On the eve of the start of the 2023 College Football season, I have decided to move into a different direction for this post. I grew up around the Pac-8, then Pac-10, and then Pac-12.
After the debacle of media contract negotiations for the Pac-10, Colorado bolted for the Big 12. That was soon followed by Utah, Arizona, and Arizona State joining Colorado by jumping to the Big 12. Oregon and Washington are joining the two LA Universities and flipping to the Big 10.
But now we are down to the Pac-4. Stanford, Cal, Oregon State, and Washington State is all that is left of this once great great conference. Football and basketball are the kingpins of any conference. The Pac-12 wanted to promote the conference as an Olympic Sport conference and for the teams to share equally all of the TV money in a watered down TV contract. With the conference de-emphasizing football and basketball in favor of Olympic Sports, the TV money was drying up.
The two top revenue producing universities in the conference, USC in football and UCLA in basketball were being shortchanged, and their once mighty programs were being relegated to second tier. USC NEEDED to get away from the Pac-12 to reestablish themselves as a true football blueblood program. With Lincoln Riley as the coach, that has happened far sooner than most of us thought was possible, and certainly to the chagrin of the conference’s hierarchy.
UCLA’s historic basketball program was being squeezed by a horrible Pac12 network that never showcased the top programs in their featured sports. They continually pushed USC to horrible Thursday night and Friday night football games, but you could catch water polo, beach volleyball, tennis, soccer, golf…The conference did not care that UCLA was not getting showcased on national TV. They did not want to deter from the worst TV network in the country, and it isn’t even close.
Don’t get me wrong, as a Trojan fan I am thrilled to watch USC teams dominate in water polo and beach volleyball. But I love my Trojan football. And I am sure that UCLA alums and fans love their football but need that dominating Bruin basketball program back at the top with the other blueblood basketball programs…Kansas, Duke, North Carolina.
As a state university, UCLA was not getting sufficient funding to provide the facilities upgrade needed to keep up with the SEC, and the necessary funding to keep the non-revenue sports programs more than competitive. The athletic department believed they were not getting their fair share of state funding. Fair being relative to how you believe state funds should be spent. Football was supposed to do that, but they could not get the favorable national TV draws, and they almost always played on Saturday night, certainly not a time to get any kind of national exposure.
USC decided to finally fire Clay Helton, a very nice man but horrid coach for a major program, and that tapped into the alum wealth. Hiring Riley was the first step. The second step was getting out of the conference. The Big 12 was losing their top draws, Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC, so that left the Big 10. At the same time, the Big10 was looking to expand to try and keep pace with the SEC. Enter USC and UCLA.
USC is back on top in the national football picture. They have the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. They have a top 10 recruiting class, and are looking at a top 5 for next year. UCLA wins in this as well. Their football program is not as highly regarded as USC, but they are a very formidable program, and they will garner a lot more national attention in the Big 10, and will grow their national pedigree. They also have their own highly regarded freshman QB (Dante Moore), that a Big 10 exposure will benefit the Bruins. While UCLA has its own wealthy donor base, it is not nearly as deep as USC’s. But now with the Big 10 TV network deal, they will have the funds necessary to return a very proud athletic program to that elite level.
This was a move that the UCLA athletic department did on their own. The Board of Chancellors and the State of California did not want UCLA to move out of the Pac-12. The Big 10 wanted both LA based schools, but would have been okay with just USC. The athletic department would have gone to the mat in their fight with the state if they got in the way of their realignment to the Big 10.
As a Trojan, I am extremely happy that UCLA was “permitted” to leave the Pac-12, and join the Big 10. I love rivalries, and there is no cross-town rivalry anywhere that matches USC and UCLA. NOWHERE! I have been “hating UCLA” forever. That will continue as will USC’s other bitter rivalry, Notre Dame football.
Unfortunately, that rivalry will no longer be in the Pac-12. Of the four remaining Pac-4 universities, the only one with some degree of leverage is Stanford, an elite academic institution with a robust sports program in the Bay Area television market and none of the financial woes of Cal. But they needed to be asked to join the Big 10, which was their preference. The Big 10 does not want Cal, and they would need an ACC team to join. The Big 10 is more likely to stay at 18 members.
What’s next for the Pac-4? Stanford has advised the ACC and Pac-4 that they will accept an ACC invitation…for free. They have agreed to forego any media rights funds from the ACC if they can get into the ACC and remain a Power 5 institution. The ACC is a conference with high academic standards, and Stanford would be a welcome addition.
Why would Stanford make such a concession? They have a $36.2 billion endowment they can tap into. Like USC, Stanford has a national draw, except their national draw is for all of their sports programs. That endowment is special for the Cardinal.
Cal is now being considered for the ACC as well as Stanford. We should learn more next week. What happens to Oregon State, and Washington State? They will get absorbed into other conferences.
Besides this being my blog, and I can write whatever I want, there is a baseball purpose to the above. There have been recent discussions about bullpen games and the use of an opener. The reliance on the nerds to develop winning strategy. The loss of the 300 inning pitcher. The perceived over use of the platoon player. All true transitions to the current game.
Scott stated that many of us Septuagenarians who grew up with Koufax, Drysdale, and Osteen have to miss those pitchers that could complete what they start. I believe that most (if not each one) of us have said that we prefer the games in that era over the way the game is played today and the perceived reliance on metrics.
But I do believe that it was Badger who stated that if we are going to continue to enjoy the game we grew up loving, then we need to adapt. The game has changed. We can adapt to the new thinking and strategies, or we can stubbornly move our focus to another endeavor.
With the transition to the Big-10 (Big-18?), USC’s relatively new President, Carol Folt, has embarked on an aggressive “moonshot” approach to multiple facets of the University. Most of the “moonshots” are academically related. However, one of those “moonshots” is to upgrade all facilities that will benefit all 21 sports programs at the University. They will become state of the art facilities, and will not take a back seat to any Big-10 or SEC institution.
Folt understands how important and necessary sports in general and specifically football are for the funding of the overall University experience. She could have stood ground and said no to the transition to the Big-10 under the guise that tradition is to remain in the Pac-12. But she understood how important sports are to the students, the fans, and more importantly to the alums/donors. So she eschewed tradition for the revamped look of college sports and the conference realignment. She adapted.
One point the conference commissioners and presidents could not understand…
“The problem is not everybody’s going to get paid, and this is what we saw with the Pac-12,” one executive said. “That’s the next thing everybody’s going to have to face, whether it’s football or basketball or whatever: If you’ve got a bunch of weaklings you’ve been dragging along in your conference, at what point do you start eating your young?”
USC and UCLA realized this, and the conferences other institutions were not willing to give them a little more than the other member Universities. Because of this short-sightedness, for all practical purposes, the Pac-8, Pac-10, and Pac 12 is no more. Thank you Larry Scott and George Kliavkoff, two incompetent commissioners who the Pac-12 Presidents can blame themselves for hiring.
Below is an excellent article on the demise of the Pac-12.