USC and UCLA Just Want to LIV Baby…In The Big Ten

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UCLA and USC want to LIV.

That’s all I could think about when the news of USC and UCLA’s departure from the PAC-12 broke Thursday. This isn’t nothing but two American institutions looking to capitalize on a chance to earn ridiculous money. Even though they were already making good money.

And while the Big Ten doesn’t have shady ties like the Saudi Arabian-backed new LIV golf tour does – I don’t think – what it does have is money. Lots of it.

The exact technical reason for the Bruins and Trojans to bounce has to do with conference television contracts being signed and when they expire, but that’s just a front.

Why do USC and UCLA want to leave the PAC-12 and lose all the tradition and rivalries, yata yata? Money.

Getting the money, securing the bag, is the American way of life. That’s why golfers are playing on the LIV tour, that’s why college sports yielded on the NIL deal and why schools are breaking away from their conference affiliations.

And here’s the uncomfortable truth. You’d probably do it too. So would your school.

The Downside

Well, it looks dumb, right? It just looks dumb. Why would USC play Rutgers in football in the regular season? Why would UCLA play Maryland? No one cares about that game. UCLA should play Stanford. USC needs to play Arizona. What USC fan would be pumped to play Rutgers?

That was supposed to the whole point of the Rose Bowl, a West Coast team against a Big Ten team, two clashing styles playing the same game.

Now it’s a really long trip across the country for these, ahem, student-athletes in the regular season.

Sports fans are conditioned to believe that some aspect of the competition is regional. The PAC-12 represented the best teams in the Western part of the United States. What was kind of cool is that the SEC had the Southeast locked up, the Big Ten was sort of the Midwest, the Big 12 was the Southwest and the ACC was the coast.

Now college football looks like Triple-A NFL, or semi-pro football.

But you know what? That’s what it kind of always was anyway. Why pretend anymore?

The PAC-12 will cry shock and dismay – and it already did – but there will be new colleges willing to step in. BYU? San Diego State? It won’t be the same, but that’s Ok too.

People are still going to watch. More games mean more inventory for the networks, and more games to gamble on.

The Upside

We can stop pretending that geography matters anymore. Texas and Oklahoma started the latest college football realignment by making plans to join the SEC starting in 2025 (expect that timeline to be accelerated now).

The Big Ten will become America’s first coast-to-coast conference. And they probably aren’t done adding teams. You know what would be great about the Big Ten? A Big Twenty.

Two 10-team divisions, a loosely-configured alignment. The Big Ten West Champ against the Big Ten East Champ meets in a title game in Indianapolis. The winner gets a spot in the college football playoff.

Now we get to see the rest of the dominoes fall. Do the ACC and SEC form a partnership, or do they just subtly realign?

If the current leagues all just morph into four gigantic Super Conferences, then it’s a beautiful thing. Each conference champ goes to the college football playoff. It can give meaning to the regular season, because conference games suddenly matter a lot more. It’s just now that that conference game is against a team 1,500 miles away instead of 150.

The Truth

The big losers are the middle-class college football programs like your teams in the Sun Belt and the WAC. What happens to a program like Colorado State now? Where do they go? It this triggers the creation of four mega-conferences, it only further deepens the divide between the big programs, the so-called Power 5 schools and everyone else. Does college football need a level in-between the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) and the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision)?

There are already systemic biases against those schools anyway. Remember how hard it was for Cincinnati to make the college football playoff last year? Remember how Cincinnati got a beatdown by Alabama in the semifinals?

Cinderella stories in college sports are what can draw in a non-traditional fan, but they don’t happen that often. In other words, it isn’t worth gaming the system to allow for Cincinnati to get a shot at Alabama, and it’s no longer worth it to give Washington State a shot at USC. The Trojans want to play Penn State every year if possible. That’s what the television networks want too.

Also, this generation today isn’t nearly as tethered to the traditions and the past. It’s the YouTube generation. They want to see what’s hip and hot on demand. They don’t care what happened five minutes ago, much less five years ago.

They respect people (and things) for knowing what they want and going to get it. USC and UCLA want the money. They’re going to get it.