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Five Thoughts on Conference Realignment and the Vaporization of the Pac-12

Trying to get a grasp on what happened to the college football landscape.

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Usually conference realignment happens a step or two at a time, but Friday saw a Power Five conference almost entirely wiped off the face of the earth within about 15 hours.

The Pac-12 lost Oregon and Washington to the Big Ten and Arizona, Arizona State and Utah to the Big 12 yesterday, leaving the Pac with only four schools heading into the 2024-25 school year. That reality has been speculated on for months now, but the suddenness of Friday was still crazy to see.

Here are five thoughts from a wild Friday in early August.

1. Generally, This Is Sad

Conference realignment is a lot of fun, there’s no question.

Hypothesizing different teams in different conferences is just an enjoyable thing to do. Asking things like: How does the work geographically? What role will academics play? Well, conference X is still stuck in a media rights deal, so does that make team Y a more realistic option? I could do that for days.

But overall, I think one of the Power Five conferences being Thanos snapped/vaporized/grinded down into the ink they’ll use in the history books is a bad thing for college athletics. Now, I’m not saying this wasn’t self-inflicted to an extent by the Pac-12. There were seemingly so many things the Pac-12 did wrong to get to this point, but it’s still sad.

College football is a national sport. Everyone has a local team or a team with family ties. Say what you will about Stanford, Cal, Oregon State and Washington State, but it would suck mightily to be a part of one of those fanbases today. With the flip of a switch those four programs went from the haves to the have-nots, and there wasn’t a ton they could do about it.

Even the Pac-12’s statement from last night was just sort of sad. It was the league’s white flag waving, a concession of failure. Again, many of the league’s wounds were self-inflicted, but man, what a rough day.

“[Friday’s] news is incredibly disappointing for student-athletes, fans, alumni and staff of the Pac-12 who cherish the over 100-year history, tradition and rivalries of the Conference of Champions,” the Pac-12’s statement read. “We remain focused on securing the best possible future for each of our member universities.” 

2. But This New League Looks a Lot of Fun

Enough of the mourning — the Big 12 is going to be a blast next season.

I love a good map, and look at this thing of beauty.

Is having Utah in the same league as UCF a little odd? Sure, but there are still some decent geographic strings tying this thing together. This league has the potential to be ultra-competitive every year.

I’m so excited to see what the Sun Devils are going to look like on a cold November day in Ames, Iowa. Colorado renewing old conference traditions against the traditional Big 12 teams will be a blast. And that doesn’t even mention my next thought …

3. Rivalries!

I kind of love that Utah is coming into the Big 12 as a full-blown professional wrestling heel.

Whether it is the Utah AD getting old takes exposed on saying the Utes aren’t leaving the Pac or people on Utah message boards saying Utah should demand the Big 12 drop BYU and Cincinnati before joining the league, there is a vocal group of the Utah fandom that isn’t stoked about this move.

Tag onto that, neither Utah or BYU seem excited about sharing a conference. It’s tremendous! Those games are going to be electrifying. I think it’s good to have a bad guy in the conference. It’s usually been Texas, but if the Utes want to give it a shot, I’m all for it.

Then the league also gets Arizona/Arizona State, a rivalry that the Wildcats hold a slight 50-45-1 advantage in. And let’s not forget the Sunflower Showdown or the four Texas schools fighting for Lone Star State superiority.

With OU and Texas leaving, I was most sad about seeing Bedlam and the Red River game leaving the league, but it looks like things will be just fine.

4. Which of the Pac-12’s Flaws Were Most Fatal?

The Pac-12 made many mistakes to get to the point of having four schools, but which mistake was the biggest?

To me, it was letting the Big 12 get a TV deal done before the the Pac-12. That’s what seemed to really kick off the chain of events that led here. Had the Pac-12 rushed to a deal, it would at least have a deal that kept the teams together. Instead the league waited and waited for something that never came.

And Brett Yormark and Co. deserve credit for having the wherewithal to know urgency was needed. But, the Pac-12 misplayed that.

There were plenty of other things the Pac-12 could have done, too, though. Why join that silly handshake alliance with the Big Ten and the ACC? Why look at the crumbling Big 12 and not be aggressive in expansion? Heck, why not even get San Diego State in before the Aztecs’ buyout increased? It felt as if the league thought so highly of itself and was oblivious to the fact that it was at the bottom of the totem pole. It felt like the Pac thought itself in the same standing of the SEC and Big Ten, not realizing it was in a dogfight with the Big 12 and ACC.

I cannot wait for all the feature stories and documentaries made off what happened Friday. What happened publicly was inconceivable. I can only imagine what happened behind the scenes.

5. This Is Going to be a Strange Year of College Football

Not that the 2023 season of college football doesn’t matter, but so much will be different in 2024.

There’s a world where Texas wins the Big 12 and leaves for the SEC while Utah wins the Pac-12 and leaves for the Big 12. Come to think of it, there are a ton of teams that could win the Pac-12 and take the trophy to another conference. Then what happens if Washington State, Oregon State, Stanford or Cal miraculously wins the Pac-12? That would be an all-time moment.

It’s exciting to have UCF, Houston, BYU and Cincinnati in the Big 12 with OU and Texas this season, but that news feels like it has already been somewhat overshadowed by Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah before the season has even started.

It’s a year of schools filling obligations before moving onto what’s next. It ought to be whacky.

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