USC, UCLA Big Ten Playbook

September 27, 2022

At Gray, we love data, and we love higher education. So, what does that have to do with football? After all, we have dedicated ourselves to the unique responsibility of creating academic program evaluation software. You might call it a touchdown. But opportunistic metaphor aside, we follow stories that are important to our higher education community.

In late June 2022, there was an announcement that changed the landscape of college sports in the US. UCLA and USC announced their plan to move from the Pac-12 to Big Ten Conference in 2024. We imagine that both schools anticipate many benefits from this move, but like all good decisions, sometimes it is what you don’t know that can get you.

We used our Athletics Evaluation Software to make a short list of strategic decisions that would allow USC & UCLA to assimilate with the Big Ten without compromising sports unique to their current footprint.

We focused on looking at the impact beyond football; USC and UCLA made the decision to switch conferences to become immediate benefactors of larger TV revenues driven by football. While football will experience a surge in revenues that benefit/fund all sports, the conference change varies in complexity when looking at each sport individually.

Our methodology on strategic decisions is similar to how we help colleges assess academic programs; for Athletics, we opted to categorize strategic decisions into the following approaches:

Start: Sports that have a strong presence in the Big Ten but don’t exist at USC & UCLA

Pump Up: Sports @ USC & UCLA that are smaller than the Big Ten average team size

Play Outside (Big Ten): Sports at USC & UCLA already thriving beyond Pac-12

Below are our findings by sport:

Start

  • UCLA can start Men’s Lacrosse.
    • There are four (4) teams in the Big Ten with about 50 participants per team.
    • UCLA would play Rutgers, Ohio State, Maryland, and Michigan.
    • Michigan added Lacrosse in 2012.
  • UCLA can start Women’s Lacrosse.
    • There are six (6) teams in the Big Ten with about 38 participants per team.
    • USC has a team.
  • USC can start Men’s Lacrosse.
    • Men’s Lacrosse would have six (6) teams in the Big Ten with both USC and UCLA starting teams.
  • USC can start Women’s Softball.
    • Women’s Softball would add about 25 participants.
  • USC and UCLA can start Men’s Wrestling.
    • There are 13 teams in the Big Team with an average of 32 participants.
    • Growing men’s teams would need to be compliant with Title IX requirements.
  • UCLA and USC can start Women’s Ice Hockey.
    • There are three (3) teams in the Big Ten with about 23 participants per team.
    • Big Ten teams are at Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ohio State.
    • The Pac-12 does not have any teams.
  • UCLA and USC can start Men’s Ice Hockey.
    • There are five (5) teams in the Big Ten with about 27 participants per team.
    • Big Ten teams are at Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ohio State.
    • The Pac-12 only has one team at Arizona State.

Pump Up

  • USC can grow Men’s and Women’s Track.
    • USC has 65 participants for men’s and women’s track.
    • Big Ten teams have over 100 participants on average.
  • USC and UCLA can grow Women’s Rowing.
    • USC has 44 participants.
    • UCLA has 62 participants.
    • Big Ten teams average 79 participants across 10 schools.

Play Outside (Big Ten):

  • USC and UCLA can play outside the Big Ten for Women’s Beach Volleyball.
    • USC has 17 participants.
    • UCLA has 24 participants.
    • The Big Ten does not have any schools with Beach Volleyball.
  • USC and UCLA can play outside the Big Ten for Men’s Volleyball.
    • USC has 28 participants.
    • UCLA has 22 participants.
    • The Big Ten only has one team at Ohio State.
    • USC and UCLA can remain in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
  • USC and UCLA can play outside the Big Ten for Men’s Water Polo.
    • USC has 28 participants.
    • UCLA has 22 participants.
    • The Big Ten does not have any schools with Men’s Water Polo.
    • USC and UCLA can remain in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
  • USC and UCLA can play outside the Big Ten for Women’s Water Polo.
    • USC has 30 participants.
    • UCLA has 29 participants.
    • The Big Ten has two schools with Women’s Water Polo (Indiana and Michigan).
    • USC and UCLA can remain in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.


For sports not mentioned above, UCLA and USC will find that shifting their schedule to play within the Big Ten will expand the number of teams to compete against. The challenge will be to masterfully schedule games to minimize student-athlete fatigue during multiple trips across the US.

Appendix: Recap of Participants Analysis by Sport

Table showing Recap of Participants Analysis by Sport

This type of analysis can be applied at other schools switching their conference or just looking to add new sports based on market demand. These decisions also will affect the enrollment of academic programs as certain sports attract students who take specific programs i.e., Physical Therapy and Sport Management. We are developing a dashboard and data sets to help schools understand the results of these decisions. Click here if you would like to learn more. 

Vlad Landaverde

ANALYTICS DEVELOPER

Vlad develops and supports the software behind Gray’s PES+ tools and databases. Ask him to tell you one of the world's worst dad jokes.

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