At the time I’m writing this, the Pac-12 only has four teams left starting with the 2024-2025 season. UCLA, USC, Washington, and Oregon are leaving for the Big Ten, and the Big 12 is getting Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah. That leaves Washington State, Oregon State, Cal, and, most importantly, Stanford as the four teams left, which is certainly too few for a conference.
I have been following the announcements as they happen but haven’t gone too in-depth into the motivations and movement along the way. As such, I just have some scattered, loosely informed thoughts primarily from the perspective of a fan.
It’s hard to point a finger at exactly whose fault it is, but the most obvious answer is money. Whereas other conferences apparently have better TV deals for revenue for airing their games, the Pac-12 just wasn’t offering enough to keep the teams in place.
It’s a pretty cynical take, but it also doesn’t obviously seem wrong. College sports in the US has long had a strange relationship with money, whether that be scholarships, students profiting from their likeness, coaching salaries, and more.
I’m not exactly sure where the line is, but I think my concern as a fan is when money seems to override what the fans want. Maybe I’m just stuck in an old mindset about how all of this should work and how rivalries should be maintained, but I like the continuity and connection.
The conference realignment reminds me of the European Super League, where existing leagues would be disrupted in favor of gathering the best teams together. In the world of college American football (which, as far as I can tell, appears to be the main sport of interest, because of money), the Big Ten and SEC are running away with the same concept.
The Pac-12 certainly has the feeling of a sinking ship, where schools quickly left so as not to be the last ones left at the end. Again, it makes sense: it’s just kind of disappointing as a fan to leave it all behind.
Presumably schools have shuffled around for a long time, and what I now consider normal hasn’t always been this way. As incremental steps, I can see how the structure of the conferences has evolved to this point, but geographically, it certainly doesn’t make much sense now.
I would hope for some great top-down reorganization of the conference system, but I don’t think it quite happens that way. There’s too much inertia in the current system, and without a big shock, not much would change.
I’ll leave the real hand-wringing for people more affected by the change, whether that be student-athletes at these schools or administrators trying to figure out what’s best for their respective programs. It’s a good reminder about how much fans actually matter to the business of sports.