Despite a competitive football scene in the Pac-12, with the likes of Utah, Washington, USC, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA and even Washington State all having somewhat successful seasons — the conference’s future is left in question marks. The big football bucks have turned UCLA and USC against the Pac-12, as they will leave for the Big Ten in 2024. But how can the conference rebound from losing two of it’s most iconic programs?
It’s clear the move was made for the money, as was Texas and Oklahoma’s move to the SEC. As Deion Sanders said best, moving conferences just for the football team is not the right thing to do. But, those four programs did it anyways. But where does this leave the Pac 12?
Disclaimer: This is all predictions, based on my own theories, and some background research. If anything is for sure happening, I will note that. I’m also trying to stay as realistic, and build realistic story lines. Also, I’m a fan of mostly college football, basketball and baseball, and have limited knowledge in other aspects of other sports. So I’m operating with that in mind.
The Pac-12 ditched the North division vs South division championship game in favor of the top two seeds facing off. I don’t mind the idea behind it, but with the realignment decisions I’m going to make, it’s going to change.
First, lets establish that UCLA and USC are officially in the Big Ten in 2024. Then we can assume that in the future, Oregon and Washington are going to try and join the Big Ten as well. It will take longer, but in 2026 the two also join the Big Ten. In total, if this were to happen, the Big Ten would have 18 teams. This is an incredibly unreasonable amount of teams for the conference, especially when some of the teams are not as prestigious as the others. This is where the Pac-12 catches a break.
Hypothetically, two teams would leave the Big Ten. Two Big Ten West schools are going to head to the Pac-12: Nebraska and Northwestern. I know Nebraska has an iconic program, but recently the product on the field has not been indicative of that. They struggle to fit into this new Big Ten, and move to the Pac-12. Northwestern has a similar story, except they are not as iconic or as big of a money maker for the conference. Both are obviously not geographically on the West Coast, both more Midwest, but if two Southern California schools can play against Rutgers in conference, this is realistic. Both schools also have a baseball team, which boats well for the Pac-12 since it is a good baseball conference.
Unrelated to the Pac-12, but included to make the Big Ten conference make more sense — Purdue will move to the Big Ten East, to balance the conference at 8 teams in each division. The Big Ten East would be: Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue, Ohio State, Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers. And the Big Ten West: Washington, Oregon, USC, UCLA, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.
That leaves the Pac-12 with only ten teams, but in order to create two strong divisions of teams, 6 total on each side is more effective. But what schools could the Pac-12 realistically recruit? BYU is already joining the Big 12, along with Houston. Gonzaga makes too much sense, but without a football program it ruins their chances. The Mountain West is likely where the Pac-12 looks, and there are some good options. Boise State is a must get for the Pac-12, with their iconic football program. San Diego State as-well, with their all around recent success.
That leaves the Pac-12 with a North Divison of: Washington State, Oregon State, Stanford, Cal, Boise State and Northwestern. And a South Division of: Utah, Colorado, SDSU, Arizona, Arizona State and Nebraska.
Then in addition for all other sports, even though it’s unrealistic, the Pac-12 adds Gonzaga for the sports that it offers at the varsity level.
Is this a major downgrade for the conference? Yes. Losing your four most iconic schools is rough, but this new format does allow for a competitive conference. Also, an unrealistic add of Gonzaga for all other sports besides football would keep the Pac-12’s basketball and baseball prestige high.