Saturday, August 20, 2022

USC and UCLA to Big Ten: Pac-12 faces tough questions, uncertain future amid conference realignment raid

Another behemoth conference realignment story has rocked college sports’ offseason. USC and UCLA are leaving the Pac-12 in favor of the Big Ten in 2024. The move is seismic in nature, but no one is feeling the tremors more than Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff, who — cruelly enough — is hitting the one-year mark on his tenure.

Now, he has the unenviable task of attempting to save the Pac-12 from total annihilation. 

Will he succeed? If he does, it would be one of the most stunning turnarounds in the administrative history of college athletics. Oregon and Utah are now the Pac-12’s two most prominent college football programs. Sure, Arizona StateStanford and the rest of the conference can boast plenty of power in other sports. Football drives the bus, however, and Washington is the only other football team in the conference that draws even minor national attention.

Sources told CBS Sports that the remaining Pac-12 presidents and athletic directors will meet Thursday evening to discuss what steps can be taken in order to keep the conference together in the middle of the negotiations of future television rights.

It appears that everything is on the table.

“The rumors are circulating,” a league source told CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd. “From Clemson leaving their league to Oregon and Washington in our league.” 

What will become of the Pac-12? Let’s break down the likely scenarios. 

Pac-12 is on life support

That might be the kindest way to describe what is happening to the Pac-12. The SEC made waves last summer when it announced it was adding Oklahoma and Texas from the Big 12 to the mix by 2025 at the latest. Now, USC and UCLA — two other massive programs with longstanding history in the Power Five — have bailed on their current home to head to the Midwest. 

Like the Big 12 did, the Pac-12 has to find a way to keep up with the Joneses fast, and there aren’t many options out there. Boise State is an obvious choice geographically, and it has enough notoriety in football to keep the conference afloat. Will Colorado StateFresno State,Nevada, San Diego State, San Jose State or UNLV bring enough juice to keep the conference attractive to television partners? No. Not a chance.

“We gotta stay together, which is easier said than done because the league’s in quicksand,” that same Pac-12 source told Dodd.

The lack of options on the college football landscape means that, even if the Pac-12 finds a way to remain a Power Five league, the revenue disparity between it and the likes of the SEC and Big Ten will be the size of the Grand Canyon.

Will other teams bail?

Oregon, Washington and the Arizona schools might as well be looking around in empty living rooms wondering where all of their furniture went. Any “new-look” Pac-12 is going to be beneath all four — at least — depending on the next dominoes to fall. 

Simply put: It’s hard to imagine they’ll want to stick around. 

The era of super conferences is clearly upon us. The Big Ten and SEC could certainly add more programs to further fracture the sport, and the 14-team ACC is essentially stable through 2036 due to its grant of rights deal and roughly $52 million exit fee. That will put the higher-profile Pac-12 teams in a massive pool of programs — including current and future Big 12 schools — scrambling to stay relevant in the future landscape of college athletics.

An industry source indicated to Dodd that the feeling among industry insiders is that the new-look Big 12 would be a more desirable conference than a Pac-12 without USC and UCLA.

If you’re placing bets on what happens next, more teams leaving the Pac-12 has to be at the top of the odds board. 

A new ‘Alliance’ 

Remember last year when the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 formed “The Alliance” after the SEC added Oklahoma and Texas? It turned out to be nothing more than a superficial pledge to combat the inevitable. It’s safe to say that, after Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren poached the largest market in the Pac-12 footprint, the “Alliance” has been shattered into thousands of pieces. 

Will Kliavkoff put some of those pieces back together and renew a vow with the Big 12? It’s worth a shot. 

The Big 12 announced Wednesday that Brett Yormark will take over for Bob Bowlsby as commissioner of a conference that is slated to add  BYUCincinnati, Houston and UCF in 2023. A new alliance between the two — or the creation of a new super conference with an outright merger — is still a viable product to sell distributors.

It would spread the footprint of the “Alliance 2.0” from sea to shining sea and provide plenty of exposure for football players looking to capitalize on national notoriety — both from athletic and name, image and likeness (NIL) standpoints.

If that hypothetical scenario plays out, a four-conference landscape with the ACC, Big Ten, SEC and a Big 12/Pac-12 combo would save the lower-tier of the Power Five from total destruction.

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