‘They fit the Big Ten mold’: Brad Underwood discusses future of Big Ten with USC, UCLA

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Cameron Krasucki

Illinois men’s basketball head coach Brad Underwood on the sidelines during the Big Ten tournament first round game against Indiana on March 11. Underwood expresses his excitement with USC and UCLA joining Big Ten.

By Drew Friberg, Sports Editor

Thursday evening, the UCLA Bruins and the USC Trojans announced their plan to join the Big Ten at the start of the 2024 season.

While met with criticisms online by fans and alumni of the Big Ten and the Trojans/Bruins alike, administration from the Big Ten and Big Ten universities displayed great respect for UCLA and USC as educational institutions, in addition to athletic programs.

​​“As the national leader in academics and athletics for over 126 years, the Big Ten Conference has historically evaluated its membership with the collective goal to forward the academic and athletic mission for student-athletes under the umbrella of higher education,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said in the Big Ten’s official statement on Thursday. “The unanimous vote today signifies the deep respect and welcoming culture our entire conference has for the University of Southern California, under the leadership of President Carol Folt, and the University of California, Los Angeles, under the leadership of Chancellor Gene Block.”

With both universities being located in Los Angeles, a lot of the worry surrounding the move is based on the over 2,000-mile trip student athletes may be asked to make from Champaign, which could get in the way of academics.

This problem is contrary to a lot of Warren’s statement, as he put a heavy emphasis on academics over just athletics.

Head men’s basketball coach Brad Underwood doesn’t see this as a huge issue moving forward though, even referencing that some smaller conferences have been doing this from the get-go.

”I was at Western Illinois, and we had a Thursday and Saturday from Troy State (Troy, Alabama) to Central Connecticut,” said Underwood. “We went as far west as Cedar City, Utah. The Mid-Continent Conference went national long before the Big Ten did.”

With new competitors brings a new challenge for Underwood and staff moving forward. Competing with a blue blood like UCLA with its storied history and national recruiting ability is now made even harder with the program’s inclusion in the Big Ten. 

Underwood is up for this challenge, however, expressing that it is a privilege to play alongside such a program moving forward.

“You’re talking about UCLA, maybe the all-time greatest program in college basketball,” said Underwood. “It’s exciting.”

Overall, Underwood was thrilled with the future of Big Ten hoops. His excitement moving forward is based on both programs fitting the conference expectations.

“It’s fabulous,” said Underwood. “You’re talking about two of the most historic athletic programs, I’m also talking about two of the top academic institutions. They fit the Big Ten mold.”

A program who fits said mold is one that expresses excellent academics alongside historically great athletics. With UCLA and USC fitting this mold in the eyes of Underwood, the future is exciting for Illinois athletics and the Big Ten as a whole.

Underwood’s contract extension signed in March keeps him at Illinois until 2028, meaning he will have at least five seasons of facing the Big Ten’s newest expansion teams.

 

@DrewFriberg9

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