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USC. UCLA's Big Ten move brings more college football greed

USC Trojans cornerback Josh Shaw in brighter days.
Jeff Gross
Getty Images
USC Trojans cornerback Josh Shaw in brighter days.

Our ability to be genuinely surprised by the happenings of the day appears to be eroding by the minute. How many times can you really be shocked by something that happens, no matter how rare the event seems to be?

Take last week’s news that two pillar schools of college athletics, UCLA and the University of Southern California, were leaving their longtime association, the Pac-12 Conference, a league of Western schools, for the Big Ten, an association of mainly Midwest universities.

The speed at which the development went from rumor to confirmed actuality was surely breathtaking, but the news itself really had something of a been-there, done-that feel.

As residents of this area can attest, word of a school breaking ranks with longtime partners is nothing new. We’re seven years past Maryland’s absconding from the Atlantic Coast Conference for the Big Ten, one of the first shocking college desertions, but hardly the last.

Just last year, Oklahoma and Texas declared their intent to leave the Big 12, a collection of schools mostly across the southern plains, for the Southeastern Conference, That move, scheduled to take effect in three years, makes sense from both geographic and philosophical grounds, as Texas and Oklahoma not only abut the SEC schools but share their academics be damned approach to athletics.

Thursday’s announcement feels different, however, because it tears at so many norms and traditions which are supposed to be the essence of academia.

First, like Maryland, the Los Angeles schools are deserting long standing relationships with nearby universities.

While the Terps left the ACC as a founding member after 60 years, USC and UCLA are departing a league they had been part of going back to 1922 and 1928, respectively.

Second, and this cannot be stressed enough, while it was silly enough that teams in College Park would play conference games against teams in Minneapolis and Iowa City, it is ludicrous in the extreme that those same teams in College Park will play league games in Los Angeles in two years.

Now, the presidents of the current Big Ten schools and of UCLA and USC will cite their mutual membership in the Association of American Universities, as being at the core of their union.

Nice try. The AAU is a collection of 65 of the top U.S. and Canadian research institutions, but these schools aren’t spitting in the face of tradition and logistics to trade library books. This is a cash grab of the unholiest variety. The Big Ten is engaged in negotiations for a new media rights contract, one that might bring the league in excess of $1 billion annually.

Adding the two strongest schools in the nation’s second largest market can only help make those greedy dreams come true.

And, as has been the case with every one of these head-scratching, norm-bending move, this abomination comes for the benefit of one sport and one sport only: football.

No one considered the impact that such upheaval would have on athletes in sports like basketball, softball or baseball.

Nope, this was all about how the great god football could be appeased. To have done anything different? Now, that would have been a shocker.

And that’s how I see it for this week. You can reach us via email with your questions and comments at Sports at Large at gmail.com. And follow me on Twitter at Sports at Large.

Until next week, for all of us here. I’m Milton Kent. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games.

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.