In recent months, a lot of college sports fans have been grumbling that the idea of allowing athletes to earn money for the use of their name, image and likeness goes against everything sensible.
We’ll know in a few years if these concerns are accurate. For now, though, it is fair to say that if your kid was Joe Burrow at LSU or Dak Prescott at Mississippi State, you would want his hard work to be rewarded for the way it elevated his school’s national standing.
But if you’re talking about something that goes against everything sensible, look no further than last week’s announcement that the Pac-12’s most prominent schools, USC and UCLA, will join the Big Ten in 2024.
This is the second straight summer that has featured a major college sports realignment. Last year, Texas and Oklahoma announced they will leave the Big XII to join the Southeastern Conference in 2025.
That move at least made geographic sense. The SEC already has Texas A&M, and Oklahoma borders both Texas and Arkansas. Plus the SEC is proudest of its football achievements (no offense meant to the last two College World Series winners, Ole Miss and Mississippi State), and the Longhorns and Sooners are definitely football-oriented schools.
But two Los Angeles universities in the Midwestern-based Big Ten? You gotta be kidding.
About the only thing this does is make the Big Ten the Really Big Ten in terms of geography. From Rutgers in New Jersey to Los Angeles, college athletics has built its first truly national conference. The only thing the Really Big Ten needs to complete a sweep of the continental states is to add a member in the Mountain time zone. Give it time. It will happen.
Of course, geography is not the issue here. It’s money. And lots of it. The Pac-12 is in a sports slump, especially in football, so USC and UCLA saw a path to increasing their annual television revenue and making sure they’re not left behind if the more successful conferences become even more dominant.
Viewed through that very narrow lens, the move is understandable. A wider observation will not allow college sports fans to get fired up about watching USC vs. Indiana or Minnesota vs. UCLA. But those are minor details.
ESPN, naturally, is all over this news. Its writers are wondering if college athletics is heading toward an inevitable lineup of two superconferences, the SEC and the Big Ten. Some observers are wondering if other conferences like the ACC and the Pac-12 will even survive.
Like the name-image-likeness debate, we’ll just have to see how the continuing conference realignments shake out. But it’s difficult to envision how this ends comfortably.
Since more money is never enough for some universities, it seems like a matter of time before the larger schools start demanding a bigger share of conference revenue. That’s when the cannibalization will start, and college sports will literally kill the goose that laid the golden egg.
— Jack Ryan, McComb Enterprise-Journal