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Stan Becton | | July 11, 2022

How USC & UCLA's move to the Big Ten impacts the college track and field landscape

Watch the stunning finish to USC's improbable 2018 track title

The news that Southern California and UCLA would be leaving the Pac-12 and joining the Big Ten in 2024 shocked the college athletics world. Although much of the attention from the conference switch has focused on football and men's basketball, the move's impact on Olympic sports like track and field could fall to the wayside.

Not here.

So, how will USC and UCLA's conference switch impact the track and field landscape? Let's break it down.

How do USC and UCLA historically compare to Big Ten track and field programs?

USC and UCLA are leaving the 'conference of champions' and bringing a combined 253 NCAA team championships. Forty-one of those championships are from the Trojans and Bruins track and field teams, with USC leading its crosstown rival 28-13.

To put that in perspective, the Big Ten has won 11 track and field championships from all of its programs combined. In men's track and field, the Big Ten has won just one title in the last 73 years; USC and UCLA have combined for 24 championships. In women's outdoor track and field, no Big Ten team has ever won a title; the Lady Trojans won two of the last five championships.

The Los Angeles tandem of schools carries historical success in track and field, filled with championships and legends in the sport like Charles Paddock, Allyson Felix, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Florence Griffith Joyner. This history now becomes a part of the Big Ten.

👀: Here are the DI track and field teams with most NCAA championships

Where will USC and UCLA rank among their new Big Ten counterparts?

As USC and UCLA join Big Ten track and field, they'll try to replicate their historical success in the present. However, the programs will have to compete against schools like Ohio State — winners of the last three women's outdoor conference titles — and Iowa — the most recent back-to-back men's outdoor champions ('19/'21) and 2022 indoor champions — to name a few.

So how do the Trojans and Bruins stack up?

Let's compare the results from the 2022 championship meets:

Meet USC Finish (Points) UCLA Finish (POINTS) Top Big Ten Finish (POINTS)
Men's Indoor 18th (14) N/A Wisconsin - 15th (16)
Men's Outdoor 12th (20) N/A Minnesota - 18th (13)
Women's Indoor 15th (13) 40th (3) Ohio State - 14th (14)
Women's Outdoor 30th (8) 41st (5) Ohio State - 12th (19)

Based on 2022's championship results, it's clear that USC currently would sit among the Big Ten's premier track and field programs. On the other hand, UCLA sits a tier below entering the new conference after a rough 2022 season.

Overall, the Trojans and Bruins will be leaving the nation's second-best track and field conference in the Pac-12, which saw 15 total top-20 and three top-10 2022 championship finishes, for the Big Ten, which saw only six total top-20 2022 championship finishes, with zero top-10 finishing programs.

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How do USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten impact the Division I indoor championships?

At the Division I indoor track and field championships, athletes are selected for competition based on qualifying marks scored/timed during the NCAA's qualifying period. The NCAA qualifying period for its DI indoor championships is from Dec. 1 through the second Sunday before the national championships (see rulebook for exceptions). 

The qualifying marks typically come from regular season or conference championship meets. The Trojans and Bruins participated in both types of meets before joining the Big Ten, and they'll likely compete in similar meets in their new conference.

USC and UCLA athletes will or won't qualify for indoor championships based on their performances at said meets. While the fields at meets could impact the times and marks of athletes, a conference switch does not directly impact indoor championship qualification as there's not an automatic bid — or anything of that nature — based on winning a conference title.

For USC and UCLA athletes to qualify for indoor championships, they'll still have to put up qualifying marks in the same manner as before.

🤔: Here are the differences between the indoor and outdoor track seasons

How do USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten impact the Division I outdoor championships?

The direct impact of USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten on the DI outdoor championships is little to nothing at all.

How can this be the case?

Well, for an athlete to make the outdoor championships, said athlete must first qualify at the East or West Preliminary Meet. These meets are regionalized.

A single conference can participate in both meets depending on which region the school falls in. For example, the 2022 preliminaries saw Big Ten school Iowa compete in the West Preliminary while conference counterpart Indiana competed and hosted the East Preliminary. In the SEC, Arkansas competed and hosted the West Preliminary, while conference counterpart LSU competed in the East Preliminary.

Given USC and UCLA's location on the West Coast, the two schools will stay in the West Preliminary, competing against the same schools for a national championship berth as they did in the Pac-12.

NCAA T&F: Here's how the outdoor track and field championships work

How do USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten impact recruiting?

USC and UCLA are each national brands, thanks to past success in track and field. Before the conference switch, the two programs were already recruiting on an international scale. While over 100 Trojans and Bruins hail from states — California leads as expected — with Pac-12 programs, there are six athletes across the 2022 rosters from states with current Big Ten programs.

USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten will put the Trojans and Bruins in front of more recruits in the midwest and mid-Atlantic regions. Similarly, USC and UCLA's move will allow west coast recruits to have more midwestern and eastern Big Ten programs on their radar.

Overall, USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten broadens the scope of recruitment for the next generation of track and field stars.

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How will scheduling work with USC and UCLA in the Big Ten?

With USC and UCLA's conference switch, scheduling questions arise thanks to the school's geographic location. Before the duo joined the Big Ten, the western reach of the conference was in Lincoln, Nebraska, approximately 1500 miles from Los Angeles. The Big Ten's eastern reach extends to New Jersey, a state that's only a hop, skip and five-hour-plus flight away from the new west coast schools.

Trojans President Carol L. Folt acknowledged the travel concerns that come with the Big Ten move in the following statement:

"In analyzing a move to the Big Ten, we thoughtfully considered the prospect of additional travel for our student-athletes. We are committed to devoting the necessary resources to ensure our student-athletes can continue to thrive in their coursework with minimal travel disruption. We know the Big Ten shares our commitment to prioritizing student-athletes' well-being and academic demands, and we are fortunate we can spend the next two years working with the conference on travel and scheduling plans."

Bruins Chancellor Gene D. Block had this to say on travel concerns and scheduling:

"...Although this move increases travel distances for teams, the resources offered by Big Ten membership may allow for more efficient transportation options. We would also explore scheduling accommodations with the Big Ten that best support our student-athletes' academic pursuits."

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With travel discussions already on the table, what does it mean for the USC and UCLA track and field teams? A look at 2022's schedule provides insight into how the teams previously scheduled.

SChool No. of '22 Indoor Meets at Pac-12 Schools No. of '22 Outdoor Meets at Pac-12 Schools
USC 1 1*
UCLA 3 1*

*Does not include USC/UCLA dual-meet

USC and UCLA ran most of their meets in 2022 at schools not in their conference. The switch to the Big Ten doesn't automatically mean that the Trojan and Bruin track and field teams will be making cross-country trips to compete against their new conference foes.

A look at 2022's Big Ten track and field champions further displays the lack of in-conference meets. Outdoor champion Ohio State (men's and women's) only participated in one road outdoor meet at a Big Ten school, hosting one other. Indoor men's champion Iowa hosted three home meets and indoor women's champion Minnesota hosted four home meets. Both programs only participated in one road indoor meet.

The Big Ten does provide a large number of indoor meets hosted by conference teams, but no team is required to visit every meet hosted by a conference opponent.

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Furthermore, during the 2022 outdoor season, the Trojans had 90 percent of their meets and the Bruins had 100 percent of their meets in California. The most recent scheduling from the schools limited travel almost completely in-state; if used in 2024 and beyond, it could limit travel concerns within a new conference.

Yet, none of this is to say that USC or UCLA will continue the same scheduling model as used in 2022. However, it does present an option based on previous experience.

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