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Smeltzer: How Oregon, Washington Will Affect Penn State, Big Ten in Non-Football Sports

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Bryce Jordan Center | Photo by Penn State

Oregon and Washington are joining Penn State in the Big Ten starting in 2024. 

Many people are discussing how this will affect the conference’s football teams, and I went into that yesterday. 

But what about the other sports programs? It’s time to dive into that.

*Note: Washington and Oregon do not have wrestling teams. 

MEN’S BASKETBALL

Washington hasn’t made the tournament since 2019 and has been mediocre at best since. Oregon’s been a better program, having made it to two Sweet 16s in the past five years and a final four appearance in 2016. The Big Ten is one of America’s best basketball conferences and didn’t need much help for basketball. I don’t think Washington will do much for the league, but having Oregon will strengthen it. From Penn State’s standpoint, travel will be difficult, but the added competition will help new coach Mike Rhoades recruit in the Northwest, which will be an asset. 

With that said, Penn State basketball is trying to become a consistent winner, something it hasn’t been at any point in program history, and having Oregon in the same conference will be challenging.

WOMEN’s BASKETBALL

Oregon had a great run late in the 2010s led by a generational talent in Sabrina Ionescu, making it to three straight Elite Eights and the Final Four in 2019. Oregon’s also held its own in the post-Ionescu era, making it to the dance in 2021 and ’22. Washington made it to the Final Four in 2016 but has only made one tournament since. 

Penn State women’s basketball feels less relevant than ever in what’s been a boom period for the sport, so if one of these teams regains the form they had last decade, it will create exposure that will benefit the program.

BASEBALL

Oregon baseball isn’t well-known historically, but the Ducks are on the rise, having won a regional championship this summer and having made three straight NCAA Tournaments. Washington’s also coming off a tournament appearance and made it to the College World Series in 2018.

The Big Ten isn’t known for its baseball prowess, so adding these two teams, along with USC and UCLA, should help boost it. Like Penn State women’s basketball, the baseball team could use as much national exposure as possible to help with recruiting, and under new coach Mike Gambino, adding the two Northwest schools should help with that. It’s safe to say that Big Ten baseball is getting revamped.

SOFTBALL

Washington made it to the College World Series this summer. Oregon’s made three straight NCAA Tournament appearances and is coming off a super regional appearance. Penn State softball’s on the rise under coach Claressa Crowell, having gone from seven wins in 2021 to 32 in 2022 and 31 this past season. Playing teams from far away could have Crowell find a new recruiting base. Penn State softball is on the rise, and being pushed by these two, especially Washington, could help it grow. The Big Ten’s best team this season, Northwestern, didn’t make it to the College World Series, instead falling short in the Super Regional round. Seeing a Big Ten team make it there, which Washington did, could do wonders for the conference, including Penn State. But in any case, PSU softball is on the way up.

Men’s Soccer

Oregon doesn’t have a men’s soccer team, but Washington has a good one, making it to the national championship game in 2021. Penn State struggled to a 6-6-4 record last year but made it to three straight NCAA Tournaments before that, headlined by a Sweet 16 appearance in the 2020 campaign. Penn State has a respected soccer program, and having Washington there to challenge it should only improve it. The Big Ten had last year’s NCAA runner-up in Indiana, so having two of the past four finalists in the fold is a good look for the conference. The Big Ten’s also adding UCLA, who made it to the third round of last year’s tournament. 

Women’s Soccer

Washington made it to the Sweet 16 in the 2020 season (played in the spring of 2021) and also made the tournament the year before, so that program’s had some recent success. Oregon women’s soccer has had limited historical success. On the other hand, Penn State is coming off a trip to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in which the school had a Cinderella Big Ten Tournament title run. Overall, neither Washington nor Oregon is known as a power in women’s soccer.

Volleyball

Oregon made it to a regional final in 2022, capping a run of 15 tournament appearances in 17 years. Washington won a national championship in 2005 and has made it to 20 straight tournaments and six final fours since 2010. Penn State volleyball is still strong but far from its old glory. Having two successful PAC 12 programs in the conference should spice things up. 

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