The deal is done. The ink is dry. The Pac-12 has officially acknowledged that the Trojans and Bruins are going to the Big Ten in 2024. It’s like being a parent and watching your 18-year old child leave on a date with someone you clearly think is not in your child’s best interest.
“They can do better,” you try to convince yourself. But they really can’t.
USC and UCLA are leaving their Lincoln Navigator for a Bentley Continental GT. Leaving a $20 million dollar annual payout for a $100 million payout. Leaving half-empty stadiums for stadiums filled with 114,000 screaming fans. Instead of only being able to afford penny stocks, AMZN is now in their portfolios.
Forty-eight hours after the big news broke, the Pac-12 Networks was airing the 2004 Rose Bowl game between USC and Michigan. USC v Penn State followed. The chyron (news ticker) below the game displaying the conference’s statement on the two teams’ departure announcement was the elephant in the room.
In all likelihood, the conference’s flagship network failed to be proactive in television programming.
Failed to be proactive.
It’s an indictment of everything that is wrong in the Pac-12. The conference did not read the room while the SEC and Big Ten were expanding. It failed to protect its future and failed to implement its contingencies.
The conference was rife with poor officiating for a decade. #Pac12refs became a national punchline and Twitter trending hashtag. The Pac-12 made some overtures to fix the problem but no substantial changes could be seen on the field.
The Pac-12 conference is probably now in full-blown panic mode. Undoubtedly phone calls are being made, hands are being wrung, pearl necklaces are being clutched and safe spaces are being constructed in the halls of the Pac-12 offices.
Meanwhile, other Pac-12 members are probably freaking out.
While Oregon and Washington are the next best Pac-12 teams to be considered in a possible departure to another conference, no announcements have been made. While that may not be significant now—once Notre Dame decides its permanent place in college football the dominoes will fall—it will be decidedly concerning after the 2022 season ends.
I believe Stanford and Cal are a better “fit” in the Big Ten. They are traditional schools with high emphasis on education. The Bay Area’s TV market is consistently ranked in the Top 10. They have been consistent in their athletic programs’ branding and except for Stanford’s name change of Indians to Cardinal in 1981, they have very traditional athletic programs.
The Midwest fan is generally not impressed with shiny, new things and unfortunately for the Oregon Ducks, the national perception of Oregon football is just that. This isn’t a criticism. But read the room, Oregon.
The Ohio State University Buckeyes play football in “three yards and a cloud of dust.” They are damn proud of that. Oregon football, on the other hand, is known for innovative twists on run-read football, trick plays, neon-highlighter uniforms and a fan base that while can be quite vociferous, is also fickle.
The flashy electricity of its marketing department has attracted elite recruits. That’s a huge bonus. Oregon also excels in other sports such as Track and Field, Baseball and Basketball. Again, a definite plus.
But would Oregon and Washington’s membership be each worth $100 million a year to the Big Ten?
Seattle’s TV market is ranked No. 14 nationally. Portland’s is ranked No. 81. Moreover, the optics of those two cities may not appeal to the Midwest football fan. Videos of recent riots, surges in crime rates, increasing homelessness and open opioid drug use in the streets have been blasted across news channels for two years. While other cities are experiencing those exact same issues (Los Angeles, I’m looking at you), USC and UCLA will have no problem validating their $100 million payouts from the conference.
If Notre Dame decides to move to the Big Ten and the two Pacific Northwest teams are left without an invite, the Pac-12 would feel a little safer. But only for a New York minute. Unless the Pac-12 invites more schools to its conference, the fallout will be catastrophic. The Pacific Northwest teams cannot carry the conference.
A better option would be for the Pac-12 to join the Big 12 and form a super conference, perhaps even adding in the Mountain West. That could alleviate schools’ stability concerns and keep everyone at home.
A chain reaction is inevitable. The Big Ten and SEC will poach more teams—strike that, the best teams— and the demise of the ACC will probably occur sometime after its conference’s grant of rights expire in 2035-36.
Make no mistake, the Pac-12 is on life support right now. The Big 12 is heavily sedated despite adding four new schools to the mix next year. The ACC is in a bind.
Notre Dame’s contract with the ACC created an additional $80 million in revenue for the conference in 2020-21. The ACC will fight like hell to keep Notre Dame tied to its contract but the Fighting Irish can leverage their position to the breaking point, then skip on over to the Big Ten once it irons out its AAU accreditation.
Notre Dame, despite being roundly criticized and mocked for maintaining its independent status in college football, is now an orchestra conductor. It raises its baton and on cue, everyone looks up and waits for their direction.
Notre Dame can write its own ticket to the dance. Everyone wants to date her. Everyone wants to keep her in their arms and promenade her around the dance floor. It’s good to be the Belle of the Ball.
The SEC wanted Oklahoma and Texas. The Big Ten wanted USC and UCLA. Which team is really the team that everyone wants now?
Clemson? Florida State? Miami? Oregon? Washington? Utah? Kansas?
It’s Notre Dame.
And we all are just witnesses, waiting to see who will get on their knees and propose to her.