Following the departure of UCLA and USC to the Big 10, Pac-12 said on Friday that it will explore its own expansion options.
With the conference now in a highly tense position with UCLA and USC departing in 2024, the Pac-12 board of directors met Friday morning and “mandated the conference to explore all options for expansion,” the league said in a statement.
“The 10 rectors and university presidents remain committed to the common mission of academic and athletic excellence on behalf of our student-athletes,” the statement said.
The transition of UCLA and USC follows Texas and Oklahoma, who moved from the Big 12 to the SEC last summer. This is a major blow to Pac-12 as the Big Ten and the SEC further distance themselves financially from the rest of the FBS conferences.
The Big Ten are currently negotiating the next media rights deal, which could be worth billions of dollars. The league’s existing agreements with ESPN and Fox are for the 2022-23 school year. With the Los Angeles media market now in the pocket of the Big Ten, the league’s media rights are now exponentially more valuable.
At the same time, the value of the Pac-12 plummeted without USC and UCLA, its two flagships. This new reality has no doubt left the remaining 10 members of the league worried about what’s next.
On Thursday, Pac-12 said it was “extremely surprised and disappointed” by UCLA and USC’s decision, but “confident” the conference “will continue to thrive and grow into the future.”
Will the remaining Pac-12 schools look elsewhere?
The movement among schools will almost certainly continue. The Pac-12 statement says so. But it would be naïve to believe that existing Pac-12 members — especially Oregon and Washington — won’t look to the greener and more profitable pastures of the Big Ten, rather than stay in Pac-12.
It is not yet known if the Big Ten are interested in adding these schools. Notre Dame is seen by many as a bigger prize if the Big Ten continues its expansion. At the same time, some of the top echelon members of the ACC may also have their own wandering views of the Big Ten or the SEC.
How can Pac-12 counteract this? Would adding schools like Boise State or San Diego State from Mountain West be helpful? Could the league try to form some sort of merger with the Big 12? When Texas and Oklahoma left the Big 12, the Big 12 reportedly looked at Pac-12 with the idea before it turned around and added BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF. Now the tide has changed and the Big 12 appears to be in a stronger position than the Pac-12.
There’s also the looming college football playoff issue. The contract with the current four-team model ends after the 2026 season. Something new will replace it after the proposed extended 12-team model failed.
The ACC and Pac-12 voted against this model, which would have placed six automatic bets on the top six league champions. With that in mind, the Pac-12 and ACC champions would almost certainly earn playoff berths every year. Instead, the lack of access to the playoffs – with the goal of a national championship – is another big reason for the remaining Pac-12 members to pursue other options.
Buckle up. The rest of the summer could be very interesting.