In absolutely shocking news Thursday, we learned that USC and UCLA would be leaving the PAC 12 in favor of the Big 10. From a logistical standpoint, this move makes zero sense. Ultimately, it all comes down to dollars and cents. FOX is a major partner with the Big 10 and the lure of the Southern California media market was too much for the Big 10 to resist. This move is bound to have a major ripple effect. Let’s see how this could possibly play out for the Mountain West and its member institutions.
The PAC Raids the Big 12
The PAC 12 needs to be very aggressive in its pursuit of new members. In the best case scenario, the PAC 12 is able to raid the Big 12 and add teams like BYU or TCU. If the conference can somehow pull that off, you could argue that they have actually gotten stronger in football. However, I think you could make a strong argument that the Big 12 actually has a stronger resume in terms of television negotiations. They have up and coming brands in UCF and Cincinnati and teams that have solid football histories like TCU and Oklahoma State.
The PAC 12 has resisted adding universities with religious ties in the past; would they be willing to overlook that giving the desperate state they are currently in? I’m not sure the PAC 12 is willing to go that route. However, if they can manage to pull a few programs from the BIG 12, it likely means that Boise State is gone and San Diego State is also sure to get a serious look.
The Big 12 Raids the PAC 12
This might be the most likely scenario. We know that Colorado is a former member of the Big 12 and adding a program like Utah would be a no-brainer, especially considering their history with BYU. But Arizona and Arizona State might be even more appealing. The Phoenix television market is booming, and it would be a huge lift in basketball. We know that the Arizona schools have been sought after by the Big 12 before; they would likely be at the top of their list right now.
If the Big 12 pulls two to four schools from the PAC 12, there might still be enough there for the conference to hold on. That would likely be the worst case scenario for the Mountain West, because they could lose a significant number of members.
What happens with Washington and Oregon
Washington and Oregon will be in the Big 10 at some point. It is just a matter of time. Does it happen soon, or is it five to ten years down the road? The PAC 12 will need to position itself for the potential departure of these two teams and figure out a game plan moving forward. The wild card with these two schools will be their relationships with Washington State and Oregon State. How will local government officials feel about those two programs being left in the dust?
Best Case Scenario for the Mountain West
As a fan of football on the West Coast and a hater of what realignment is doing to college football, I really hope what I am about to say doesn’t happen, but I think it is certainly plausible. If the PAC 12 implodes with Washington and Oregon going to the Big 10 and Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah going to the Big 12, where does that leave schools like Cal, Stanford, Oregon State, and Washington State? There is zero chance that Stanford and Cal ever join the Mountain West; they just won’t do it. They are two of the top academic universities this side of the Mississippi, and they have too much pride to join the Mountain West. Oregon State and Washington State on the other hand... From the standpoint of location and the current state of their athletic programs, they would be a really good fit. For a school like Boise State, this would be great because it would allow them to develop more regional rivalries.
Most Likely Expansion Candidates
1A-San Diego State: Location matters. San Diego is a strong television market and the building of a new stadium will certainly help their case. Outside of Gonzaga, there is not a better add in terms of basketball.
1B-Boise State: Boise State may not have the media markets of places like Las Vegas and San Diego, but television ratings matter. And nobody in the Mountain West comes close to what Boise State has done in football the past few decades. The Broncos also have plans for expanding the stadium and are going to have the biggest video screens by far in the conference in the next year.
3-Colorado State: Great academics, beautiful new stadium. Sounds like a slam dunk, right? Not quite. The school has been largely irrelevant in terms of football, but they would be an intriguing add and a good travel partner for Colorado.
4-UNLV: A booming city with a fancy new NFL stadium. The PAC 12 already has a bowl game and a basketball tournament in Las Vegas. It makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately for the Rebels, they just haven’t been relevant in football or basketball for quite some time.
5-Air Force: The Falcons seem to be mentioned every time a new round of realignment occurs. It is hard for me to envision them in the PAC 12, but the Big 12 could be a possibility.
6-Fresno State: There have been some whispers about the PAC 12 being interested in Fresno State, but the Bulldogs would need to make rapid updates to their facilities and stadium if this were to happen.
7-Utah State: The Aggies are going to be on the outside looking in unless something absolutely crazy happens. They have a beautiful stadium and solid athletic program, but they don’t bring in the eye that some of the programs listed above do.
8-San Jose State: San Jose is a huge market, but not many people in the Bay Area care about college athletics. (Cal has the same problem.)
9-Nevada: When it comes to facilities, the Wolf Pack might be at the bottom of the Mountain West. Reno is not a huge market, and their television ratings aren’t terribly great.
10-Hawaii: This athletic program is in flux. They have a lot to figure out before they can be a realistic expansion candidate. Without a new stadium, the football program might be in trouble.
11-New Mexico: Like Hawaii, the Lobos have had their fair share of financial issues. The former basketball powerhouse doesn’t have a lot of ground to stand on.
12-Wyoming: Sorry, Cowboy fans, this just isn’t happening.
The sad fact is that the SEC and Big 10 are nowhere near done expanding. College football as we know it has changed with realignment and NIL. The biggest domino is Notre Dame. I think they end up in the Big 10. Clemson, North Carolina, Florida State, and Miami could all be looking for SEC invites. I don’t think this ends well for teams like Boise State, but only time will tell.
How do you see this next round of realignment playing out? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.