Smith, Ohio State, intrigued by ‘significant advantage’ of UCLA and USC expansion to Big Ten

Athletic Director Gene Smith speaks to the media during an availability. Credit: Jacob Benge | sports editor

Pack a suitcase and read about the West – universities in California, Los Angeles and Southern California are joining the Big Ten Conference.

Located more than 2,200 miles from the Ohio State campus in Columbus, the deep and decorated histories of UCLA and USC will transition from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten beginning August 2, 2024, programs and the Big Ten announced Friday. According to a statement, the decision centered on four core principles: academics and culture; student-athlete welfare, competition and logistics; commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in sport and financial sustainability.

Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith said UCLA and USC officially submitted nominations to join the Big Ten on June 29, and the Council of Presidents and Chancellors of the conference had voted unanimously to authorize their admission on Friday. Smith said a number of schools have expressed interest in the expansion, some “just questions,” but current Buckeye coaches are excited about the Bruins and Trojans program additions.

“I spoke to Ryan [Day], and he is very supportive of that. He’s excited about it,” Smith said. “Chris Holtmann, he’s excited about it, so they see the vision here. They understand it. They’re worried about what’s ahead of them. ’24 is a long way off for them, but the prospect of these two schools in our league, they’re really excited about it.

University President Kristina M. Johnson said she would be surprised if UCLA and USC represent the latest nationwide expansion moves. Smith said college athletics is in an “incredible, crazy time” and he won’t speculate on whether the Big Ten — or other conferences — will continue to grow.

Leagues like the Southeastern Conference have actively explored expansion in recent years, in particular accepting additions Oklahoma and Texas starting in 2025. Smith said the Big Ten hasn’t grown in response to the SEC or other conferences.

Expansion aside, Smith said the addition of UCLA and USC was “too good to pass up.”

“It had nothing to do with Texas and Oklahoma or setting up mega-conferences for the future – it was about what the Big Ten needed?” said Smith. “Our marketing and media rights opportunities, as well as the great relationship we have with two institutions that match us culturally, were just too good to pass up, so it was more about those things than try to compare to the SEC. ”

Smith said UCLA and USC joining the Big Ten “aligns us more with the SEC” and organizes the conference to accommodate the direction of the college football playoffs, whether it expands from four qualifying playoff teams in the future.

However, UCLA and USC joining the Big Ten will impact more than football.

All varsity sports in both programs will compete in the Big Ten, according to a statement. The Alliance between the Atlantic Coastal Conference, Big Ten and Pac-12 has already paved the way for programming agreements between member programs, and Smith said the pact will remain, so all roadmaps long-distance logistics will be determined.

“For this particular situation, USC and UCLA had to really think about, ‘If it was just football going into the Big Ten, where would their Olympic sports be playing?’ He probably wouldn’t be allowed to continue playing in the Pac-12, so ultimately it made the most sense for them,” Smith said. “They’re competitive, so I don’t see that getting in the way, frankly. , and some of them will study on this long plane and enjoy this time.”

Smith said Johnson, who played field hockey at Stanford, was significantly involved in the process and “helped us move the ball over the goal line” during the Big Big’s recent expansion. Ten.

Johnson said Ohio State is proud that its research spending is near the high end among colleges and universities. She said memberships in UCLA and USC as one of 65 North American universities in the Association of American Universitieswhich bases its values ​​on education, research and innovation, alongside the State of Ohio, has helped make the expansion attractive and relevant.

“Something that is not often talked about in Ohio State and about Ohio State is that we are actually one of the largest research institutions in the country,” Johnson said. “UCLA and USC share that. They also share that mission, and so I think it’s going to bring us closer and a lot of synergies with the Big Ten and UCLA and USC, so I’m excited for this opportunity.

UCLA and USC were part of evolving their previous conference into the Pac-12 it is today for more than 90 years. Both account for numerous Rose Bowl victories and conference titles, bringing in more than 1,000 student-athletes when the two programs officially join the Big Ten.

But UCLA and USC are still more than two years away from nudging Ohio State and Michigan and regularly venturing from the West Coast to the East Coast. Their expansion is the latest wave in college athletics, and one state in Ohio is looking forward to it being beneficial.

“There will definitely be a significant upside. It’s just hard to say what it will be, but it’s major,” Smith said. “Really excited about this possibility, and we just have to wait and see what it comes down to in the end.”