UCLA wasn’t Big Ten’s first choice to join USC in conference realignment

UCLA Bruins. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
UCLA Bruins. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /

It seems as though the Big Ten wanted somebody else initially to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten with USC besides UCLA.

While USC and UCLA are leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in 2024, there is a chance the Big Ten may have initially preferred Oregon over the Bruins in joining the Trojans in their revamped league.

University of Arizona president Robert Robbins spoke very candidly with CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd about all things Pac-12 and realignment. He said the Pac-12 is very close to securing a new media rights deal, but he is well aware that one more team leaving the conference could set in motion a domino effect. More importantly, Arizona and Arizona State are 100 percent a package deal in this.

Perhaps the craziest part in Robbins’ interview with Dodd is this: The Big Ten wanted Oregon first!

"“USC started this whole thing. I think UCLA was a reluctant follower in this whole thing. But they needed a travel partner close by so it makes sense. If Oregon calls Washington up and says, ‘I can double the amount of money you’re getting; come with me to the Big Ten,’ Washington is going to say, ‘OK, I’m in.’ They would love to have gone … When I heard it first, the deal was going to be USC-Oregon. That makes sense. … Their TV market is not that big, but they play in different colored uniforms, and they win. That’s where I would have started this thing off. I think FOX wanted to consolidate L.A. and not let anybody else in. I think it’s brilliant. Well played.”"

Yes, an active university president in the Pac-12 spoke this candidly about USC, Oregon and UCLA.

Big Ten preferred to add Oregon over UCLA initially with USC from the Pac-12

From a brand and marketability standpoint, the Oregon addition over UCLA does make sense. The Ducks do not have the basketball history of the Bruins, but they have been a pillar in the college football realm throughout the 21st century. We all know that college football is the biggest money maker in college athletics. However, getting the Los Angeles market in its entirety was prioritized.

What we need to understand in all this is Robbins is right in that universities will partner up in the Pac-12. The Four Corners universities could unite and leave for the Big 12, but the Arizonas are in lockstep, as are the Rocky Mountain schools of Utah and Colorado. Cal and Stanford would partner up, as would Oregon and Washington, leaving Oregon State and Washington State in the rearview.

For now, the Pac-12 is definitely on life support. If the league is able to add Group of Five schools like San Diego State and SMU, maybe it can stay afloat in the expanded College Football Playoff era? Then again, once the Big Ten poached USC and UCLA, our minds immediately went to who else the league could add from the West Coast. Of course, Oregon and Washington are good fits.

Overall, I think the Four Corners schools are the ones to watch in this, particularly the Arizona schools. Robbins has had conversations with Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark about switching allegiances. U of A and Arizona State would be stellar fits in an even larger Big 12. They are a traditional power out west on the hardwood, but even the lowly football program is looking up.

Ultimately, Oregon and USC jumping ship for the Big Ten together would have been too brutal of a blow for the Pac-12 to realistically survive. The problem is those are not the right schools to pair with each other initially from a geographical sense. UCLA may adjust to life in the Big Ten easier than USC for all we know, but for Robbins to say they were a reluctant partner in this is shocking.

Simply put, the Pac-12 needs to get a reasonable media rights deal secure or the league will die.

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