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The Pac-12 needs a culture shift

The Pac-12 is an athletics conference, not an academic conference.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Media Day Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Well well well, now the Pac-12 is the Pac-9 with Colorado’s departure. The initial reports of Colorado’s exit came just five days after Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff stood at the podium at Pac-12 Media day and said losing members to the Big 12 was “not a concern.”


Colorado’s move became official yesterday after the Big 12 put its rubber stamp on the whole thing. This prompted a two-word news release from the Big 12:

The Pac-12, meanwhile, released its own statement:

And that, my friends, almost perfectly illustrates the root of all this: The culture of college sports, and football to be precise, at west coast universities is vastly different from much of the rest of the country.

The Pac-12’s statement tells you the league views itself not just as an athletics conference, but an academic conference as well. As Vince Grippi wrote yesterday morning, that viewpoint is severely outdated.

A conference whose membership criteria includes a certain academic level is fine – for the Ivy League. If you want to say you are an athletic power conference, then such considerations are outmoded. Useless. A detriment to survival. Agility is lost – just when it is needed the most. Even the Big Ten, possibly the most hidebound of the conferences, took in New York (Rutgers) and D.C. (Maryland), two areas nowhere-near connected to its Midwest base. Then it allowed Kevin Warren to sneak around in the night and add two West Coast schools. It is thriving.

The Pac-12 CEOs huffed and puffed and did nothing.

Football is driving most of these decisions. And FBS football on the west coast just isn’t the same as it is in the south, or southeast, or midwest. Sure, the California recruiting and TV market is substantial, but as a whole, the west coast just doesn’t pray at the alter of football like our fellow citizens in other parts of the country. Just compare the atmospheres at a sold out L.A. Coliseum vs. the atmosphere at, say, LSU. Or Texas. Or Florida. Or Michigan. Or...fill in the blank.

That the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors seem to want to keep the schools’ academic reputations intact as it relates to conference affiliation is backwards. It’s pretty clear that USC and UCLA jumping to the Big 10 had everything to do with money, competition and survival and hardly anything to do with the academic profile of the Big 10. Same with Colorado’s bolting to the Big 12.

A report yesterday from Yahoo’s Ross Dellenger told the story of the proposed Big12-Pac-12 merger that former Big-12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby brought to Kliavkoff in 2021. This was after Oklahoma and Texas announced they were heading to the SEC.

The Pac-12 presidents and the conference said no.

Why? We’ll never know for sure, but if we use the Pac-12’s statement from yesterday, we might get some clues. Do the schools in each conference match up academically? Culturally? Politically? Nope!

And that’s the problem. The Pac-12 presidents seem more concerned with linking arms with schools that look like them, feel like them, study like them. That’s fine when it comes to partnering on research. But, like it or not, athletics is a whole different animal. And athletic success can absolutely help raise a school’s overall profile, which can lead to more donations, more academic offerings, and on and on. Just ask Gonzaga and Alabama—schools that did it right.

Kliavkoff definitely deserves plenty of blame here. At the very least, his communication seems to be lacking. Remember: he was on vacation when USC and UCLA announced their departure last summer, no doubt catching him way off guard. To announce he had no concern with his schools leaving five days before one of his schools left? Ouch.

But make no mistake: The presidents and chancellors deserve plenty of blame, too. Ultimately, they’re the ones in charge, approving Kliavkoff’s decisions and setting the pathways. The problem is, they need to get off the path they’ve been going down for years on end. The good news is they now have no other choice.

What does this all mean for WSU?

Who knows! Our Cougs don’t really have a ton of leverage right now. WSU isn’t exactly first in line for other Power 5 conferences to poach. Suffice to say, this is not a good thing for Wazzu.