USC, UCLA leave for the Big Ten. What does that mean for Utah, BYU, Big 12 and the Pac-12?

Rivalry between Utes and Cougars could factor into where Utah ends up

(Marcio Jose Sanchez | AP) Utah running back Micah Bernard (2) carries during the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against Southern California on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Los Angeles.

In a cataclysmic move that will change the nationwide landscape of college sports, USC and UCLA are leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in 2024.

Big Ten chancellors and presidents voted to accept the new members on Thursday night, making the move official. It was first reported by Jon Wilner of The Mercury News.

“This is a significant development that impacts each Pac-12 member institution and alters the landscape of intercollegiate athletics,” Utah president Taylor Randall and athletic director Mark Harlan said in a joint statement. “We have been in frequent communication with one another since this information came to light, and we will continue to stay in close communication with conference leadership and our fellow conference members as developments unfold.”

USC and UCLA leaving the Pac-12, taking with them the conference’s largest media market and two of the conference’s flagship programs — Trojans football and Bruins basketball — immediately puts the future of the conference in doubt.

The prevailing notion is that the Big Ten may not be done either. Oregon and Washington are viewed as the Pac-12′s next most attractive brands after the two Los Angeles schools. Regardless of whether or not the Big Ten comes West again for more schools, USC and UCLA’s prospective leap raises questions about how this specifically affects the University of Utah, the Big 12, the Pac-12 and BYU.

Utah to the Big 12?

This move makes it clear: It is the Big Ten and the SEC and then everyone else. According to one study of revenue projections, Big Ten schools could be making more than $100 million per year by the end of the decade.

The natural question is which conference is positioning itself to be third in the power rankings of college sports.

For now, the Big 12 has a case to assume that mantle. It currently has the largest footprint of any of the remaining conferences, with its members spanning from Florida to Utah. With the viability of the Pac-12 in question, the Big 12 could try to make its move to poach Oregon, Washington or even Arizona State.

Getting Oregon or Washington would give the Big 12 a stake in every time zone of the country. It could have games on television all day every Saturday of the season. But the reality is, Oregon and Washington will likely also be coveted by the Big Ten, which is believed to want to eventually expand to 20 teams.

So, if the Big 12 can’t get either of those powers, Utah would make a lot of sense as an alternative. After Texas and Oklahoma leave the conference for the SEC in 2025, there will be no natural rivalries in the league. Bringing in Utah would give the conference a built-in Utah-BYU rivalry game every year with instant credibility.

Bringing in Utah could also be a smart play for the quality of football games the conference can offer in the late-night window. For now, the Big 12 is looking at airing games like BYU-Oklahoma State at 9 p.m. EST. While it might be intriguing for local fans, that game carries little national pull. If the Big 12 can offer a BYU and Utah game in the late window — with Utah considered a college football playoff contender — it becomes much more enticing for television deals. The Big 12 is re-negotiating its media rights contract in 2025, and these things matter.

Utah’s addition could be paired with onboarding other Pac-12 teams like Washington State and Arizona State. While they may not be Oregon and Washington, those teams would still give the Big 12 a coast-to-coast footprint. And a school like Washington State — which has been relevant in both football and basketball — would mesh well with the athletic profile of the conference.

Colorado and Arizona, The Action Network reported, could be on the move to the Big 12.

Either way, the Big 12 is now on the offensive in conference realignment for the first time. And the target will be what remains of the Pac-12.

Can the Pac-12 cobble this together?

The general sentiment is the Pac-12 was blindsided by this move. What can it do now? Well, it could head over to the Mountain West to try to get some of those teams.

Boise State has been swirling around in the conference realignment discussion since Texas and Oklahoma jumped ship to the SEC. Last winter, the Broncos decided to stay in the Mountain West instead of pop over to the American. But things have changed again, and the conversation will again be brought up.

How enticing is it for a school like Utah to stay in a Pac-12 conference with Mountain West schools? Well, probably not extremely.

Yet, the calculations also change here. This move by UCLA and USC makes it clear the Big Ten and SEC are the Power 2, and then everyone else. Even moving to the Big 12 won’t guarantee Utah a spot in the national discussion. The College Football Playoff, even if it is expanded to 12 teams, will heavily feature teams from the two power conferences.

Another scenario is the Pac-12 could ask the Big 12 to merge. However, a merger was proposed last year between these two conferences, and the Pac-12 said no at the time. Will the Big 12 say yes now, when it appears as though it has the upper hand? Probably not.

Media rights deal

The Big 12 has been dealing with the cloud of the media rights deal in 2025 for 10 months now. With Texas and Oklahoma leaving, the Big 12 was already in a weaker position when it came to its television contracts.

Now, though, the gap is getting bigger. The Big Ten is negotiating its media rights contract now. It will eat up plenty of the available money. USC and UCLA are expected to double their revenue from the new Big Ten media contract compared to what they would have made in the Pac-12. It is now a game of the have and the have-nots.

To make it worse, the Big 12 is also negotiating its rights deal last out of all the conferences. So what money will be left, and what place will the conference have in the national landscape by that time?

This is a fear for incoming member BYU. It joined a conference where each member earned more than $42 million last year and was a major player in college football. Now, BYU has to wonder what its conference will look like in 2026.

What is next for Big 12 basketball?

Prior to the move, the Big 12 was seen as the best basketball conference in the country. And this has the potential to both bolster and hinder that perception.

If the Big 12 does indeed add Arizona out of the Pac-12, that is another top 25 team added to the fold. Arizona was a No. 1 seed last year and hovered in the top five all season.

Yet, it is also true the Big Ten just got better in terms of basketball. UCLA is arguably the biggest basketball brand in the country and USC has remained relevant in the space. They will be added to Big Ten basketball powers like Michigan and Michigan State.

The Big 12 also has to worry about the Big Ten syphoning away some of its members. For example, would Kansas leave the conference to look at the Big Ten? As a research institution, the Big Ten would be interested. Also, taking another massive basketball brand would only help the conference.

The Big 12 has made it clear it will make it tough on any member who tries to leave. Just look at the fight with Texas and Oklahoma trying to go to the SEC in 2025. Yet, with the amount of money the Big Ten and SEC are about to make, it is hard to say there will be any real barrier if two parties are motivated. If future Big Ten schools are projected to make $100 million a year, it more than doubles what a current Big 12 member is making now.