Indianapolis, India – Ohio State football coach Ryan Day was at the golf course when he heard news that shook the college athletics world.
Day leaned out of his golf cart to alert his friend, UCLA coach Chip Kelly.
“Hey, we’re in the same convention now.”
Despite a nearly 30-hour, 2,300-mile one-way road trip, or five-hour flight from Ohio State to UCLA, Day and Kelly will now see each other more often. Well, not now, but in 2024, UCLA and USC will join the Big Ten – or Big 16 – making a big difference to the college game.
As for travel concerns, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren and current football coach did not appear concerned when speaking at the Big Ten Media Days in Indianapolis, India on July 26 and 27. In fact, the new nationwide convention was spoken of as an overwhelmingly positive
“As far as flying, it’s the same,” said Maryland coach Mike Locksley. “For us, we’ll be playing games that end up on our schedule. We’ll manage that and hopefully come up with a way to get out there to allow us and play our best. But with those two-story events coming up Very good for the Big Ten.”
Warren cited Northwestern and Nebraska’s season-opening football game in Dublin, Ireland on 27 August as an example for his lack of concern.
“How many young students – forget about sports, but in college – have the opportunity to travel to Dublin?” Warren asked.
Because of that, I’m very proud of what Nebraska and Northwestern are doing, they’re scaling that journey to be able to learn,” Warren continued. “So I don’t see it as a negative, I see it as a positive from an academic point of view. And what we will do is we will work from a scheduling component during these next two years to make sure that we are our students -Create the healthiest and most holistic environment possible for athletes, which is one of the reasons I started. The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee to be able to listen to what they have to say is important.”
The expansion will give existing Big Ten schools a chance to take a break in the midst of the harsh winter months. Purdue coach Jeff Broome was certainly excited about wearing short-sleeved dresses in California in November.
“For our side, we’re excited to play warm-weather games and on their part, they couldn’t be more excited to play cold-weather games,” Brom said. “So any time you can get comfortable, it’s definitely easier to play.”
For Warren, the share in the major media markets of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles was one of the most interesting factors in expanding the convention. Universities in the four time zones will allow the Big Ten Network to expand its coverage.
“You’re going to wake up watching Big Ten football and go to bed watching Big Ten football,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “So it’s exciting for our players, exciting for our fans. Will there be a travel component to it? There is, but we’re going to Dublin in the opener, so it won’t be such a big deal.”
There are 24 Division I universities in the state of California, but when the Big Ten expansion schools were discovered, the combination of UCLA and USC’s strong athletics and academics caught Warren’s attention.
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UCLA is considered one of the bluebloods of college basketball, and hasn’t won a national title since 1995, but the Bruins have reached the Final Four four times in the past 16 seasons. And after Chip Kelly’s 10-21 record in the first three seasons, the Bruins’ soccer team is building momentum after an 8-4 campaign in 2021
USC recently hired coach Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma, hoping to revive its football program that has strong history and tradition, but has been 22-21 over the past four seasons. Under the leadership of coach Andy Enfield, USC’s basketball program has finished in the top three of the Pac-12 each of the past three seasons, including an Elite Eight appearance at the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve got a great conference as it is with so many top-caliber teams,” Brom said. “Normally you’ll have four to six teams in the top 20 at all times, and on any given day, anyone can win. So I think when you combine two quality opponents who have won national titles, who have It’s going to be great places to play, it’s going to be a lot of fun for our players, a lot of fun for our fans and I think once we get to that point it’s going to be an exciting season.”
On the academic side, both schools boast an acceptance rate of close to 15 percent while boasting graduation rates above 90 percent, which is immediately near the top of the current Big Ten universities. According to Times Higher Education, both schools rank in the top 30 of the best educational universities in the United States.
“These are two academic and athletic institutions … who are innovative, who are forward-thinking, who are courageous, that will make us even stronger as a conference.”
Athletics is a big component of that, but academics is incredibly important,” Warren continued. “You look at some of the alumni at UCLA at USC, Steven Spielberg, Jackie Robinson, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Stan Smith from USC. You think of all the diverse, powerful alumni who have academic, athletically diverse backgrounds.”
The Midwest has been home to the Big Ten since its inception, but the convention’s alumni location represents a new form of the Big Ten’s national footprint. Warren said that aside from the Midwest, the largest segment of Big Ten alumni live in Los Angeles. Fitzgerald, Illinois coach Brett Belema and Minnesota coach PJ Fleck echoed this sentiment, expressing their enthusiasm for connecting with Los Angeles-based alumni and potentially expanding recruitment.
“We have a ton of alumni living on the West Coast,” Fleck said. “And now that the Big Ten footprint is really positioned for all of our alumni. I think when you look at it, does playing there help with recruitment? Yes and no. I think it’s ten years First, where kids can live stream games, watch any games, they have all kinds of resources on their phones. But I think it’s really positive for the convention and the league Is.”
Big Ten poaching from the Pac-12 to UCLA and USC can be seen as a response to the SEC’s linking of Texas and Oklahoma to the Big 12, a move that is also likely to take place in 2024. Warren danced to the question of whether it would destroy the current Power Five structure, but Rutgers coach Greg Schiano was more direct.
“We are in a race with the SEC,” Schiano said. “We have to make sure that we and they are fighting back and forth, and [USC and UCLA] Help us make our league better. When our league is better, it helps us all to recruit better.”
So what next? It’s a question that Warren gets every day. This could include future expansion, but he said it would be done for the right reasons at the right time, with student-athlete, academic and athletic empowerment at the center of further expansion decisions.
“We won’t expand just to expand,” Warren said. “It will be strategic, it will add additional value to our conference, and it will provide a platform to put our student-athletes on a larger platform so that they can build their careers, but also so that they have the opportunity to grow.” and learn from an education and from an athletic standpoint.
I want to judge that when we look back 30 years from now, people will say that the Big Ten Conference was ahead of the curve in making these decisions.”
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