Photo: USC and UCLA Ditch PAC 12
Billion-dollar institutions like college athletics are apparently like most of us these days. Constantly analyzing where we will be happiest, what will pay us the most amount of money, and in most cases what will allow us to stand out from the pack. Announced last week, the two famous schools from Los Angeles will depart the conference they helped found and flourish to join the Big 10 Conference, famous for hosting midwest powerhouses like Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. On its face it is a crazy move that left many across the country and the sport scratching their heads, trying to find answers.
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After all, while they have not necessarily been at the top of both of their games in the last few years (things are starting to turn), they still were held in incredibly high esteem nationally for being the banner programs of stability and longtime success in the Pac 12 conference. While in recent years fellow Pac 12 schools like Oregon and Stanford have also reached similar athletic heights on the national stage, USC and UCLA are unmistakable institutional brands across the globe. So why on earth would they decide to leave the conference that they effectively put on the map? Well, the short answer as is with all things sports and entertainment is money. The long answer is more complicated but at this moment where brands and companies are trying to get ahead of emerging trends to put themselves in a place to be a better of a brighter albeit more condensed future.
USC and UCLA are certainly not the first schools in history to change conferences in a process that is referred to as “conference realignment’, though they do represent one of the more strange and interesting moves in recent memory.
What in the World is a Conference?
Great question. College sports, like professional sports way back in the day, were set up geographically. As a means to be able to more easily accommodate travel between different cities and campuses, all teams that shared similar regions were placed into conferences to compete to see who the winner of that conference would be. In the case of college sports, and specifically, its highest-grossing being football, the concept of “bowl” games were created as a means for the respective teams that won their conference to meet to see who was truly the best of the best. For a real-world example, once upon a time, it was devised that the winner of the Pac 12 conference would play the winner of the Big 10 Conference, thus yielding the very famous Rose Bowl. The thinking being that we would get eyeballs and exposure on teams you normally may not have had eyes on, given the different regions in which you play.
And as we discussed above, this has been in the works for quite some time. In the early days of college sports being broadcast on television, the NCAA, the governing board of college athletics, was in charge of assigning TV rights and game times and slots. Naturally problematic for a myriad of reasons, but chief among them is that this effectively made the NCAA all-powerful and removed a lot of autonomy from the schools themselves. This was struck down by the supreme court in the 1980s, which allowed the individual Conferences to negotiate their own television contracts with different regional sports networks, or RSNs. This is an important caveat and inflection point when it comes to considering why teams with such prestige as USC or UCLA would feel the need to make such a change.
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PAC 12 – Television Dollars Rule All
Essentially every time you see news about a school joining a new conference, it has to do with the school looking to generate more revenue from a television deal and the conference seeing a viable candidate that will help get more eyeballs on their games. Sorry to burst the bubble of it being about prestige or “love of the game” or any other form of expression but ultimately, it all comes down to dollars and, pardon the pun, “sense.”
In the case of USC and UCLA, the Pac 12 conference has done a masterful job of effectively making itself incredibly irrelevant due to poor leadership. Whereas the other leading conferences in the country like the SEC and Big 10 have their own branded sports networks in which they partner with bigger broadcast networks, the Pac 12 has their own network but it does not have the same “carriage” as the other major conference networks. The network is not featured on the high-profile and fairly sports-heavy Direct TV, and is virtually impossible to view anywhere else in the country besides the west coast, whereas the others have a much more national-leaning reach.
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The television angle makes an incredible amount of sense for USC and UCLA to join a conference with a much stronger cable presence like the Big 10. And, this is purely speculative from this writer, but I also would not be surprised if time zones had something to do with it. As it stands now, when USC or UCLA play a fellow conference opponent, most often the games are scheduled for later at night due to the Pacific Time Zone, thus making it nearly impossible for anyone in the midwest or east coast to catch their game. By moving to play schools mainly in the Eastern and Central time zones, theoretically more eyes will be awake and available to watch. While having as big of name recognition as USC and UCLA will instinctively make people want to tune in.
What Happens Next?
Well frankly, a lot. With the Big 10 effectively poaching the two biggest names away from their conference, the Pac 12 is left scrambling now to hold itself together. Will other big names like Oregon and Washington bolt for a different conference? Or will the conference attempt to take on new teams to replace USC and UCLA from a conference like the Big 12? One thing that remains constant as with most avenues of entertainment these days is that there is a significant consolidation effort occurring in college football.
In the modern-day setup, a committee chooses what is in their opinion the four best teams in the nation and have them compete in a playoff, and then the winners face off in the national championship game to be declared the national champions. The conference takes in many factors when making its decisions, including the strength of the schedule played against, point differential, the “eye test” and most notably, whether or not a team wins its conference championship.
Specifically, in the case of football, this has held back the best teams from the Pac 12 from being considered by the committee for the playoffs as their competition has been at the lowest level of the major conferences. USC and UCLA made this jump to ensure they went to a competitive conference that will increase their opportunity to win a strong conference and put their best game on the line for which to be judged by.
Coupled with USC having a new exciting head coach, and the fact that the rights for the Pac 12 TV contract are up for negotiation in 2024, this move may look weird in a headline but honestly makes perfect business sense. It will be interesting to see in the next few weeks what moves the Pac 12 will counter with and to see if we are in for even more conference shake-ups to come.
By Mark Raymond
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Mark Raymond is a writer and screenwriter who believes himself to be the only person desiring to work in film who originated in New York and currently resides in Los Angeles. Mark was inspired to write from a young age and has always desired to connect and uplift others through his work, as those that motivated him did for him. Mark feels very strongly that the world could use a lot more positivity and optimism, and is therefore very aligned to the mission of The Hollywood Insider to not spread hate or gossip, but instead to build each other up and shine a positive light on anyone bold enough to put their heart and soul into a piece of art. In his writing, Mark aims to use his signature wit to highlight the severity of the more serious and pressing issues of our time, to shine a beacon of light through the darkness. A devoted ally to all, he seeks to inspire and use his platform to give a voice to the voiceless and let his readers know that while everything may not be great right now, one day it can and will be.