The future of the Pac-12 is unknown with college football realignment and expansion creating another wave of conference changes this offseason. USC and UCLA are departing the Pac-12 to go to the Big Ten for the 2024 season, leaving the Pac-12 with uncertainty and chaos during a crucial period for the conference. With a media rights deal looming, and the Big 12 reportedly looking to add up to six teams - Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon, Utah and Washington from the league - there's plenty of urgency on the West Coast and for commissioner George Kliavkoff to save the Pac-12.
Can the Pac-12 be saved? Yes. However, the league has to move fast to secure its membership and address a few other challenges. How can the Pac-12 preserve its future in college football? Here's a five-step plan for the conference to bounce back from the loss of USC and UCLA:
Pac-12 Football: A Five-Step Plan to Save the Conference After the Loss of USC and UCLA
1. Convince Oregon and Washington the Pac-12 is still home
Oregon and Washington were mentioned as candidates to potentially join the Big Ten if the conference expanded beyond USC and UCLA. Also, the Ducks and Huskies were mentioned as candidates to join the Big 12 this week. Kliavkoff needs to convince these two programs the outlook for the future is best in the Pac-12. Of course, a Big Ten invite (which doesn't appear to be coming) would change things significantly.
If Oregon and Washington stay in the Pac-12, that likely solves...
2. The future for Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah
If Oregon and Washington decide to remain in the Pac-12 and not bolt to the Big 12, the odds of Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah staying also go up. As always with conference realignment and expansion, television networks (ESPN and FOX) play a huge role in where teams end up. However, a stable (for now) Pac-12 with Oregon and Washington in, along with proposals for media rights and potential partnerships, would be a step in the right direction to keep these four teams in the conference.
3. Get creative with a media deal
How the dollars and cents add up in a new media rights deal is crucial. According to some estimates, the conference lost potentially $200 million a season with the departure of USC and UCLA. The Pac-12's television deal ends after the 2024 season, and in a show of urgency, the conference's board of directors authorized the league to begin negotiations on a deal this week. Could this include a deal with streaming services like Amazon Prime Video or Apple TV? According to Sports Illustrated, the Pac-12 and ACC are discussing a partnership to potentially air games on the ACC Network. The conference can't make up the lost revenue from the departure of USC and UCLA, but everything and all ideas should be on the table. A short-term grant of rights also makes sense to keep the league intact and ensure some stability. The Pac-12 could look at uneven revenue distribution based on on-field performance. Of course, that didn't work out well for the Big 12 in the past and may create more instability in the long term. Through some creativity, new sources of revenue and partnerships, there are ways for the Pac-12 to expand and maximize revenue.
4. Explore partnerships?
As mentioned in the last section, the ACC and Pac-12 (the Alliance Part 2?) have discussed ways to work together, including games from the West Coast airing on the ACC Network. Are there other ways these two conferences could work together? Perhaps a package of standout non-conference matchups - Oregon vs. Clemson, Florida State vs. Washington, or Utah vs. Miami - would add some value to the media deal. A merger with the Big 12 has appeared in the rumor mill. However, that seems unlikely at this point. The ACC has a mutual interest in working together with the Pac-12. Although the conference has a strong grant of rights tying the league together, its television deal is falling short in revenue and will keep the ACC far behind the Big Ten and SEC. The specifics of a potential partnership or working alliance with the ACC make a ton of sense for the Pac-12 and could be beneficial for both parties for revenue.
Related: Pac-12 Football Predictions for 2022
5. Decide on membership or expansion
Two things are true: The Pac-12 won't be able to replace the brand value or financial appeal to television executives that USC and UCLA brought to the table. Also, there's no slam-dunk candidate to be the No. 11 and No. 12 teams to add revenue to the league. With that in mind, is expansion really necessary? Couldn't the Pac-12 just stick with 10 programs and help maximize revenue distribution to the top teams?
If the Pac-10 doesn't return and the league wants to expand, a couple of options make sense. The conference should make another push to add Big 12 schools - Oklahoma State, Kansas, Texas Tech, Houston and Baylor to name a few. Although those programs are likely to say no, the Pac-12 (and its television partners) has to inquire one more time about their interest. Assuming the Big 12 teams pass, then the focus shifts to Group of 5 programs like Boise State, San Diego State, Fresno State and potentially SMU (getting into Texas could be helpful for the Pac-12 in recruiting and television markets).
The bottom line: The Pac-12 could collapse at some point this offseason if Oregon/Washington find a better option or join the Big 12 with Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah. However, don't write the Pac-12's obituary just yet. The conference has a viable path (and future) with 10 members if the Ducks and Huskies stick around. Also, the late-night television windows on Saturdays are valuable for television and media executives. While USC and UCLA are big losses and simply can't be replaced, don't dismiss the Pac-12's future just yet - especially if they follow our easy five-step plan.