Okay, now what?
UCLA and USC have announced they’re leaving the Pac-12 Conference, joining the Big Ten for the 2024-25 season. And that’s just the start of what figures to be an insane amount of movement within college sports.
Where Arizona figures in that is anybody’s guess at this point, but one thing is certain: the sooner the UA determines its future the better.
The 2022-23 athletic season, which unofficially begins Friday as the calendar switches to July, will be Arizona’s 45th in the Pac-10/12 since moving over from the Western Athletic Conference in 1978. In that time the Wildcats have more or less sat back and watched as change has occurred across the college landscape, with the exception being voting to add Colorado and Utah to the league in 2011.
Now, Arizona finds itself in a unique position, one where it needs to see if it’s wanted, and by whom.
Here are the two most likely scenarios for the Wildcats’ future:
Join the Big 12
With rumors swirling that the Big Ten may go after more schools, it’s very likely some if not all will come from the Pac-12. Don’t expect Arizona to be one of them, even though it has the AAU accreditation that the Big Ten prefers.
The Big Ten would be much more apt to bring in Oregon and Washington, and possibly Cal/Stanford, than one or both Arizona schools despite Phoenix being one of the biggest TV markets in the country.
So if Arizona is going to join another league, the one that makes the most sense is the Big 12, which already is set to look drastically different than it did at this time a year ago.
The Big 12 is bringing in four new schools—BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF—to replace the outgoing Oklahoma and Texas, who are heading to the SEC. That means it will span from Orlando to Provo, which is roughly 2,300 miles, though it’s still centered in the middle of the country with four Texas schools and four in Iowa/Kansas/Oklahoma.
Arizona, along with ASU and probably Colorado and Utah, would make for a 16-team conference that, while geographically unwieldy as a whole would allow for 4-team pods. Three of the four Pac-12 ex-pats would get lumped together in this format.
No divisions. Pods:— Jay Hamlin (@jayhamlinauthor) June 30, 2022
Football: 3-6-6 format, top 2 win% in championship; Basketball: Play your pod twice, everyone else once for 18 games.
Sure, it’ll be really weird seeing the Wildcats visiting West Virginia for a mid-week college basketball game or having UCF’s softball team playing at Hillenbrand Stadium, but that’s kind of the future we’re facing in college sports.
Become the center of a new Pac-12
If Arizona wants to remain in the league it has called home for nearly a half-century then it would be wise to become the driving force in it, especially if the other California schools, as well as Oregon/Washington, end up moving on.
After all, Las Vegas has become the Pac-12’s unofficial hub in recent years and the men’s basketball conference tournament in March reaffirmed that Sin City is Wildcat Country.
For this conference to survive in any way, though, it has to toss aside its issues with schools’ academic prowess. That mindset was mostly fueled by the California schools, so good riddance.
There are plenty of viable options within the existing Pac-12 footprint: Boise State, Gonzaga, UNLV, New Mexico/NMSU, San Diego State would all be options. Heck, so would Grand Canyon, which draws better for its men’s basketball games than the crosstown Sun Devils.
This isn’t the route I’d choose, but if the Arizona Board of Regents—who will ultimately make the decision for the UA, as well as ASU—don’t want to join someone else’s league then this is what we’ll end up with.
Considering the statement the conference issued following UCLA and USC’s departure announcements, though, if the Pac-12 does still exist in a few years it’s not going to be well-run: