At this point, everyone even remotely connected to the sports world has seen the news: the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles are leaving the Pac-12 to join the Big Ten.
The realignment won’t come until 2024, but stories about how USC and UCLA could impact top Big Ten programs and their football teams have taken over media outlets.
Still, there are other sports at these schools that will also be affected, and volleyball and soccer especially have the potential to become a part of a major powerhouse in the Big Ten.
The Big Ten is one of the toughest, most talented conferences for volleyball. Penn State and Nebraska each have five or more national titles. Wisconsin won its first ever NCAA championship in 2021 by beating Nebraska. Penn State has not missed an NCAA tournament in the 41 years since the tournament began.
Eight Big Ten teams reached the NCAA tournament in 2021, and five were top-16 seeds — that in itself shows how competitive the conference is. When two of those teams end up facing off in the championship game, it’s difficult to argue against the dominance of the Big Ten.
Equally as competitive, the Pac-12 holds 16 NCAA titles in women’s volleyball: the most of any conference nationwide. UCLA has won four titles and USC has won three, and the two teams are some of the most well-known volleyball schools in the country, sitting consistently in the middle-to-upper standings of the Pac-12.
By bringing in two of the country’s most well-known programs, the Big Ten has set itself up to be even more dominant in the volleyball world. In-conference play will only grow more competitive, which will in turn increase each team’s strength of schedule and provide more preparation for postseason play. Don’t be surprised if national championship contenders consistently come from the Big Ten in the near future.
The Big Ten is home to some of the highest-level soccer programs in the country. Indiana, Maryland and Penn State are three of the top men’s teams in the NCAA and all finished in Top Drawer Soccer’s final top-25 rankings for the 2021 season.
Indiana, one of the most successful collegiate men’s soccer programs, has eight national championship titles and 35 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. Maryland holds four national championships and has appeared in every NCAA tournament since 2001.
While USC does not have a men’s soccer program higher than club level, UCLA’s program is one to watch. The Bruins have four national championships, with their most recent coming in 2002. They have appeared in 46 NCAA tournaments and are tied with the Hoosiers for the second-most appearances of any school.
UCLA women’s soccer signed the No. 1 freshman class for 2022, including seven of Top Drawer Soccer’s top-25 recruits. Barring transfers and injuries, those freshmen will still be on the team in 2024, when UCLA joins the Big Ten. Historically, UCLA has been successful in the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments alike — the Bruins have 25 NCAA tournament appearances, four national championships and 13 Pac-12 titles.
The Bruins beat the USC women’s program to win the 2021 Pac-12 championship title, which goes to show the talent of both schools. USC drew a No. 3 seed in the 2021 NCAA tournament, and has 20 tournament appearances with two national championships.
Penn State beat USC in the 2021 NCAA Women’s Tournament and is one of the best programs in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions hold the only national championship across the Big Ten, but that doesn’t mean teams like Rutgers and Michigan aren’t competitive. Six Big Ten teams appeared in the 2021 NCAA tournament, and the Scarlet Knights and Wolverines earned No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively.
There’s little doubt in my mind that the volleyball and soccer programs in all schools — USC, UCLA and the current Big Ten programs — will benefit from this realignment. The chance to become increasingly dominant in the two sports is beneficial for the conference, the schools and the athletes participating.
However, there are very successful sports at both schools that may not see the same skill level in the Big Ten. Baseball and softball teams could find themselves at a disadvantage in terms of strength of schedule, and gymnastics may not even have teams to compete against.
I also have little doubt that this move will eventually lead to full-on conference realignments, possibly ending with just two or three major conferences spreading throughout the country. Regional rivalries could disappear and the entire stage of college athletics could change.
But, no one knows what will happen until it happens. Many things can change quickly in teams and athletic departments as a whole. But if there is one takeaway from this article, let it be that sports like volleyball, soccer and other successful programs should receive the same attention and excitement as football.