Oh, the places you’ll go in the ever-expanding Big Ten

With additions of USC and UCLA in 2024, conference will go from coast to coast — all in the name of money.

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Starting in 2024, the annual clash between USC and UCLA will be a Big Ten game.

Starting in 2024, the annual clash between USC and UCLA will be a Big Ten game.

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Here’s something for young people starting out in the advertising or public-relations world to remember: The word ‘‘ten’’ is not a number. It’s a brand.

It doesn’t come between nine and 11. It comes right alongside money.

The fact the Big Ten soon will have 16 teams, after it adds UCLA and USC in 2024, should be no shocker.

After all, Los Angeles, home to those two defectors from the Pac-12, is almost right next to State College, Pennsylvania. And, hello, it’s only three time zones from College Park, Maryland.

Road trip, brothers!

What we don’t hear right now are a bunch of big-time college athletic directors and conference commissioners saying their unions are all about proximity, shared academic missions and rivalries.

I was kidding about California being close to Maryland. There are, according to my map-reading, eight states between the two — 12 if you want to dip down to the Florida panhandle and visit Uncle Fester en route.

And rivalries?

Well, who can wait for that UCLA-Indiana gridiron grudge match? (Fact: They’ve never played each other.)

OK, we’ll dispense with the old athletic-department clichés about Division I football and basketball programs being extracurricular activities performed by unpaid, hard-studying student-athletes.

You could see this coming for miles. And if you open your eyes a bit wider, you can see where it’s headed. That would be conferences at the highest levels having zero to do with anything but TV ratings, huge stadium revenue, sponsorships, licensing deals and booster money.

The athletes themselves? Nobody cares, as long as they score touchdowns, make jumpers, beat the other team and stay out of jail. Gone is any notion of letter jackets and golly-gee talk in the malt shop. This is big business.

In fact, it always has been. It just took time to fully dump the college part. The hypocrisy has been shielded by the veneer of propriety, the facade of educational missions, the sheen of ivy leaves and midterm bluebooks.

Schools have changed sports conferences for quite some time, usually gently and in small numbers. But the announcement last year that Texas and Oklahoma, the stalwarts of the Big 12, were defecting to the Southeastern Conference signaled that all rules and promises were off.

To have Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia in the same football league is to dominate TV ratings, always have somebody in the national-championship hunt and, in so doing, lock up huge amounts of revenue. 

So as the conferences try to load up with larger and more attractive TV markets and deals, often using their own networks for revenue, they have no problem trying to kill one another off in the race to the top. A super-conference of maybe 50 schools — more accurately, teams wearing any given school’s colors — seems inevitable.

The San Diego States, Bowling Greens, Rices and Wyomings? Keep playing for fun, boys. You’re not needed by the big fellows (except for sporadic victories).

Indeed, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith spoke no words of brotherhood when he said of the additions of UCLA and USC: ‘‘At the end of the day, Ohio State has been the program for the Big Ten over the years that has been at the top of the pyramid and has carried a significant amount of weight and value. Now we have two others who can contribute to that weight. I’m really excited about that.’’

He then added: ‘‘That’s no disparagement to any school. It’s just reality.’’

Ha, great disclaimer. Because it’s both — total disparagement and utter reality.

Facts are on Smith’s side. Ohio State has been ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25 football poll for 105 weeks, second to Alabama’s 137 and far and away more than any other Big Ten school. Playing powerhouse USC is pure gold for the Buckeyes.

Players, of course, are in on this free-for-all. They now can enter transfer portals to switch schools and sell their names, images and likenesses for endorsement deals. Several ‘‘amateur’’ college stars (and stars-to-be who are still in high school) are already millionaires.

So where does it end? Likely with a super-conference of superpowers that does its own deals and tells the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision to kiss off.

The Big Ten? It might want to check out adding Hawaii and the University of Paris.

Road trip!

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