Could an unexpected round of conference realignment be coming? The theme of this week on the college football corner of the internet has been the Pac-12’s impending doom. Well, that may be an overstatement, but CBS Sports‘ Dennis Dodd put out a column this week outlining the league’s struggles, both on the playing field and in the schools’ wallets. Some coaches and administrators are pretty open about not being happy with how things are going.
When the ‘Power Five’ era began, after the Big East football league was poached and rolled into the AAC, the ACC looked like the most vulnerable league. Syracuse and Pitt didn’t really move the needle for football, and Florida State was good, but the league didn’t seem to stack up overall. The Big Ten was also able to pick off an ACC member, taking Maryland into the fold. However, the ACC’s fortunes quickly changed.
Florida State captured the final BCS national championship, and made the College Football Playoff the following year. On the field, Louisville has been more than an ample replacement for the Terps. Clemson has been a mainstay in the playoff, and captured a national title in 2016. That year, it was hard to argue against the ACC having the best year in college football, top to bottom.
After that, the Big 12 took the mantle as the most vulnerable league. The Big Ten took Nebraska, and Colorado left for the Pac-12, knocking the ’12’ down to 10 teams. Over the last few years, the league has considered expansion, only to hold serve at 10 schools. Oklahoma has been the saving grace for the Big 12, making two runs to the College Football Playoff, and erasing some of the concerns about the conference’s potential, with both Baylor and TCU being left out in the cold back in 2014.
Now, it is the Pac-12’s turn to be the focus of our concern. One writer has even supposed that the league could be poached whenever conference realignment rears its ugly head again.
David Ubben of The Athletic says that the Big 12 should start “cuddling up” to Arizona and Arizona State. The two schools are longtime members of the Pac-12 and its previous iterations, but if the financial situation for the league doesn’t change, it isn’t crazy to think that the Big 12 could look to make a move in conference realignment to expand if it means adding some big name programs.
Big 12 would be wise to begin cuddling up to Arizona, Arizona State with expansion in mind before leagues begin negotiating their new TV deals. The fissures in the Pac-12 have never been wider. https://t.co/O8vMdnx5Io
— David Ubben (@davidubben) May 15, 2018
ASU athletic director Ray Anderson was one of those quoted in Dodd’s piece:
“The gap between us and the other [leagues] continues to grow,” he said. “We’ll be competitively disadvantaged even moreso. … That’s real money in terms of being able to compete, support facilities, support coaches and support programs.”
It is a complete hypothetical, but we’ve seen schools pop up and change conferences out of nowhere before. On the very off-chance that the Pac-12 was to break up in a new round of conference realignment, I have a pretty good idea of where those schools may end up.
Arizona: One of the two programs that Ubben named. Obviously, he is just spit-balling, as we are, but the Arizona schools make the most sense for the Big 12, outside of the schools that were already once in that league.
The Wildcats would add a prominent basketball program to the Big 12’s ranks, and a football program that could get back on the upswing quickly. Kevin Sumlin flamed out at Texas A&M, but he has worked in Big 12 country before, as the head coach of one-time conference realignment candidate Houston. Arizona is also not that far removed from a New Year’s Six berth, and has shown that it will do what it takes to be competitive.
Arizona State: Of course, the Wildcats would not be going without the Sun Devils. Basketball aside, ASU has a similar profile to its in-state rival, and the Sun Devils even flirted with the top of the hoops rankings early in the 2017-18 season.
President Michael Crow is cited by Dodd as an ally of Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, but AD Anderson is clearly not content with the Pac-12 monetary situation. Now, the Big 12 doesn’t have a great answer for a linear network either, as Texas and the Longhorn Network dominate the situation, but adding some schools could push the Big 12 to make some changes in that department. Either way, it is hard for any solution not to be better than what the Pac-12 Network isdelivering right now.
Colorado: Who says you can’t go home? The move to the Pac-12 is probably not the reason, but Colorado definitely had better days on the football field back when it was playing Big 12 football. The Buffaloes were a legitimate national contender in the early 1990s. The down slide started before conference realignment, but the only winning season the Buffs have had since the move is the surprising 10-4 2016 season.
Outside of a total break-up, I don’t see Colorado looking to move back to the Big 12. However, in the event that the Pac-12 splits, it is definitely the most logical choice.
Utah: The Utes are also one of the teams that moved in the last major round of conference realignment. The Utes got the call up from what is now called the Group of Five, jumping from the Mountain West.
Utah is a pretty consistent contender in both football and men’s basketball. It would also make for a logical travel partner for Colorado, similar to how Arizona and Arizona State would work well together in the event of a shift.