Future of Pac-12: ‘Everyone is shopping right now’
The ripple effects of Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 for the SEC and USC and UCLA leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten can be felt throughout the college landscape
The last time we checked up on the Pac-12 — college football’s Titanic — the league had been robbed of its two brand names, UCLA and USC, by the Big Ten and was desperately trying to save itself from extinction or further irrelevance, if that’s possible.
So far that effort is going about the way we thought it would.
It was widely reported that the Pac-12 and Big 12 had three separate discussions recently about various possibilities for a merger, but those talks broke down and the merger has been abandoned. ESPN reported that Big 12 officials told Pac-12 officials that they were no longer interested in pursuing a partnership.
This is the second time these conferences tried to come to some agreement and failed. Following the departure of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC last year, the Big 12 asked the Pac-12 about a possible merger, but was rejected. Now it’s the Pac-12 that needs the Big 12.
Vultures are circling the Pac-12, hoping to pick off parts of it. ESPN and Fox News have reported that the Big 12 has explored the possibility of adding Pac-12 schools Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado. We already know that Washington and Oregon tried to exit the league but were turned away by the Big Ten. Let’s assume they’d still like to find an exit.
Utah, which joined the Pac-12 only 11 years ago, has to be considering its options as well, especially given the Utes’ rise in the college football world the last 20 years, but the Utes are not saying what, if anything, they are doing about it.
There also have been reports that the ACC is interested in claiming some Pac-12 schools, specifically those that have a big media market, which is as important or more important than tackles and touchdowns these days.
As one source told the San Francisco Chronicle, the Pac-12 “will not go away … You’ve got 10 major institutions still left that need and want to conduct sports. The wild card is what other (Pac-12) schools might try to do. I’m sure everyone is shopping right now.”
The problem is, the Pac-12 simply doesn’t have much to offer for all the reasons that have been discussed — a struggling TV network, a lack of a presence or relevance in the game, the inherent problems of playing games on the West Coast, the underwhelming performance on the field (further crippled by the departure of UCLA and USC). As the Los Angeles Times put it, the loss of USC and UCLA “signifies a death blow to the notion of the Pac-12 as a competitive, top-level football conference.”
The league could add Boise State and San Diego State — two good football programs (especially the former) — but they don’t do much for the TV market share.
The Pac-12 has few, if any, options to help its brand.
College football is still waiting for the aftershocks after the USC/UCLA earthquake, but no one knows when or where they will occur. Much depends on Notre Dame, as has been widely discussed. The Big Ten has targeted the Irish, but the Irish seem determined to remain independent, in which case the SEC and Big Ten are likely to put any further expansion on hold, shooting down the hopes that Washington, Oregon and even Utah might have of joining the league.
Notre Dame has put a price tag on independence — the $75 million annually the school hopes to receive in a new TV deal with NBC. If Notre Dame were to join a conference, it would precipitate another big conference shakeup.
The ACC meanwhile could be pilfered by the SEC. It’s a target-rich environment with the likes of Clemson, Florida State, North Carolina, among other schools. Even if Notre Dame remains independent, there is the feeling that the Big Ten and SEC — with the addition of UCLA/USC and Texas/Oklahoma, respectively — have far outstripped their rivals and could break away to form their own league
On Wednesday, ACC commissioner Jim Phillips provided a rare voice of reason when he urged schools to do what is best for college sports overall.
“My point is the community is best when all neighborhoods are healthy,” he said. “All of them. Some will never reach $25 million or $30 million in revenue to provide for their athletics department, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be a part of it, part of the system, part of championships at times.”