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Expanding the Pac-12 just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense

Is there anyone who strengthens the conference’s position?

Texas v Texas Tech Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

So, the SEC appears hell bent on college football domination in every possible way imaginable, which has left everyone else scrambling to make sure they aren’t the next Big 12, which is now basically on life support, and will only be a shell of itself if it survives, anyway.

This has put the Pac-12 and ACC front and center, since only the Big Ten probably can feel secure in its position among the other three conferences, given that any of its schools bolting to the SEC probably doesn’t result in any kind of net gain in any way you want to measure that — monetarily, athletically, academically, etc.

Fortunately for the Pac-12, there are a couple of things going for new commissioner George Kliavkoff: None of the schools are an easy geographic add for the SEC, and the member schools have always seemed to have a pretty tight sense of collective identity that has transcended athletics. The ACC can’t say the same.

Still, everyone involved feels at least a wee bit uncomfortable at the general direction of all of this, such that WSU president Kirk Schulz told Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News, “I sensed in the aftermath of the announcement, there was some panic.” He called the SEC’s maneuvers “predatory.”

However, he went on to say that things have calmed down a bit as everyone has taken a step back to evaluate their options. Schulz said Kliavkoff has already put together six possible paths forward for the Pac-12.

One of those obviously is expansion, and I gotta say: It’s real hard for me to see how that particular path forward does anything to help the Pac-12’s position.

Anytime a round of conference shuffling takes place, the primary goal of any conference is to get stronger or — at the very least — not end up any weaker such that your conference isn’t on a path toward eventual irrelevance or elimination. The Big 12’s situation isn’t just about Texas and Oklahoma; it’s about what happened when Nebraska left for the Big Ten and Colorado left for the Pac-12 in 2011 and when Missouri and Texas A&M left for the SEC in 2012. It’s “death by 1000 cuts” as Schulz put it to Wilner.

So, the biggest thing for the Pac-12 is to keep the 12 members it has intact. Short term, that’s not going to be a problem. But long term?

We all know that money drives the bus, and the conference keeps falling exponentially behind the SEC and Big Ten. So any move the Pac-12 makes has to strengthen its financial position. And it’s awfully hard to see how adding any of the Big 12’s leftovers does that for the Pac-12’s membership.

Any school added to the conference is another mouth to feed. Do any of the schools left behind increase the value of the brand such that everyone makes more money? I just don’t see it.

From a strictly financial standpoint, you could make arguments for Kansas, given the Jayhawks’ basketball prowess, or Baylor, given its general athletic excellence, or BYU, given its national appeal to a specific subset of people, but that’s about it. And each of those schools are fraught with other issues. The Pac-12 sees itself, for better or worse, as an academic alliance as much as an athletic one. Are non-revenue sports really going to travel to Kansas or Waco regularly? Those are long road trips for schools whose presidents are at least trying to keep up the guise that these are students first and athletes second. Baylor and BYU are both religious institutions that don’t exactly fit with the conference’s secular ethos, and oh by the way — the Bears have a history of scandal that any clear-thinking individual will find repugnant.

Is any of that worth whatever marginal financial gain is secured through their addition?

Better yet: Does that marginal financial gain do anything at all to prevent your conference from being raided in the future?

I just don’t see it. If any of the Big 12 properties were all that valuable, they’d be sticking together and replacing Texas and Oklahoma. Instead, their commissioner is running around with hat in hand trying to find anyone who will give him a lifeline. If MWC schools such as Boise State, UNLV, or San Diego State moved the needle for the Pac-12, they’d probably have been added already.

I legitimately feel bad for the fans of the schools left behind by Texas and Oklahoma. It really really sucks and could just as easily have been us — and might still be us in the future. But for now, I just don’t see how absorbing any of them does anything to put the Pac-12 in a better position than it is today.

As far as the other four options Kliavkoff is said to be considering, Schulz declined to offer details, but he did offer hints, including football-only members and strategic partnerships with other conferences. The latter is what Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby is seeking, but for the Pac-12, I think the only partnership that would help it move forward is one with the Big Ten.

There are lots of reasons why the Pac-12 would want to hop on the Big Ten’s gravy train (just as there are lots of reasons for what’s left of the Big 12 to hop on the Pac-12’s much smaller gravy train), but I think there could be reasons the Big Ten would want to do it, too.

Let’s face it: College athletics is now a two-conference arms race. Nobody can touch the Big Ten or SEC financially, and the SEC just got stronger. The Big Ten surely wants to keep up, but again — does expansion make sense? I don’t think it makes sense for them, either, for the same reasons as the Pac-12.

However, partnering with the Pac-12 for scheduling and leveraging the TV inventory of both conferences in future negotiations seems like it has the potential to provide a financial boost for everyone — particularly if the conferences can get FOX on board with wanting to hit back at ESPN, which clearly is driving the SEC’s moves after acquiring the conference’s rights in December.

For what it’s worth, the “football only” membership intrigues me a little, but it seems like a band-aid. Maybe it provides some value in this upcoming TV negotiation and keeps the conference from having to pay out a full member’s share to any affiliates, and it might keep the Big 12 from dissolving — which is a worthy goal, to be honest. But it certainly doesn’t seem like a long-term solution.

Then again, none of these things are long-term solutions, since we seem to be on an inevitable march toward a national superconference driven by prestige football brands.


Which path forward should the Pac-12 take?

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    Full membership expansion
    (127 votes)
  • 7%
    Big 12 strategic partnership
    (51 votes)
  • 53%
    Big Ten strategic partnership
    (351 votes)
  • 5%
    Add football-only members
    (35 votes)
  • 13%
    Stand pat with 12 teams and do nothing else
    (91 votes)
655 votes total Vote Now


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