USC and UCLA could be joining the Big Ten Conference as soon as 2024 after league officials voted Thursday to approve the schools’ application for membership.  

The move is just the latest in a wave of realignment among college football powers, moving away from the strictly regional model that had organized the sport for more than a century.  

In two years, the Big Ten will stretch from coast to coast with campuses from California to New Jersey.  

USC athletic director Mike Bohn called the conference "the best home for USC" in a statement on Thursday night. 

"Ultimately, the Big Ten is the best home for USC and Trojan athletics as we move into the new world of collegiate sports," he said. "We also will benefit from the stability and strength of the conference." 

UCLA chancellor Gene D. Block and AD Martin Jarmond also released a combined statement Thursday, announcing the move.  

"Each school faces its own unique challenges and circumstances, and we believe this is the best move for UCLA at this time," they said. "For us, this move offers greater certainty in rapidly changing times and ensures that we remain a leader in college athletics for generations to come."  

With Oklahoma and Texas scheduled to join the SEC and both L.A. rivals headed to the Big Ten, many pundits have predicted continued movement until two giant leagues contain all the sport’s traditional powers.  

According to multiple reports, USC and UCLA initiated conversations with the Big Ten. The sides first met on Wednesday, with the unanimous membership vote coming just 24 hours later.  

The Pac-12 loses two charter members while negotiating a new media rights deal and leaving the conference scrambling to keep up in the realignment arms race.  

Since receiving news that Oklahoma and Texas were leaving, the Big 12 has arranged for new members in Cincinnati, UCF, Houston and BYU.  

The Pac-12 will now likely look for new members of its own in order to keep up.  

"While we are extremely surprised and disappointed by the news coming out of UCLA and USC today, we have a long and storied history in athletics, academics and leadership in supporting student-athletes that we're confident will continue to thrive and grow into the future," the Pac-12 said in a statement. 

The Big Ten is currently negotiating its own media rights deal that is expected to exceed $1 billion annually.

Karl-Anthony Towns has agreed to a four-year, $224million 'supermax' contract extension with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It is a move that ties Towns, 26, to the franchise until after the 2027 playoffs, as he still has two seasons remaining on his five-year, $158m deal he signed ahead of the 2019-20 season.

The Timberwolves centre – who called himself the greatest big-man shooter of all time after winning this past season's Three Point Contest during All-Star Weekend – is coming off his second career playoff appearance, and the first since 2018.

He averaged 24.6 points, along with 9.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists, shooting 41 per cent from three-point range on 4.9 attempts per game.

Partnered with the number one pick of the 2020 NBA Draft, Anthony Edwards, the Timberwolves believe they have the cornerstones of what could turn into the most successful era of Minnesota basketball since Kevin Garnett left for the Boston Celtics in 2007.

For the second straight day a Pittsburgh Pirates player has hit three home runs in an 8-7 win – this time with Michael Perez starring against the Milwaukee Brewers.

On Wednesday it was Bryan Reynolds hitting three home runs in an 8-7 win against the Washington Nationals, and Thursday's game started in fine fashion for the Pirates at home, jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the second inning.

Those runs came first through a monster 431-foot, two-run blast from Oneil Cruz as he continues to make his case as arguably the most exciting youngster in baseball, before Jack Suwinski followed up with a 412-foot solo shot as the very next batter.

The Brewers fought back in the next couple of frames, with Christian Yelich's RBI triple and Omar Narvaez's RBI double helping to even the score at 3-3 in the fourth inning, and that is where Perez began his memorable night.

In the bottom of the fourth, Perez connected on a 377-foot, two-run homer, driving in Suwinski, and with Suwinski on base again in the sixth inning, Perez repeated the act, this time with a 391-foot, two-run smack.

Perez's longest hit of the game came in the eighth frame, extending his side's lead to 8-4 with a 408-foot solo homer.

With his third long ball of the game, Perez matched his season total entering the contest, and the third turned out to be crucial as the Brewers were able to drive in three runs in the ninth inning, ultimately falling short.

Adding salt to the wounds for the Brewers was starting pitcher Adrian Houser being forced to leave the game in the third inning due to elbow tightness, with the bullpen going on to give up five runs in the last five-and-two-thirds innings.

Guardians walk it off

The Cleveland Guardians only collected three hits in their 5-3 win against the Minnesota Twins, but they saved the best for last.

Twins pitchers Chris Archer, Tyler Duffey and Jovani Moran combined to hold the Guardians to just one hit through the first seven innings – although Archer did hand out six walks.

The Guardians were able to tie things up at 3-3 in the eighth inning as two runs came home on a fielding error from Carlos Correa, setting the table for Andres Gimenez to be the hero in the bottom of the ninth, connecting on a 411-foot, two-run, walk-off blast. 

Astros beat the Yankees again

The New York Yankees are 6-3 in their past nine games, but all three losses have come against the Houston Astros after Thursday's 2-1 defeat.

Astros starting pitcher Luis Garcia put in an excellent showing, giving up one run in five-and-a-third innings, holding the Yankees to three hits and two walks from 101 pitches, striking out six.

Houston's only scoring play of the game came in the third inning, with Alex Bregman's two-run double, while the Yankees' sole run came from an Anthony Rizzo homer as the last batter before Garcia was withdrawn.

Mexico's Carlos Ortiz is the outright leader after the first round at LIV Golf Portland, finishing five under after his first trip around Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club.

He was on track for a bigger lead than the one stroke buffer he holds, with three birdies from his first four holes after beginning his shotgun start on the ninth tee, before back-to-back bogeys brought him back to the field.

Ortiz finished his round with three birdies on his final five holes, re-taking the lead in the final stages of play.

Dustin Johnson is just one stroke back in outright second place at four under, bogeying his first hole of the day as he started on the 18th, but it would be his only blemish, collecting five birdies and 12 pars the rest of the way.

Rounding out the top-five is Pat Perez, Hideto Tanihara, Wade Ormsby and Branden Grace in a tie for third at three under.

Playing in his first LIV Golf event, Brooks Koepka put in a good showing as one of 13 players to finish under par, tied for seventh along with Hennie du Plessis after their two-under 70s.

Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Scott Vincent and Yuki Inamori are tied for ninth at one under, while big names Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau headline the group at even par.

Koepka's brother Chase Koepka is at one over along with Mexico's Abraham Ancer, winner of LIV Golf's debut event Charl Schwartzel is at two over with Ian Poulter, and Phil Mickelson finished at three over with Sergio Garcia and Kevin Na.

American J.T. Poston played a near-flawless opening round at TPC Deere Run to lead the John Deere Classic by two strokes after Thursday's action.

Poston, who was one career PGA Tour win back at the Wyndham Championship in 2019, is arguably in career-best form at the moment after finishing tied for second in last week's Travelers Championship. He also finished tied for third at the Wells Fargo Championship, and collected another top-10 at RBC Heritage. 

He posted seven birdies, and an eagle on the par-five second hole, in his bogey-free round, finishing with a nine-under 62.

Speaking to the media afterwards, Poston said he can feel himself in a groove.

"I think it's starting to kind of come together and see the results and see the shots, and kind of building that confidence back into my ball striking," he said.

"Hit my irons really well and hitting a lot of fairways, so I'm able to kind of attack some of the pins. Really, just hitting a lot of greens, which is something I haven't done in the first part of the year.

"It's obviously been the secret I guess, so hopefully keep it going."

In outright second place is Canadian Michael Gligic, who also went bogey-free, draining seven birdies for his seven-under 64.

Vaughn Taylor and Christopher Gotterup are tied for third at six under, while the group of Ricky Barnes, Denny McCarthy, Chris Naegel and Dylan Frittelli sit tied for fifth at five under.

A log-jam at four under features Austria's Matthias Schwab, Canada's Adam Svensson and American Scott Stallings, while Australian Cam Davis and Argentina's Emiliano Grillo are one further shot back.

Cameron Champ and India's Anirban Lahiri are at two under, Maverick McNealy and Rory Sabbatini are one under, and Webb Simpson is the pick of the players at even par.

Lu Dort, Bobby Portis and P.J. Tucker were among the players to get paid on a busy Thursday evening of free agency action.

Dort was shown good faith by the Oklahoma City Thunder, who opted to decline his team option that would have kept him on a $1.9million deal for next season, instead choosing to sign him to a five-year, $87.5million extension.

On a roster stacked with rookie salaries, the Thunder simply need to have some bigger contracts on their books to meet the league's salary floor, and in doing so they have rewarded a player who has become a cult figure, averaging 17.2 points per game this past season while being his side's premier wing defender.

Speaking of cult figures, Portis' connection with the Milwaukee Bucks after helping to deliver the city their second NBA championship was strong enough to have him stick around for the following year on just over $4m.

That loyalty was rewarded with a new four-year, $49m deal that will keep the 27-year-old big-man in Milwaukee until after the 2026 playoffs.

The Bucks also made a second notable move, signing 34-year-old free agent Joe Ingles to a one-year, $6.5m contract. Ingles suffered a season-ending injury with the Utah Jazz this past season, but figures to fill a role as a 41 per cent career three-point shooter, who can also handle, pass and defend at six-foot-eight.

Tucker was also a member of the Bucks' 2021 championship team, and after contributing to the Miami Heat's run to the Eastern Conference Finals this past season, the 37-year-old has signed with the Philadelphia 76ers for three years and $33m.

Over the years, Tucker has evolved into one of the game's best corner three point shooters, and across the past five seasons he has started 77 playoff games, often guarding the opposition's most dangerous wing scorer.

While Tucker is getting paid to come and provide a stabilising force, the Portland Trail Blazers are paying for upside with their four-year, $100m commitment to breakout guard Anfernee Simons.

After averaging no more than 8.4 points and 1.4 assists in each of his first three campaigns, the 23-year-old shot into mainstream attention this season and he piled up numbers on a Trail Blazers team that was missing star Damian Lillard through injury.

Simons started a career-high 30 games, and put up career-high numbers across the board. He averaged 17.3 points and 3.9 assists, while shooting an impressive 40 per cent from three on an aggressive 7.8 attempts per game, emerging as one of the game's more lethal pull-up shooters from distance.

Backup point guard Tyus Jones will return to the Memphis Grizzlies on a two-year, $30m contract after a season where he became one of the league's most valuable backups.

Jones led the entire league in assist-to-turnover ratio at 6.4 – putting a gap on the rest of the field – with his brother, Tre Jones of the Spurs, in second place at 5.1.

He also shot a career-high 39 per cent from long range, and averaged 12.7 points, 6.6 assists and 3.2 rebounds without Ja Morant in the line-up, making him one of the main reasons the Grizzlies were 20-5 in the 25 games their superstar point guard missed due to injury.

The NBA's reigning back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic has agreed to the richest deal in league history – signing a five-year, $264million extension with the Denver Nuggets.

Jokic, 27, was a second-round pick in 2014, and after making the All-Rookie First Team in 2016, he evolved into an All-Star and one of the greatest passing big men to ever play.

He has now collected four consecutive All-Star appearances, and in that time he has three All-NBA First Team honours, along with one in the Second Team.

In each of his past two MVP seasons, Jokic has averaged at least 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game, and with a game that relies on almost no explosive athleticism at all, he plays a style that projects to age gracefully.

With one season remaining on his current five-year, $147m deal, Jokic's new contract will kick in for the 2023-24 season, meaning he will not become an unrestricted free agent again until after the 2028 playoffs.

The Nuggets made a run to the Western Conference Finals in the 2020 playoffs but have since struggled with the health of star point guard Jamal Murray and exciting wing shooter Michael Porter Jr, who both figure to make their returns near the start of next season.

Devin Booker has established himself as one of the game's elite players, and now he is going to be paid like one. 

Booker and the Phoenix Suns have agreed to terms on a four-year, $214million supermax contract extension, according to multiple reports.

The extension will begin after the two years and $70m Booker has remaining on his current deal signed in 2019. 

Among the NBA's most consistent scorers, Booker has been an All-Star each of the last three seasons and finished fourth in the MVP race in 2021-22.

He was selected to the All-NBA First Team this past year after averaging a career-high 26.8 points to go with 5.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.1 steals per game. He was joined on the first team by Jayson Tatum, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic.

Booker, who was entering the final year of a five-year, $158m deal, was drafted 13th overall by the Suns in 2015 out of Kentucky.

He improved his scoring average each of his first four seasons and is one of only three players to average at least 25 points in the past four seasons, along with Antetokounmpo and LeBron James.

Booker will also be the cover athlete for the NBA 2K23, per sources. Booker will be among an exclusive group to appear on the cover that includes Doncic, James, Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant.

As the Suns worked on the Booker deal on Thursday, the team were also reported to be near the front of the queue for Durant, who has requested a trade from the Brooklyn Nets.

The San Antonio Spurs appear committed to their rebuild after it was announced they plan to waive newly acquired forward Danilo Gallinari and withdraw their qualifying offer for Lonnie Walker IV.

Gallinari was brought over to the Spurs in this week's blockbuster trade, which sent Dejounte Murray to the Atlanta Hawks for Gallinari and three first-round draft picks.

The move to trade Murray – their 25-year-old point guard who was named an All-Star for the first time in 2022 – indicated a shift towards the future and a commitment to not being competitive for at least a season or two in order to maximise their draft equity.

Gallinari, at 33 years old, does not fit in with the Spurs' timeline and may not have had enough value to command any draft picks back as a trade chip, so the team have instead opted to buy out his contract – which had one more season and $21.5million remaining.

The move makes Gallinari an unrestricted free agent, meaning he can come to an agreement with any team who have cap space.

Walker, who was a first-round pick by the Spurs in 2018, averaged a career-high in points (12.2) and assists (2.2) this past season, but with plenty of young guard options remaining on the roster, San Antonio opted to withdraw their qualifying offer.

The qualifying offer meant Walker was a restricted free agent, giving the Spurs the option to match any offer tendered to him, which also restricts how many teams view it as a chase worth their time, as the expectation is often that the team will match them.

By withdrawing their qualifying offer, Walker is now an unrestricted free agent, able to choose his own path forward.

Walker is still only 23, so to allow him to walk indicates that he had no trade value at all and that the organisation have decided he is not part of their plans as they prepare for a couple of years near the bottom of the Western Conference.

Bradley Beal agreed his return to the Washington Wizards for a huge five-year, $251million contract as free agency began on Thursday.

Beal had declined his $36.4m player option for the 2022-23 season, becoming an unrestricted free agent.

That move allowed Beal to seek a maximum contract extension as he re-signed with the team.

The agreement was first reported to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski by Beal's agent Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports.

Wizards president and general manager Tommy Sheppard confirmed: "The Wizards intend to enter into a player contract with Bradley Beal once the moratorium period ends."

While Washington could scarcely afford not to reward their key man, it is a huge commitment to a player who was limited to 40 games in 2021-22 due to injury.

The Wizards have won only three playoff series in Beal's 10-year NBA career. They have made the postseason just once in four seasons.

Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. has undergone foot surgery and could be out for six months.

Jackson was a key man for the Grizzlies in the 2021-22 season, his fourth in the league.

Bouncing back after playing only 11 games (four starts) due to injury the previous year, the former Michigan State man averaged 16.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.

He averaged 15.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in the playoffs.

But Jackson has sustained another setback, this time a stress fracture in his right foot, as the team revealed on Thursday.

He underwent surgery on Wednesday – "a successful procedure," the Grizzlies reported – and is expected to miss four to six months. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Jackson suffered a torn meniscus in August 2020, not returning until April 2021. A thigh bruise had previously curtailed his rookie season.

Free agent guard Jalen Brunson is headed back to Madison Square Garden. 

Brunson, one of the breakout stars in the Dallas Mavericks’ run to the Western Conference final last season, intends to sign a four-year, $110 million contract with the New York Knicks, The Athletic reported Thursday. 

The NBA’s free agency negotiating period began at 6 p.m. ET Thursday. No deals will be official until the beginning of the league year on July 6. 

Brunson, who spent his early childhood in New Jersey and was a part of two NCAA title teams at Villanova, had been widely linked to the Knicks after he and the Mavericks failed to agree to a contract extension last season. 

The Athletic’s report said that Dallas never had the opportunity to make Brunson an offer, further evidence that his relationship with the Mavericks’ front office had been fractured. 

Brunson was chosen by Dallas in the second round of the 2018 draft and played 277 games for the Mavs, starting in 127. 

Last season, Brunson registered career highs by averaging 16.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists.

He scored 21.6 points per game last postseason, including an average of 32.0 points during the first three games of the first round against the Utah Jazz with Luka Doncic sidelined by injury. 

YouTube and social media star Logan Paul has signed a deal with WWE.

The 27-year-old appeared at WrestleMania 37 last year and made his in-ring debut at this year's event in April.

Paul announced on his personal Twitter account on Thursday that he has signed with the wrestling organisation, with the contract reported to run through until next year.

Paul Levesque, WWE's head of Global Talent Strategy and Development, tweeted: "I think it’s safe to say Logan Paul shocked the world with his abilities as a guest at WrestleMania.

"Just imagine what he'll do as a WWE Superstar. Congratulations and welcome!"

Paul shared a boxing ring with Floyd Mayweather prior to his run in WWE and lasted the full eight rounds, with no winner announced.

His younger brother, Jake Paul, has found success in boxing and is scheduled to fight Tommy Fury on August 6.

Rafael Nadal fended off a second early test of his Wimbledon mettle as he took four sets to see off Ricardas Berankis on Thursday.

Just as in his opener against Francisco Cerundolo, Nadal dropped the third set of this match, but he regrouped, as he had two days earlier, to finish it in four.

A 6-4 6-4 4-6 6-3 victory for the 36-year-old will do the job for round two, but it was laboured at times on Centre Court from Nadal, a day after title favourite Novak Djokovic delivered a masterclass against Thanasi Kokkinakis.

Australian Open and French Open champion Nadal sealed it with an ace, his 16th consecutive win in a grand slam match, and the lack of polish at this early stage can be forgiven, given his lack of preparation on grass as he underwent treatment on his troublesome foot.

World number 106 Berankis forced breaks to lead early in the second and third sets, and although the Lithuanian was pegged back quickly enough by Nadal on the first occasion, he held his nerve to take the third set.

A rain delay came when Nadal was 3-0 clear in the fourth set, and that was only an inconvenience, Nadal wasting little time in finishing the job.

With Matteo Berrettini and Roberto Bautista Agut both pulling out of Nadal's half of the draw due to COVID-19, and Denis Shapovalov losing on Thursday to Brandon Nakashima after reaching the semi-finals last year, it is hard to see who might deny the Spanish two-time champion a place in the final, unless Nick Kyrgios or Stefanos Tsitsipas fancy the task. Italian Lorenzo Sonego will be the next to try.

Nadal said: "Every day is a challenge. That's the truth. I didn't play much on grass in the last three years. I need to improve, but I think the fourth set was much better. I think it was a good level of tennis in that set and the serve worked much better at the end of the match and I was able to play more aggressive, while at the beginning there were too many mistakes.

"It's important for me to accept things are not perfect and just keep working, be humble and accept the challenge."

Data slam: Going past Martina

Nadal took his total of singles grand slam wins to 307 with this victory, taking him one ahead of Martina Navratilova, the nine-time Wimbledon champion.

He moves up to fourth place on the all-time list for singles wins in the majors, behind only Roger Federer, who leads the way, Serena Williams and Djokovic.

Nadal of course leads the men's slam race with an unmatched 22 slams.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Nadal – 35/39
Berankis – 35/35

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Nadal – 13/4
Berankis – 3/3

BREAK POINTS WON
Nadal – 4/16
Berankis – 2/5

Kevin Durant has requested a trade away from the Brooklyn Nets, according to widespread reports.

With free agency due to start later on Thursday, the day's biggest story is certain to centre around the former MVP.

Durant is under contract until 2026, but ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski said Nets general manager Sean Marks was working with the player and his business manager Rich Kleiman to find a trade.

The 12-time All-Star forward is now 33 yet would command a huge trade package.

Wojnarowski described Durant as "one of the most valuable trade assets ever on the market". He added the Nets had taken calls and would expect "a historic return on players and draft picks".

The Phoenix Suns and the Miami Heat have been listed among potential destinations.

Murmurings of discontent around Durant, who joined the Nets from the Golden State Warriors in a 2019 sign-and-trade, had emerged in recent weeks.

Durant had sought to turn the Nets into a contender when he and close friend Kyrie Irving went to Brooklyn, where they were later joined by James Harden.

But the 'big three' did not deliver, and Harden was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers last season as Irving spent an extended period on the sideline after refusing a coronavirus vaccine.

Irving eventually returned to play and has opted in to his contract with the Nets, but Durant now appears determined to force his way out.

The two-time champion and two-time Finals MVP would likely make any suitors a major threat in the 2022-23 season.

Max Verstappen has stated Nelson Piquet is "not a racist" but condemned the Brazilian's "very offensive" slur towards Lewis Hamilton.

The former Formula One champion has faced backlash after an interview emerged following last season's British Grand Prix in which he was alleged to have used a racial slur in reference to Hamilton, prompting widespread criticism across the F1 paddock.

Verstappen has condemned the comments from Piquet, which he said were "very offensive", but he defended the character of the 69-year-old, who is the father of his partner Kelly.

"I've spent a bit of time with Nelson, and he's definitely not a racist, and he's actually a really nice and relaxed guy," he told reporters on Thursday.

"The statement he released, you can see the word in two ways, but I think it's still better not to use it.

"It's not only about that word, using offensive language to anyone, any colour, is not correct. That's to anyone in the world, not just to Lewis specifically.

"I think he realised it was probably not the correct word to use, and clearly it is not.

"It can be interpreted in two ways, and of course people pick up on the bad side and of course it gets really blown, I think, out of proportion.

"I know Nelson personally and people of course label him as a racist now, which I don't think he is, but I fully agree that you cannot use these words."

It has widely been reported F1 will now ban Piquet from the paddock, but Verstappen added he did not feel that would be the correct move.

"When you ban people, you are actually not helping the situation," he said. "You're not talking.

"You have to communicate. It's really important, because if you just ban, it's not helping what you're trying to enforce."

The Detroit Pistons and Kemba Walker are finalising a contract buyout that will allow the four-time All-Star to enter free agency, ESPN reported on Thursday.

The move was expected after the rebuilding Pistons acquired Walker from the New York Knicks last week as part of a three-team trade that also netted Detroit rookie big man Jalen Duran, the 13th overall pick of this year’s draft.

Walker was due to earn nearly $9.2million in the final season of a two-year, $18m contract the New York City native signed with the Knicks last summer.

It is the second straight year Walker has had his contract bought out after being traded. The 32-year-old point guard was dealt from Boston to Oklahoma City in June 2021, with Walker later agreeing to relinquish $20m of the nearly $74m he was owed on his former deal to become a free agent.

Walker played in only 37 games during his lone season with the Knicks and averaged a career-low 11.4 points per game while shooting just 40.3 per cent from the field.

He fell out of coach Tom Thibodeau’s rotation in November and did not play at all after the All-Star break due to chronic knee problems that had hampered him in previous years as well.

The former University of Connecticut standout has not appeared in more than 56 games in any of the past three seasons, though he was an All-Star as recently as 2019-20 when he averaged 20.4 points and 4.8 assists per game in his first of two seasons with the Celtics.

New York and Detroit have been active trade partners this offseason, with the Knicks also sending veterans Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel to the Pistons in a separate deal.

The move cleared nearly $20m of cap space for the Knicks, who are expected to make a strong push for Dallas Mavericks point guard Jalen Brunson in free agency.

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