For the Big 12, merging with the Pac-12 sure looked a whole lot sexier a day ago when USC and UCLA — now reportedly headed at some point in the near future to the Big Ten — were part of the potential total package.
But it might not be an option.
Expansion may be a necessary evolution to survival.
The SEC’s standing as the best league in college athletics became even stronger when it added Texas and OU last year (both of which will formally transition to the league by at least 2025). The Big Ten’s standing as No. 2 in the athletics hierarchy will be reinforced with the addition of brand names like UCLA and USC. Where does that leave the Big 12? The Pac-12? Heck, even the ACC?
The Big 12 has already made moves to try and solidify its standing in the market ahead of its next TV deal in a few years by adding BYU, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston. That’s … a start. But losing OU and Texas — two of college’s biggest brands — and replacing them with four just-OK schools won’t do the job. It must do more.
If the Big 12 can simply merge with the Pac-12, then you’re talking. That’d give you among current member schools these eight:
- Oklahoma State
- Texas Tech
- Kansas State
- Iowa State
- West Virginia
And that’d give you these 10 incoming schools from the Pac-12:
- Arizona State
- Oregon State
- Washington State
To go with these three incoming schools from the AAC — and a fourth — BYU — from the independent ranks.
That gives you a grand total of 22 schools. That can offer you a lot of sway in this new and quickly shifting landscape. Most importantly, it can probably give you the best chance at combating the new and emerging two-conference super leagues forming both in the SEC and the Big Ten. It gives you a fighting chance to survive and realistically presents quite a lot of value in the television market for next negotations.
The Pac-12 probably would’ve slammed the door on a merger a month ago, a week ago, a day ago. Heck, just last summer they essentially evaluated and said thanks but no thanks — commissioner George Kliavkoff at the time said they are “happy with the current makeup [of the Pac-12] and think we can thrive with 12” — but they don’t have the luxury to pass now. Who knows where all this is headed or what this means for the college landscape? All we know now is that there appears to be safety — if not strength — in numbers. The Big Ten expanding its reach to the west and adding two huge names will help it survive as it negotiates currently its next TV deal. The SEC is doing just fine, and adding Texas and OU will only help. But both the Big 12 and Pac-12 face real viability questions over the next few years. Getting poached by super-leagues not only hurts their image, but hurts their value.
It’s clear they both need each other. USC and UCLA proved what Texas and OU brought to the forefront last year with conference realignment: it’s every program for yourself. But both the Pac-12 and Big 12 could push back against that with a group effort to form an alliance just good enough to survive if they stick together.
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