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John U. Bacon: An expanding Big Ten will leave college sports "unrecognizable"

FILE - The Big Ten logo is displayed on the field before an NCAA college football game between Iowa and Miami of Ohio in Iowa City, Iowa., Aug. 31, 2019. Dealing a crushing combination to the Pac-12 on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, the Big Ten announced Oregon and Washington would be joining the conference next August, and the Big 12 completed its raid of the beleaguered league by adding Arizona, Arizona State and Utah. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
Charlie Neibergall/AP
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AP
FILE - The Big Ten logo is displayed on the field before an NCAA college football game between Iowa and Miami of Ohio in Iowa City, Iowa., Aug. 31, 2019. Dealing a crushing combination to the Pac-12 on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, the Big Ten announced Oregon and Washington would be joining the conference next August, and the Big 12 completed its raid of the beleaguered league by adding Arizona, Arizona State and Utah. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

Last week, there was a seismic shift in college sports, one of the oldest and biggest conferences in college football, the PAC 12, is suddenly on the brink of extinction. The Big Ten, however, where Michigan and Michigan State belong, is adding teams.

Next fall, the Big Ten will officially have 18 teams spanning from Rutgers, in New Jersey, to four new pacific coast members from Washington to Los Angeles.

Michigan Radio Sports Commentator John U. Bacon talked with Michigan Radio's Tyler Scott about how conference realignment hurts the history and tradition that makes college sports so beloved.

Tyler Scott: A week ago, the Big Ten was already planning to add the University of Southern California and UCLA to the conference next year. Then suddenly, Oregon and Washington announced they're coming to the Big Ten, too. Can you just remind us what all went down on Friday?

John U. Bacon: Musical chairs, football style, basically. And right now, PAC 12, the long, great century old conference, is imploding. Oregon and Washington knew that. They're trying to get out of there like rats off a ship. There's a third metaphor for the day. And they were dying to land the Big Ten and they got their wish. And that means a lot more money for Washington and Oregon.

Tyler Scott: Teams occasionally change conferences, but a lot of teams are changing conferences now. Why is this all going on right now?

John U. Bacon: Big Ten. Each time the game of musical chairs gets restarted, it's the Big Ten that starts it. So, Penn State 30 years ago, joins the Big Ten. And then about ten years ago, Nebraska and shortly thereafter, Maryland and Rutgers join the Big Ten. And each time every single other major conference was affected by changing teams. So that's how this thing works.

Tyler Scott: Are we going to see more?

John U. Bacon: Yes, you are. I guarantee it.

Tyler Scott: What will look like when the dust settles or what is the Big Ten's plan?

John U. Bacon: Unrecognizable. I would say the dust is going to be kicking up for a while. Look, the Big Ten is now Big 18. And that not only defies math, it defies geography. The place stretches from Rutgers in New York, basically New Jersey to L.A. I'm not sure you can call that a conference. So it's going to be unrecognizable to the average fan.

Tyler Scott: Presumably the conference itself and the member schools stand to make a lot more money. Who else benefits from realignment?

John U. Bacon: There's your list. Stop there.

Tyler Scott: So what are the downsides then?

John U. Bacon: The downside are for everybody else. Some fans will like the new games for a while. USC playing Michigan State is exciting, Michigan playing UCLA's exciting. But like interleague play in baseball, where the National League started playing the American League a few years ago. After a while, the novelty wears off. It can only sell novelty once and then it wears off. The downsides are travel for the student athletes. And I guarantee you, nobody asked them. The coaches don't like it. More travel for them as well, and it kind of makes less sense for tradition on top of that. So, money is the winner here and greed is undefeated.

Tyler Scott: With the downsides for players and coaches. Is there anybody in a position to push back besides fans and sportswriters?

John U. Bacon: The college presidents? Could the university presidents of the Big Ten? But they have gotten on board with both feet as usual.

Tyler Scott: The Big Ten had already announced its 2024 football schedule. Now they'll have to redo it. Any word on that coming down soon?

John U. Bacon: Won't be soon, but yeah, go ahead and tear that one up. It's useless.

Tyler Scott: John U. Bacon is the author of several national bestsellers. His latest book is called The Greatest Comeback How Team Canada Fought Back, took the Summit series and Reinvented Hockey. Thanks for talking, John.

John U. Bacon: Tyler, thank you.

Editor's note: Some quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.
U of M holds Michigan Radio's broadcast license.

Tyler Scott is the weekend afternoon host at Michigan Radio, though you can often hear him filling in at other times during the week. Tyler started in radio at age 18, as a board operator at WMLM 1520AM in Alma, Michigan, where he later became host of The Morning Show.
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