Geographic proximity is no longer the primary determining factor for college conference affiliation. This point was driven home yet again with the news that UCLA and Southern California are leaving the Pac-12 to join the Big Ten.
As currently configured, Nebraska would be the nearest Big Ten school to LA, some 1,500 miles from Lincoln. But again, this decision isn’t about geography – higher travel budgets notwithstanding. Rather, this potential move is an effort by all parties to get ahead of the shifting and increasingly nationalized landscape in college sports.
So one must look past the regional differences to appreciate what the LA schools bring to the table that make them attractive partners for the Big Ten.
Here’s a quick list:
Yes, the Pac-12 as a whole has been behind the curve on the gridiron in recent years. But the LA programs do have plenty of history.
OK, the Trojans have quite a bit more, with 11 recognized national championships and seven Heisman winners, including three recipients in a four-year span at the beginning of the century (Yes, Reggie Bush was still voted the winner and therefore still counts for purposes of this exercise.). The Bruins claim just one Heisman winner, Gary Beban in 1967. But the fact that UCLA plays its home games in the Rose Bowl is a nice perk.
Obviously, it is on the hardwood where UCLA’s reputation as a national power in college sports took hold. The run of seven national titles in a row under legendary coach John Wooden will almost certainly never be matched. In all, the Bruins claim 11 NCAA crowns.
USC has none on the men’s side but still owns a pair of hoops titles. The Women of Troy, led by future Olympians Cheryl Miller and Cynthia Cooper, claimed back-to-back crowns in 1983 and 1984.
baseball and softball
The addition of the teams from sunny California will significantly improve the Big Ten’s reach in the diamond sports. USC has the far more successful history from a team perspective with 12 NCAA titles, most recently in 1998. The Bruins broke through for their lone championship in Omaha in 2013, though a chap by the name of Jackie Robinson began his ground-breaking career at UCLA. Softball, however, has enhanced the Bruins’ trophy case tremendously. The 2019 squad claimed the program’s 13th title.
In all, USC holds a grand total of 134 combined NCAA championships, with UCLA not far behind at 119. The men’s track and field program is responsible for 28 of USC’s championship banners, with men’s tennis contributing 21. Men’s and women’s water polo have combined for another 17 titles for the Trojans. The pool has also been good for UCLA with a total of 17 NCAA water polo championships, including five in succession by the women from 2005-09. That’s not exactly a Big Ten sport, of course, but women’s indoor volleyball definitely is. The Bruins own four titles in that sport, winning most recently in 2011, and should bring another strong program into the league.
Follow colleges reporter Eddie Timanus on Twitter @EddieTimanus