USC and UCLA shocked everyone when they announced they were leaving the Pac-12 for the Big 10. Now everyone is questioning what the future holds for college football, especially on the west coast. The stage is being set for there to be just two super-conferences, the SEC and the B1G. It’s a mad dash for money, and more specifically TV contract money. The SEC is being backed by ESPN, while the B1G is being backed by Fox and the biggest things setting the price for each conference are television market and brand names. Also, if you’re a college basketball fan, then in the eyes of the schools you don’t matter nearly as much due to football being king across every facet of big-time college athletics. This is the new reality, and the fans get hurt the most in all this. The best thing about college football and college athletics overall has always been the regionality of it all. The regional aspect made the contrasts of styles that much better in bowl games or non-conference games. The style contrasts also just made the sport that much more special and entertaining. This round of realignment did not start with USC and UCLA, but with Texas and Oklahoma last summer. They were the first domino and that lead to where we are today.
The biggest area of blame in all this should be placed on former Pac-12 Commissioner, Larry Scott, under his leadership, the Pac-12 became the worst Power Five Conference in almost every facet. The biggest issue being what transpired under his watch with the debacle that was and still is what happened with the Pac-12 Network. The network’s biggest issue off the bat was that it decided that it wanted to be independent and was not going to have a partnership with a network like ESPN, FOX, or other channels like CBS and NBC. The biggest issue to this day surrounding the network has been reach. The biggest example lies with how the network never got a deal with Direct TV off the ground and has also had trouble with others like YouTube TV. That will be the biggest black mark on Scott’s resume, which is full of missteps to go along with the network issue, like how Scott did not emphasize the revenue sports over everything else. At the end of the day, it’s about money, and by not having most of his focus on football and men’s basketball, you end up with a situation where UCLA was close to $100 million in debt, and a situation where one of the biggest college football brands, USC, also needed a bailout.
The Pac-12 now finds itself in uncharted territory. The presidents that also helped enable Scott are at the forefront of trying to see what new Pac-12 Commissioner, George Kliavkoff, can do from here. Kliavkoff got caught off guard with something he should’ve seen coming, so now what are your options? The short answer is leave. There’s a massive game of chicken happening right now in the Pac-12 because no one trusts each other. Oregon and Washington want to go to the B1G, and Stanford might follow as well depending on Notre Dame. The four corner schools like Colorado, Utah, Arizona State, and Arizona are being eyed by the Big 12, but all four seem to have varying ideas on if they want to go there or stay, and hopefully get an invite to the SEC or B1G that’s never going to come. This has also hurt fans a lot because now there’s just a ton of uncertainty surrounding the entire future of some of these schools’ athletics. No one wants to leave, but no one trusts each other, and it’s infuriating to watch.
The best idea to keep the Pac-12 together seems to be adding a school or two from outside the Power Five, like San Diego State, Boise State, or even SMU. The next step from there would be to raid the Big 12 of members, and that could be any number of different schools and combinations of the schools. Any other idea seems destined to fail like the weird quasi-partnership that the Pac-12 was asking for with the ACC. Especially because, it seems like a few schools in the ACC would want to bolt to the SEC or B1G if given the chance to get out of their terrible TV contract.
In the end, realignment fundamentally changes a sport that has its roots in history and tradition. The fans that watch and consume college football are being left out to dry even though they are the heart and soul of the sport, and a huge part of what makes it great. New traditions and history will be made, but those separate college football from being any other sport. College football is it’s own amazing product for better or worse, and now these changes tear away at what makes the sport great.
Follow Jake Faigus on Twitter - @Jake_Faigus