Once known as the “Conference of Champions,” the Pac-12 appears to be going the way of Blockbuster and Napster.
Colorado already has bolted to the Big 12 starting in 2024, with Arizona likely to join them, with Arizona State and Utah apparently on deck. USC and UCLA long ago announced plans to move to the Big Ten next season, and the conference reportedly will add Washington and the University of Nike, also known as Oregon.
By the time the exodus is complete, the Pac-12 no longer can exist as a Power Five conference, if it exists at all. Its remaining members will be forced to fend for themselves. It would be a sad ending to a once-proud conference, but another example of the old adage — nothing lasts forever.
Power Five will soon be reduced to a Power Four, and that could change down the road as well.
“You know, the old question of how long would it take TV money to destroy college football? Maybe we’re here,” Washington State football coach Jake Dickert said Thursday, according to The Associated Press. “To think even remotely five years ago the Pac-12 would be in this position, it’s unthinkable to think that we’re here today. And to think local rivalries are at risk and fans driving four hours to watch their team play in a road game … to me is unbelievable.”
Not really. Dickert apparently hasn’t been paying attention. College football was allegedly “destroyed” by TV money years ago, but somehow survived and become bigger and more popular than ever. Playoff expansion is coming, and the transfer portal now means any school can go from rags to riches with the right moves.
Only a small percentage of fans actually travel to road games for their teams anyway, with the vast majority watching on TV. No one cares how far it is to travel from Los Angeles to Columbus if we can watch Ohio State play USC on a Saturday night from the Horseshoe. Student-athletes don’t mind the long flights either. The star quarterbacks and linebackers can afford to buy all their teammates Beats headphones for the trips with their NIL money.
It’s understandable why Dickert is so upset. Washington State will soon be the last kid standing in a pickup game, forced to join a lesser conference with the other wannabes who lack tradition or big-name coaches. It’s the way of the world and it’s not going back any time soon.
The Big Ten stands to be the biggest winner in this college football version of “Duck, Duck, Goose,” but only if new commissioner Tony Petitti makes a bold move.
There’s no need for the Big Ten to stop after adding Oregon and Washington. Simply adding two more would-be Pac-12 refugees, Stanford and Cal, and he’ll have 20 schools that can be realigned into two separate, but moneymaking conferences — the new Big Ten and the Little Ten — both run by Petitti.
The New Big Ten would consist of the 10 schools with the most prestige, the ones you’d want to watch on NBC, CBS and Fox. With Ohio State, Michigan and USC at the forefront, it would rival the SEC as the most powerful conference and could send as many as four teams into an expanded playoff field.
The Little Ten’s conference games would mostly be relegated to the Big Ten Network. The best of the Little Ten would have a shot at winning a conference title and an at-large playoff bid instead of watching Ohio State or Michigan crowned in Indianapolis every December — and maybe someday it could replace the Pac-12 as a Power Five conference.
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To make things more interesting, each Big Ten would have its own conference title game, played on back-to-back days in Indy. The winner of the Little Ten title would be promoted to the New Big Ten the following year, while the team with the worst record in the New Big Ten would be relegated to the Little Big Ten for at least one season.
Here’s how it would look to start off.
- Ohio State: The Big Ten’s biggest and best brand with eight national championships
- Michigan: Winningest program in college football history with the greatest fight song
- USC: Tied for most Heisman trophies (7) with Ohio State, Oklahoma and Notre Dame
- Penn State: The most dominant program in the Northeast
- Oregon: Appeared in the national championship game in 2015
- Wisconsin: Six Big Ten championships since 1993
- Washington: CFP semifinalist in 2016 and ranked 26th in all-time wins
- Michigan State: Three Big Ten championships since 2010 and a CFP semifinal appearance in 2015
- Nebraska: Fallen on hard times of late, but is 9th on the all-time win list
- Iowa: Big Ten titles in 2002 and 2004
- Illinois: Rebuild on target under coach Bret Bielema
- Purdue: Managed to win the weak Big Ten West last year
- Indiana: Hoosiers always have 2020 to fondly look back on
- Stanford: Alums include Ernie Nevers, John Elway, Christian McCaffrey and Jim Plunkett
- Minnesota: Shared one division title in 2019, but lost the tiebreaker to Wisconsin
- UCLA: Haven’t won a Pac-12 title since 1998, but rivalry with USC remains must-see TV
- Rutgers: At least the New York-New Jersey market has a team
- Northwestern: Hazing scandal following 1-11 season spells disaster
- Cal: Still living off “The Play” from the 1982 game vs. Stanford
- Maryland: Never had a winning season in conference play since joining the Big Ten in 2014
Naturally, some of the Little Ten schools would cringe at the thought of being realigned to a less prestigious conference, but the sharing revenues from the new, $7 billion TV deal would make everyone happy.
And with Indiana, Illinois, Purdue and UCLA, the Little Ten would likely be the more dominant men’s basketball conference, while the New Big Ten would have the nation’s biggest women’s basketball star in Iowa’s Caitlin Clark.
The world is changing and what once seemed impossible might be the best direction forward for the Big Ten.
Divide and conquer?
Just do it.