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USC and UCLA are Joining the Most Jewish Collegiate Athletic Conference

By joining the Big Ten Conference, UCLA and USC are also joining the athletic conference with more Jewish students than any other in the U.S, over 58,000 in total.
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July 7, 2022
Dorian Thompson-Robinson #1 of the UCLA Bruins scrambles from the tackle of Xavion Alford #29 of the USC Trojans during the first quarter at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 20, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

It was announced on June 30 that UCLA and USC will be leaving the Pac-12 Conference and joining the Big Ten Conference in 2024.

By joining the Big Ten Conference, UCLA and USC are also joining the athletic conference with more Jewish students than any other in the U.S, over 58,000 in total.

According to Hillel International’s 2021 survey of Jewish students on college campuses, six of the ten most Jewish public universities in the U.S. are at Big Ten schools: Rutgers, Maryland, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana University and Penn State.

The joint move by UCLA and USC rocked the college athletics world for both geographic and historic reasons.

The Pac-12 conference was originally founded as the Pacific Coast Conference in 1915—USC would join in 1922 and UCLA would join in 1928. The conference would undergo name changes throughout the next hundred years, but only expand twice, adding Arizona and Arizona State in 1978, and Colorado and Utah in 2011.

And now, both of the Pac-12’s Los Angeles-based teams are leaving for a conference where their nearest neighbor is in Lincoln, Nebraska, a 1,500-mile road trip from Los Angeles.

There’s plenty of examples of geographic outliers in various collegiate athletic conferences.

But with UCLA and USC departing the Pac-12, they’re joining a conference where their fellow members will be located predominantly in the midwest. Founded in 1896 as the Western Conference, the Big Ten’s charter members were Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin and Michigan. The University of Chicago gave up their spot to Michigan State after World War II. From 1950-1990, the conference had exactly ten teams, until Penn State joined in 1990. The conference moniker remained at ten even after they expanded to 14 teams. With the addition of UCLA and USC, there will be 16—and that number could still grow before 2024.

This shocking move will likely be an extinction-level event for the current alignment of collegiate athletic conferences delineated by geography and over a century of history. The allure of television money for the athletic conferences stacked with schools in big cities like Los Angeles could result in mega-conferences in excess of 20 members from coast to coast.

This shocking move will likely be an extinction-level event for the current alignment of collegiate athletic conferences delineated by geography and over a century of history.

The reception of UCLA and USC joining the Big Ten has been mixed, and will definitely make future Bruin and Trojan athletic recruits reconsider where to continue their sports endeavors. At their furthest, a plane ride from LAX to Newark Liberty Airport to play Rutgers would be a 5.5 hours across three time zones. For comparison, the longest inter-conference flight from LAX to Seattle to play Washington is less than 3 hours each way and all in the same time zone.

The Journal spoke with Matt Bernstein, a former football player for the University of Wisconsin-Madison who was quite excited for the colossal changes.

“I absolutely love this idea,” Bernstein told The Journal. He was inducted to the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.

“The thought of going to California to play these teams in their stadiums or them coming to Camp Randall [Stadium in Madison] is flat out awesome. I think it helps recruiting, and it gets our west coast fans pumped. The Big Ten stopped being the Big ‘Ten’ a very long time ago, so let’s make it the strongest conference we can.”

There is still much to be determined—for example, UCLA and USC will have to figure out which opponents their respective Women’s Beach Volleyball teams will play. Nine different Pac-12 schools have Beach Volleyball teams. There are none in the Big Ten Conference currently.

But if UCLA and USC started playing in the Big Ten today, their Jewish student population would rank 9th (USC) and 11th (UCLA) most Jewish campuses in the conference:

Source: Hillel College Guide

1. Rutgers University
Scarlet Knights
Total students: 50,173
Jewish students: 7,400

2. University of Maryland, College Park
Terrapins
Total students: 40,743
Jewish Students: 6,600

3. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Wolverines
Total students: 48,090
Jewish students: 6,500

4. University of Wisconsin-Madison
Badgers
Total students: 45,317
Jewish students: 5,200

5. Pennsylvania State University
Nittany Lions
Total students: 47,223
Jewish students: 5,000

6. Indiana University Bloomington
Hoosiers
Total students: 43,260
Jewish students: 4,500

7. Michigan State University
Spartans
Total students: 49,809
Jewish students: 4,000

8. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Fighting Illini
Total students: 50,234
Jewish students: 4,000

9. USC
Trojans
Total students: 48,321
Jewish students: 4,000

10. The Ohio State University
Buckeyes
Total students: 61,391
Jewish students: 3,127

11. UCLA
Bruins
Total students: 45,742
Jewish students: 3,100

12. Northwestern University
Wildcats
Total students: 21,946
Jewish students: 2,200

13. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Golden Gophers
Total students: 51,327
Jewish students: 1,410

14. University of Iowa
Hawkeyes
Total students: 31,240
Jewish students: 750

15. Purdue University
Boilermakers
Total students: 43,411
Jewish students: 395

16. University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Cornhuskers
Total students: 25,390
Jewish students: 75

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