USC and UCLA to the Big Ten is official. What does their move mean for Iowa athletics?
A bombshell announcement shifted the college athletics landscape Thursday, and the University of Iowa finds itself in the middle of the fallout.
USC and UCLA will become members of the Big Ten Conference starting with the 2024-25 school year, per announcements from both Los Angeles schools, the Big Ten and the Pac-12 Conference.
The 14 Big Ten presidents unanimously voted to have the West Coast schools join the conference. The addition marks the first expansion since Maryland and Rutgers joined the conference in 2014 and increases Big Ten membership to 16 schools.
“The addition of UCLA and USC to the Big Ten will enhance the conference’s existing comprehensive excellence in academics, research and athletics,” University of Iowa president Barbara Wilson said in a news release. “I look forward to welcoming our new colleagues to Iowa City and the UI campus.”
Conference expansion was at the center of college athletics conversations last summer. The Big Ten passed on expanding the conference but joined The Alliance with the ACC and Pac-12. But Thursday's move was much more beneficial from a Big Ten perspective. The league added two of the biggest brands in college athletics, the crown jewels of a Power 5 conference that are also strong academic institutions.
But what does the move mean for Iowa athletics specifically? Let's take a look:
The strength of the Big Ten is unquestioned
Last year's move by the Southeastern Conference to add Texas and Oklahoma seemed to put the SEC in a league of its own in terms of depth in almost every sport. The Big Ten's response this week places the conference side-by-side with the SEC in collegiate supremacy.
Iowa coaches were admittedly caught by surprise by the news, but the overall feeling seemed to be excitement about adding prestigious programs to the league's roster. With USC and UCLA, the conference is adding more successful and recognizable brands than Maryland and Rutgers from several years ago.
For Iowa, that means increased strength of schedule, which will help the Hawkeyes in future College Football Playoff Top 25 rankings. It might not be long before the Big Ten becomes a multi-bid College Football Playoff league like the SEC, especially if USC coach Lincoln Riley turns the Trojans around quickly.
"My first thought was anytime that we can compete with schools that have rich football traditions that can enhance our conference, that's always a positive thing," Iowa football assistant coach Jay Niemann said. "I think anything that you can do in this day and age to strengthen your conference and put yourself in the best situation possible. We've all seen what's going on in the SEC and the Big 12, everybody's always jockeying for position.
"I've always said, 'You know, you can be on the right track, but if you're standing still, you're gonna get ran over.' So you got to be moving forward. And before then you're thinking and trying to put yourself, in this case our conference in the best possible situation we can."
Beyond football, which will grab the majority of the attention, Thursday's move pushes other sports forward.
- Baseball and softball will be vastly improved with UCLA in the conference. The Big Ten has struggled with strength-of-schedule issues during NCAA Tournament selection season.
- Women's basketball will benefit from UCLA's addition, as the Bruins have made the NCAA Tournament in six of the last seven years, including three Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight.
- USC track and field will add depth to an already competitive Big Ten — the Trojans' women's team has claimed three of the last four Pac-12 titles.
- On the men's basketball side, USC has averaged 23 wins over the last six seasons and has made the last five NCAA Tournaments. And it's universally understood what UCLA's basketball brand will bring to an already rich men's basketball conference.
In a nutshell, better competition means more credibility for Iowa when the Hawkeyes are faced with postseason implications in their respective sports. Playing in arguably the nation's best athletics conference will pay dividends in the years to come.
Expansion will help Iowa advance its brand
Thursday's move creates a new realm of possibilities for Iowa on the recruiting trail. Welcoming two California schools opens up nationwide recruiting for Iowa in a way that wasn't present before this week. Iowa coaches could go to the West Coast and sell recruits on returning home annually (or every other year) to play in front of their family and friends.
Expanding into Pac-12 recruiting territory will improve the quality of Big Ten teams. Here's a recent example from Iowa football: The Hawkeyes signed three-star California defensive back TJ Hall in their 2022 recruiting class. Hall was the No. 43 ranked player in the state; his overall rating would have made him a top-five prospect in Iowa.
Money and exposure
In terms of exposure, the Big Ten is the only Power 5 conference that can claim to have real estate spanning coast to coast. It's almost certain that there will be much more TV revenue in play for Iowa and other member schools soon.
The opportunity for the Hawkeyes to play more nationally televised games and appear in markets where they normally wouldn't will help increase brand exposure nationally and help them carve out a larger footprint.
The fun is set to begin in 2024. At which point Iowa athletics and the Big Ten will step into a world of new possibilities, many of which will be beneficial and lucrative for all parties involved.
“We are excited about the addition of UCLA and USC to the Big Ten Conference,” Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said in a news release. “Both institutions fit our department’s 'Win. Graduate. Do it right.' culture. There are many logistics to work out over the coming months, and we are eager to begin the process.”
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at email@example.com.