It took a year, but the Big Ten adding USC and UCLA finally answers the SEC's power play
I’d like to think that when Greg Sankey saw Thursday’s news about USC and UCLA reportedly planning a move to the Big Ten, he shot a text to Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren.
“Welcome to the party, pal.”
Sankey is no John McClane, but for the last year, it seemed like he was the only Power 5 commissioner who was actually making things happen. Just like single-handedly shutting down a terrorist attack of a technology company in downtown Los Angeles, Sankey’s move to poach Oklahoma and Texas from the Big 12 was an all-time feat. It set up the SEC well for its future TV contract and it prepared the conference to roll with the possible pay-for-play era coming in the latter half of the decade.
If Sankey was McClane, adding Oklahoma and Texas was the equivalent of tossing a dead body down from a skyscraper and onto the car of the on-duty local police to get their attention (go watch Die Hard, kids). Everything changed after that. The cops, er, the Big Ten, finally got involved and took action.
The Big Ten potentially adding USC and UCLA, which Jon Wilner reported is expected but not finalized, is the long-overdue response to the SEC’s move. It’s right on par with adding Texas and Oklahoma.
If you think that’s not the case, remember what USC and UCLA represents — TV markets. Los Angeles is the No. 2 TV market in America behind only New York (No. 1). Add in Chicago and that means as soon as 2024, the Big Ten is expected to own the nation’s 3 largest TV markets. If you don’t think that’s significant, remember that the Big Ten still justifies the addition of Rutgers because it opened the New York market. USC and UCLA? Just a touch more integral than Rutgers.
Oh, by the way. The Big Ten is currently in the midst of negotiating that next TV contract. That’s why the timing of Thursday’s report makes perfect sense.
Remember, the SEC’s move was set to move past the Big Ten in annual revenue with Oklahoma and Texas on board. These projected figures were from March:
Will the Power 5 soon become the Power 2?
— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) June 30, 2022
What about “The Alliance,” you ask? Let’s just say it’s as dead as the dude McClane tossed onto that cop car.
What’s been clear since the SEC’s move is that there’s jockeying being done to try and prepare for the next step in college sports. That is, pay-for-play. The bigger the piece of the revenue pie, the better these schools will be able to roll with that.
USC wasn’t going to be able to do that staying in the Pac-12, even if it got back to competing at a national championship level.
The best way to look at future expansion:
Vanderbilt and Northwestern will make $80 million annually in the SEC and B1G.
USC was making low $30s in the PAC-12.
— Matt Hayes (@MattHayesCFB) June 30, 2022
Obviously, you can’t just add anyone. That’s why we’re only seeing the gates opened for the big-time programs. Like, the ones who will truly move the needle and perhaps add value beyond football. USC and UCLA check those boxes. But it’s the same reason the Big 12 responded by adding the likes of BYU, UCF, Houston and Cincinnati. They added arguably 4 of the 5 best non-Power 5 programs to help replace Oklahoma and Texas.
If the Big Ten had responded last year by adding Iowa State and Kansas, we would’ve laughed in Kevin Warren’s face. We would’ve said “that’s his response?”
Instead, the news on Thursday was treated as “oh, that’s his response.”
Bell, answered. Counterpunch, landed.
This was reportedly months in the making. It’s not like the local Los Angeles police station saw the dead body hit the car and said “let’s think about this for a few days and decide if we should act.”
Nah. There was a direct cause and effect here:
The Big Ten created an expansion committee and has spent several months discussing the possibility, sources tell @SINow.
“Something was going to happen to combat the Texas and Oklahoma move,” source says.
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) June 30, 2022
Outside of adding Notre Dame and Florida State, the Big Ten made about as significant of a move as it could’ve. Will there be more moves coming from the Big Ten and SEC? It feels foolish to say that anything is definitive, but don’t assume that everyone is getting into the party.
Would it be surprising if Wake Forest and Georgia Tech were blowing up Sankey’s phone? Not at all, even given the ACC’s restrictive grant of rights deal through 2036. But if the goal is to create a super conference, it should be, above all else, super. If quality was more important than quantity, the SEC would’ve added a couple of new programs every year.
That’s not the case. It does feel like it’s the Super 2 and no longer the Power 5.
Maybe that means the Big Ten makes another move and it lands Washington and Oregon. Perhaps the SEC gets Clemson and Miami, both of which would have to work around the grant of rights contract. Shoot, maybe Notre Dame is nearing a move once and for all, even though, the Irish, too are contractually bound to the ACC through 2036 — unless the ACC also expands, in which case everything reportedly is subject to renegotiation. We don’t know those answers, and if Thursday was any reminder, there are conversations that are off the radar of even the most plugged-in people in this business.
Time will tell how this impacts Playoff expansion. It does feel like with the death of The Alliance, this no longer has to be the Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten walking stride-for-stride with one another and fighting for the Rose Bowl. I’d say the chances of the SEC having its own Playoff decreased with Thursday’s news, though we’re not sure what moves will happen between now and the next time those things are seriously discussed.
A lot changed a year ago when Oklahoma and Texas bolted for the SEC. It certainly set the wheels in motion for Thursday’s bombshell.
Something tells me the party is far from over, pal.