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Big Ten Expansion To West Coast Damaging ‘Student’ In Student-Athlete

State College is 2,561 miles from Los Angeles, California. It’s 2,617 miles from Seattle, Washington. And it’s 2,630 miles from Eugene, Oregon.

Those are the distances that Penn State’s student-athletes will have to travel to take on Big Ten opponents beginning until 2024 when USC, UCLA, Oregon, and Washington all join the conference. In a conference where traveling over 1,000 miles to any sporting event was considered a great journey, those numbers are astronomical.

It’s the brutal truth of the Big Ten’s recent realignment, which began with USC and UCLA in June 2022 and (seemingly) concluded with Oregon and Washington in early August. College sports are increasingly commercialized, even disregarding the impact of NIL on the industry.

The recent realignment has forgotten the fundamental truth, and beauty, of NCAA athletics. The competitors that college sports rely on are student-athletes. And as any coach will say from the first day of freshman year in high school to college graduation, the word student comes first. It may be cliché, but it’s true.

The Big Ten is now asking its student-athletes to travel more than 2,000 miles on a regular basis. Long journeys aren’t unheard of in college sports, but making them mandatory is dangerous. Requiring teams, and their student-athletes, to travel as frequently as up to four times a year is detrimental to several hundred Penn State students who wanted to spend their college careers experiencing their dreams of pursuing their sport at the highest level.

Big Ten realignment was based on college football. USC, UCLA, Oregon, and Washington were spurned by money to leave a misled Pac-12 behind and join the Big Ten, which had just signed a lucrative television rights contract. But the players that will suffer the most are all those outside of football.

Oregon wasn’t attracted to the Big Ten by what the field hockey competition may offer. But Penn State will still have to travel to the Northwest to face the Ducks on a frequent basis. The same applies to soccer, baseball, softball, gymnastics, and the list goes on.

Less than 2% of Division I student-athletes will turn professional after their collegiate careers. Take football out of the equation, and that number certainly plummets, especially at Penn State.

That’s why conference expansion is so dangerous. Penn State is asking its many student-athletes to place priority on traveling extreme distances for a conference matchup. And then often asking them to do the same thing several times over in the same year. But the university is also asking a group of students that will have to enter the workforce in a few years’ time to maintain a high standard of academic excellence with a full courseload at the same time. It just isn’t feasible.

One of Penn State’s greatest selling points to student-athletes is that they can play their sport at a high level while earning a strong education. Four hundred and twenty-five student-athletes followed through on that promise in the 2022-23 school year and earned All-Big Ten academic selections. But how can the university keep its promise to those 425 student-athletes, as well as the several other hundred students who didn’t earn Academic All-Big Ten honors when they’re asked to travel obscene distances on a regular basis?

Conference realignment does not fall on the shoulders of Penn State. And frankly, the scenario is far worse for student-athletes at Oregon and Washington, who have to travel the farthest of any school in the conference. But Penn State still has an obligation to its student-athletes to allow them to pursue the greatest career that they can after college, either within or outside of sports.

Realignment may be fun to watch from the outside looking in. Watching Penn State football play USC at Beaver Stadium is a thrilling idea. But Penn State, at the universities around the Big Ten, ultimately failed the student-athletes that have built those institutions’ athletic programs up.

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About the Author

Joe Lister

Joe is a senior journalism major at Penn State and Onward State's managing editor. He writes about everything Penn State, especially its 10-2 football team. If you want to find him, Joe's usually watching soccer with his shirt off or at the gym with his shirt on. For dumb stuff, follow him on Twitter (iamjoelister). For serious stuff, email him ([email protected]).

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