Last week, the University of Southern California and the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), two sunshine colleges on the West Coast, took part in the Big Ten, the Midwest’s ultimate cold-weather soccer conference.
That means by 2024 the Big Ten will have 16 schools stretching from Rutgers and the University of Maryland in the east to UCLA and Southern California in the west. In other words, the Big Ten could be called the For real big ten.
Why did Southern California and UCLA join the Big Ten after being members of the Pacific-12 (Pac-12) conference for more than 60 years? Quite simply: money. The Big Ten has a larger television deal (meaning more money) to broadcast their football games than the Pac-12.
College athletic conferences used to be groups of similar schools in the same geographic area that competed in a variety of sports. But now college football and men’s college basketball are big businesses that make a lot of money because almost all the games are televised.
In 2025, the Southeastern Conference will also have 16 teams as Texas and Oklahoma join soccer powerhouses like Alabama and Georgia.
This story about schools changing conferences doesn’t end there. Don’t be surprised if college football looks very different in the next few years. There can be four superconferences of 16 teams each, dominating the sport.
Some people think these schools could break away from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and its rules that govern collegiate sports and start paying their players.
Or the schools set up separate companies, maybe called Michigan Wolverines or Alabama Crimson Tide, to make money and have nothing to do with the school’s mission of educating young people.
When that happens, college football (and perhaps men’s college basketball) becomes another professional sports league with extended playoffs. The only difference is that this pro league will have younger players.
Sports, and especially professional sports, have always been about money. Professional athletes try to get paid as much as possible. For example, Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal just signed a five-year deal that will net him more than $50 million a year. That’s more than 700 times (!) what the average public elementary school teacher earned in 2021.
I might not want to talk about money, but sometimes it’s the only way to explain what’s happening in sport.
Especially college football.
Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 27 books on baseball, basketball, soccer and football for children ages 7 to 12.