USC, UCLA move to Big Ten, shows how sports have always changed for money

As they say, tradition in sports ain’t what it used to be.

Well, okay, maybe it’s not really an old saying. But the way the sports world is changing these days, seemingly driven by the need for a few extra bucks, the concept of sticking to sports traditions is about as outdated as a mid-range jumper in the NBA.

The latest example of money over tradition is the move of USC and UCLA, two longtime premier college sports on the West Coast, to the more lucrative Big Ten. Not only is it a blow to what’s left of the Pac-12, it turns its back on traditional matchups like USC-Stanford and UCLA-Cal.

It’s easy to see why (the rest of this is best read with a grumpy old man’s voice in your head) many sports fans wonder why the traditions they love most in sports are being sold to the highest bidder. Just a few examples are:

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  • The LPGA ended a 51-year tradition of playing its first major of the year at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage. Now called the Chevron Championship, the tournament had already shed its Dinah Shore name due to a string of corporate sponsor names. The Chevron will be played in Houston starting in 2023, 1,400 miles from the Dinah Shore Tournament Course and famous champion jump at Poppie’s Pond. Of course Chevron’s arrival as a major sponsor came with an increase in the event’s purse from $3.1 million to $5 million
  • The LIV Golf Tour, a men’s professional golf tour, is trying to poke holes in the foundation of the history- and tradition-laden PGA Tour. Players like Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson made the leap to LIV this summer, citing better schedules and more time with their families. But at the top of the reasons to leave the PGA Tour are $4 million in first-place checks and guaranteed money every week, something the PGA Tour cannot and will not offer.
  • The days of a star college athlete staying at one school for four years definitely seem numbered. Players have been leaving college early for decades, but with the advent of college athletes getting paid for their name, image and likeness — generally a good idea, given the piles of money colleges make from players — and the transfer portal , which allows athletes to freely move from one school to another as professional free agents, it’s hard to keep up with who the starting quarterback or point guard is for your favorite school. It’s easy to imagine a footballer with four jackets in his wardrobe.
  • As baseball has embraced the home run and analytics, it has also embraced 30 percent hitting rates among hitters, four outfielders against designated hitters, and fielding changes for every occasion. Joe DiMaggio struck out 369 times in 13 seasons in the major leagues. Today, a weak-hitting outfielder can do that in two years at the cost of hitting 35 home runs a year.
  • The college bowl system has been dead for several years, although the events are still called the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl. The Rose Bowl between the Pac-12 and Big Ten, a tradition dating back to the last half of the 20th century, now exists only if the winners of those conferences are not in the College Football Playoff, or if the Rose Bowl itself is not a semifinal for those playoffs. Again, TV money made the changes.
Quarterback JT Daniels has announced he is transferring from Georgia to West Virginia.  He began his college career at USC.

All of this is enough to make a die-hard sports fan shake their head and turn off the TV. Except none of this is actually all that new.

The Pac-12, for example, was the Pac 8 until 1978, when Arizona and Arizona State joined from the Western Athletic Conference to make it the Pac 10. Colorado and Utah joined in 2011. The money and television, of course, stood behind them extensions.

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