When UCLA and USC leave, what should the Pac-12 do?
For the second year in a row, we have major mid-summer conference realignment news.
This time it’s one I suggested as a possibility last summer: USC and UCLA could be headed to the Big Ten.
The geography seems insane, but it makes sense for a few reasons. Both schools fit the academic profile of the Big Ten, they’re both big brands in a big media market that will add significant value to the conference, and their proximity to each other makes the travel slightly more tolerable.
The Pac-12 is set to negotiate a new TV deal soon and will be without its two biggest brands. So what should the conference do now?
Try to raid the Big 12
The Pac-12 decided not to try to raid the Big 12 when it was ripe for picking after Texas and Oklahoma announced their intentions to leave last summer.
But without USC and UCLA, the dynamics have changed. The Pac-12 may want to take a run at schools like Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Kansas now.
But the question is, would those schools even be interested in the Pac-12 without its two biggest brands? Sure, you get to compete against Oregon and Washington, and rub elbows with Cal and Stanford, but the Big 12 may actually be the more lucrative conference now.
BYU will be joining the Big 12 in 2023 and fits the Pac-12’s geography, but the Pac-12 has never viewed BYU’s situation as something that can fit.
Add some Mountain West schools
If the Pac-12 can’t pick off some schools from the Big-12, there are some solid athletic programs in the Mountain West.
The most obvious is Boise State, one of the winningest football programs in the last decade and a geographical fit that would expand the Pac-12’s footprint into a new state.
If the Pac-12 wanted to expand back into southern California, it could look at San Diego State, which has consistent football and men’s basketball programs in one of the country’s biggest cities.
Fresno State, UNLV and Colorado State are three other Mountain West schools that also have some consistent programs and play in decently-sized markets.
Gonzaga doesn’t play football, but the Pac-12 could get a bump in men’s and women’s basketball value by adding the Zags as a non-football member.
Remember that any schools that are added to the conference will need to bring enough value to justify splitting the pie an additional way. The reality is there might not be too many of those out there.
So maybe the Pac-12 should just stand pat at 10 and let things continue to play out. Maybe it should just add Boise State to get to 11. Maybe it should also add Gonzaga to get to 12 in all sports but football. There’s no obvious answer.