SPORTS DIGEST: Move to Big 10 is about more than just the money

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By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

Sure, the move is about money, but what’s wrong with that?

USC and UCLA shook up the world of collegiate sports with their announcement June 30 that they would be moving to the Big 10 Conference at the start of the 2024-25 school year.

The move may have come from out of the blue, but it was mostly about the green. In 2021 the Big 10 earned $680 million in media rights money. Divided 14 ways, that came out to more than $48 million per school.

The Pac 12 brought in $344 million in media rights in 2021. That came to more than $28 million per school. That’s $20 million reasons for USC and UCLA to make the move.

The Pac 12 Conference has been on a downward spiral for years, almost from the day the conference hired Larry Scott to be its commissioner in 2009. When Scott established the Pac 12 Network in 2012, he chose to go it alone rather than team up with ESPN like the Southeastern Conference did, or Fox like the Big 10 did.

He also failed to reach an agreement to carry the Pac 12 Network with Direct TV, which at the time was the biggest satellite provider in the industry.

The result was that the Pac 12 Network failed to generate the revenue that other conference media packages do. In addition, schools in the SEC, Big 10 and Big 12 used the lack of television exposure as a recruiting chip to lure more top recruits from Southern California away from not only USC and UCLA, but other Pac 12 schools.

The result is that only two Pac 12 schools have ever appeared in the College Football Playoffs in the eight years the system has been around — Oregon in 2014 and Washington in 2016.

USC and UCLA will increase their national exposure, which will help them recruit out of state. It will create some great new conference rivalries, too.

USC has always had a rivalry with Ohio State and Michigan from Rose Bowl battles over the years. They will now play those teams at least every couple of years, which will enhance those rivalries.

UCLA is known more for its basketball program and it now has a conference rivalry with Indiana, another school with a prominent basketball history, so the move is good from a competitive standpoint.

Yes, there will be more travel for student athletes. And athletes from Southern California spoiled by our great weather might come to experience Midwestern winters when traveling to Big 10 schools.

The biggest loss may be to the Rose Bowl, which has matched Big 10 teams against Pac 12 teams since before there was a Pac 8 Conference. But with the advent of the College Football Playoffs, that tradition falls by the wayside every three years when the Rose Bowl hosts one of the playoff semifinals. The Rose Bowl will survive, even if the Pac 12 Conference doesn’t.

The Pac 12 Conference is the big loser in this move. Already Utah, Colorado, Arizona State and Arizona have reached out to the Big 12 Conference, which is still reeling from the loss of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC, a move that won’t begin until 2025.

That would leave only six schools in the conference: Stanford, Cal, Washington, Washington State, Oregon and Oregon State.

Those six could possibly add Fresno State and San Diego State and maybe convince BYU and maybe Boise State to form a 10-team conference. Or the six can be absorbed by other conferences like the Big West or Western Athletic Conference.

No matter what happens, the college sports world is shifting and the administrations at USC and UCLA were wise to look into the future and make this bold move.

Sure, it was a money move, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Most people jump at the chance to improve their financial situation. That’s what USC and UCLA are doing.

And five years from now, when USC and Ohio State are playing for the Big 10 championship with the winner advancing to the College Football Playoffs, we will hardly remember the Pac 12 Conference.

PITCHING MATTERS: The Dodgers have rebounded from a bad stretch in June when they won only five of 13 games to go 11-4 and expand their lead in the National league West to 5½ games over the San Diego Padres. And they are doing it with their pitching.

What is surprising about that is the number of injuries to their pitching staff this year. It doesn’t seem to matter who manager Dave Roberts and team President Andrew Friedman plug into the roster. The Dodgers outpitch everyone in the major leagues.

Starting pitchers Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw and Andrew Heaney have all spent time on the disabled list. It doesn’t matter.

Tony Gonsolin and Tyler Anderson have combined to go 19-1. Who saw that coming?

After a 3-6 start, Julio Urias has won four straight decisions and is pitching like he did last year when he was the only 20-game winner in the major leagues.

Rookie Ryan Pepiot made his fourth spot start of the season July 5 and picked up his first big league victory, limiting Colorado to a run in 5 innings in a 5-2 victory. He has an ERA of 2.76 in his four appearances and appears to have a bright future.

The bullpen has been equally outstanding. Injuries have sidelined Blake Treinen and Daniel Hudson, two key late-innings relievers and the Dodgers still have the best bullpen earned run average in the league, despite closer Craig Kimbrel’s tendency to give up runs late.

Evan Phillips, who had a career ERA over 5 when picked up off the waiver wire from Tampa last August, has stepped into the eighth inning role vacated by Treinen and Hudson and has been outstanding.

In 32 appearances, he has given up only six earned runs while striking out more than a batter an inning and limiting opposing hitters to a .177 batting average.

Yency Almonte, who was signed as a free agent in March after having an ERA of 7.55 in 48 games last season for Colorado, has a 1.74 ERA in 18 games for the Dodgers this year.

Brusdar Graterol earned his second save of the season July 5 and is showing he might develop into the closer the Dodgers hope he will become.

And with all their pitching success, the offense is starting to show signs of finally clicking on all cylinders.

Justin Turner, who was barely above .200 a couple of weeks ago, has his average up to .242 and is starting to hit with power and drive in runs. Max Muncy also is starting to show signs that his elbow is no longer bothering him.

Friedman made a good move recently when he traded for Trayce Thompson after Mookie Betts broke a rub colliding with Cody Bellinger in the outfield.

Thompson, who hit 13 home runs in 80 games for the Dodgers way back in 2016 before being sidelined by a back injury, had bounced around from the Yankees and A’s, to the White Sox, Cubs and Tigers since being released by the Dodgers in 2018. He has 2 home runs and 9 runs batted in since rejoining the Dodgers and his three-run homer July 4 was the key hit in the Dodgers 5-3 win over the Rockies.

The Padres came to town last week only a game and a half behind the Dodgers and left 3 ½ games back after losing three of four.

It should have been a four-game sweep. The Dodgers had outscored the Padres 17-4 in the series until the ninth inning July 3 when Kimbrel game up three runs and the Padres rallied for a 4-2 win.

The Dodgers shook that off and defeated the Rockies the next two nights while the Padres were losing to the Seattle Mariners.

At the halfway point of the season, the Dodgers are in fine shape despite a rash of injuries that would have set back most teams.

 

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