It’s going to be a reunion of sorts when UCLA and USC join the Big Ten in 2024. Oregon and Washington are now coming along as part of a superconference that might need some rebranding to reflect its growing size.
“I’m fired up for the Big Eighteen,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly cracked Tuesday.
Kelly coached at Oregon several years before he arrived in Westwood, meaning he fully understands how adding two more West Coast teams to the Big Ten could lessen travel concerns, preserve rivalries and intensify recruiting battles in the old Pac-12 geographic footprint.
Yet the move won’t alleviate the travel worries of teams in other sports that will play more games, often in harsher weather while traveling to the Midwest and the East Coast. Kelly has an idea for how to resolve that issue, expanding upon the proposal for realignment he unveiled to reporters last week.
As part of the Kelly Plan, football would be uncoupled from all other sports at every school to mitigate all those unnecessary airline miles. There’s an example of one school already doing it in the Midwest.
“Notre Dame is an independent in football, but they’re in a conference for everything else,” Kelly said, alluding to the Fighting Irish’s other sports primarily playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference. “Why aren’t we all independent for football? Take the 64 teams in Power Five and make that one division, take the 64 teams in Group of Five, make that another division. We play for a championship, they play for a championship and no one else gets affected.
“Our sport’s different than everybody else — we only play once a week, travel’s not a big deal for football, but it is a big deal for other sports. So that’s my theory.”
Kelly would not say whether he wanted UCLA to play Oregon and Washington every year as part of a West Coast pod of the Big Ten, adding that no one asked him and he didn’t have a vote in the matter.
Some have speculated that Oregon and Washington tagging along with the L.A. schools to their new conference could negate any recruiting advantages UCLA would have otherwise enjoyed in the Pacific Northwest among prospects eager to play in the Big Ten. Kelly flatly disputed the idea that there was any correlation.
“You want to know what’s going on in recruiting right now?” Kelly asked. “It’s all NIL. So whoever has the most money is getting the most players.”
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