donated $1B to the university ($500M to athletics, $500M to medical school). There is a staggering difference between Phil Knight and the next highest Duck donors. Unfortunately, nobody lives forever, and after the great Phil Knight passes away, there will be a tremendous void in Oregon giving. Nike has zero obligation to donate to Oregon…corporations don’t actively give to a particular university, powerful alumni within those organizations do.
The Oregon rise is a fad that isn’t sustainable…and that’s exactly why they weren’t invited, at least initially, to join the BIG party. With that said, the PAC-12 needs to work the midnight oil and phones to try and strike a merger agreement with the BIG-12. That keeps them within Power Five striking distance. Furthermore, they need to identify key Mountain West schools like Boise State and San Diego State, along with high potential independents such as BYU, to stitch this conference back together. It’ll never be the same again…but at this point, they’re just desperately trying to avoid being the Sun Belt.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, all’s fair in love and football.
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