The Pac-12 did this to themselves. The latest NCAA realignment rumors have Colorado returning to the Big 12, as reported on Wednesday, and that may be the death knell for the conference.
But the signs have been there for decades at this point. They’ve gated the conference from schools like San Diego State and refused to capitalize when the Big 12 looked weakened. Where do they turn now?
NCAA Realignment Rumors: Where Does the Pac-12 Turn?
Larry Scott laid this foundation: An infamously inaccessible television network, an invincible attitude towards a landscape that was so obviously changing before all of our eyes. George Kliavkoff’s inability to reverse those changes has culminated in the disaster that has been the Pac-12’s nearly year-long quest for a new media deal.
Colorado asked for numbers in a conference-wide meeting on Tuesday. Kliavkoff couldn’t give them, because there are none. So the Buffaloes opted for security: A spot in the Big 12 with a full revenue share of $31.7 million.
We’ve sounded this alarm before, most notably when the Big Ten caught the Pac-12 sleeping and stole USC and UCLA from under their noses.
So, is the Pac-12 doomed to become a historical footnote, or can they recover from this latest body blow? There are multiple issues that have risen from Colorado’s departure.
Pac-12 Now Facing Scheduling Constraints
Things are messy without Colorado in the league. The Pac-12 is down to just nine members for 2024, which makes a nine-conference game schedule possible only if each team plays another twice. Otherwise, each team will have to add a new non-conference opponent on short notice when the rest of the country has their schedules set.
The fix for this is to add another team to the league immediately. That, of course, will require a media deal, which the Pac-12 seems no closer to obtaining.
It’s the widely speculated reason San Diego State ultimately returned to the Mountain West earlier this month after exploring the possibility of leaving the conference. The Aztecs are likely out of the picture now, with a $34 million dollar exit fee now that their June 30th deadline has passed.
SMU, widely considered another top option, would need to negotiate a buyout with the American, which has a 27-month notice requirement.
Another option is to buy nine non-conference games, likely mostly against FCS opponents, to pad the schedule for 2024 and hope that something shakes free in time for 2025. Doing so, however, could cost just as much as the buyouts for one of SDSU or SMU.
Escape Routes: Which Pac-12 Teams Could Exit the Conference?
If the Pac-12 can’t make headway on a new media deal and/or can’t find another team to add in time, it might be time for the remaining league members to start looking for new homes.
Washington and Oregon
The two premier programs in the PNW are likely going to be tied at the hip. The Big Ten has always been the aspiration here, but reports are that the conference is content with UCLA and USC for now.
The Huskies and Ducks also haven’t seemed particularly moved by the proposition of moving to the Big 12. If the Big Ten doesn’t come calling, are the two programs content with dying with the ship and figuring it out later?
Cal and Stanford
The Bay Area’s pair of rivals in the conference face a similar dilemma as their foes up north: If the Big Ten doesn’t want them, what’s the plan? The difference here could be these athletic departments’ level of comfort with joining the Big 12, which hasn’t been gauged much recently.
However, it bears stating that the two Bay schools, along with UCLA, have been instrumental in the academic restrictions placed on the current iteration of the Pac-12. Cal and Stanford operate as academic institutions first, and with good reason. But that could also leave them without a home if the equally prestigious Big Ten is content waiting to see where the chips fall.
Utah, Arizona, and Arizona State
These three programs are prime additions for the Big 12 if they’re ready to deal the killing blow to the Pac-12. They already extend into Texas and just grabbed Colorado, making in-conference travel relatively easy for potential new members from the Four Corners.
Even before the Buffs took this offer, Utah, Arizona, and Arizona State have been linked as programs to monitor in the new-look Big 12.
Washington State and Oregon State
Things look perhaps the most dire for the Cougars and Beavers, who probably aren’t large enough brands to crack a Big 12-level conference at this point. The best path for them, if the Pac-12 dissolves, is probably heading down to the Mountain West.
Is Pac-12 Dissolution Inevitable?
That all depends on how cynical you are.
People were quick to eulogize the conference when UCLA and USC left, and the circumstances under which Colorado is leaving are certainly messy. But, for the sake of argument, let’s suggest that Kliavkoff secures a media agreement soon.
In that case, the conference is likely going to survive but will have to accept its fate as the fifth-best league in the country. Securing SMU and raiding the Mountain West for some combination of San Diego State, Fresno State, or Boise State would likely be necessary for any chance at long-term stability.
If a media agreement isn’t signed by mid-August, it might be time to start thinking about pulling the plug.
Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark has bailed the league out through his aggressiveness, so it’s not like they’re going to go away now that they’ve signed Colorado. Washington and Oregon will have suitors sooner or later that the Pac-12 will need to emphatically shut the door on.
With Realignment, Say Goodbye to Regionality
Nothing in college football is sacred any longer. The sooner the Pac-12 realizes that the likelier it is that it survives.
Pittsburgh doesn’t play Penn State or West Virginia regularly anymore, Missouri doesn’t play Kansas, and Oklahoma won’t play Oklahoma State once the Sooners move to the SEC. The Colorado news came on the same day that Ohio State coach Ryan Day suggested that the week of The Game could be flexible.
College football is rapidly becoming more and more commodified and nationalized, and some will say it’s stripping it of the magic that made so many of us fall in love with it in the first place. The Pac-12 are the last ones to realize that, and now they may pay for their tardiness with their conference’s fate.
Is that fair, good, or deserved? No, of course not. But unless they’re as willing as the rest of the institution to buck the shackles of tradition, the Pac-12 will surely fade away in front of our eyes.