The Pac-12 is dead.
OK, maybe it’s not dead. Not yet.
But the exodus of both UCLA and USC put the conference on life support, and the recent decision by Colorado to head for the Big 12 now has a hand firmly gripping the plug. With one more defection that plug would be pulled.
Hopefully Arizona does the honors.
If reports are to be believed, they’ll have the chance. Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark has his sights set on Tucson, hoping to make Arizona the 14th member of his expanding conference. It hasn’t happened yet, the reports say, because Arizona president Dr. Robert C. Robbins wants to give the Pac-12 every opportunity to bring a solid TV rights deal to the table.
That’s fair. Ideally Arizona could stay in the conference it has been a part of since 1978, one with a reasonable travel schedule and a pretty solid history of success. But the clock is ticking. It has to be. Not only that, but time should be up very soon.
While Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff continues to trip over himself while trying to explain why his conference’s lack of a deal is a good thing, the Big 12 has something tangible that Arizona can not only be certain of, but benefit from.
The Big 12 is not going to compete with the SEC financially and it won’t be able to match the Big 10, either. But should it add Arizona (and maybe others) it will solidify itself as the clear cut third-best conference, with it rising to the top when it comes to men’s basketball.
That ain’t bad.
Ideally it never would have come to this. Plenty has been written about the Pac-12’s blown opportunities to get out in front of the expansion game, with the errors dating back to Larry Scott’s embarrassing reign as commissioner and running through Kliavkoff’s fledgling tenure. Instead of being proactive and leading the way, the conference instead stood pat and watched as the rest of the country moved forward.
But while losing UCLA and USC may have been a surprise, the departure of Colorado is not. Anyone who has been paying attention over the last year or so could see that the Pac-12 was in rough shape, and at least one administration decided it was best to jump ship before they risked going down with it.
Meanwhile, the schools that stick it out will likely be saddled with television deal worth far less than those enjoyed by schools from other major conferences while their games will continue to be on networks or platforms people can’t get or find.
Sure, the conference could eventually bring in San Diego State or SMU or some other school from a smaller conference get the number back up to 12. But that version of the Pac-12 would be more Mountain West than Power 5, a zombie conference barely scraping by.
Arizona should want no part of that.
Rather, the best thing for Arizona would be to accept that invitation to the Big 12 — before it’s too late. Being proactive would allow the school to join a conference that is on stable ground, has a good television deal and seems like a natural fit, at least in athletics.
The men’s basketball would be incredible, with annual matchups with the likes of Kansas, Baylor, Houston and Kansas State. There would be no shortage of big games and Arizona’s strength of schedule would not suffer one bit from the move.
Arizona’s rising football program would slide right into the mix too, with no perennially-dominant team in the way but with many a competitive outfit to fill the schedule with. Would the Wildcats contend for a conference championship? Not at the moment, but the road would be clear and until they reach that point there’s no reason why they can’t finish in the middle, just like now.
Granted a big part of any conference shuffling involves the non-revenue sports, and besides not having games in the same time zone more or less there will be a handful of games that require a bit of travel. The logistics is something the Arizona Athletic department will have to contend with, but it shouldn’t be a problem.
Further, with games no longer regularly scheduled in California, Arizona’s recruiting will have to adapt. It will be easier in some sports than in others, but recruiting could suffer if Arizona’s conference slips into irrelevancy, too.
The decision to move on from the Pac-12 is not one without concern or risk. It also may not come without some speed bumps, perhaps in the name of not wanting to separate from Arizona State.
But if conference realignment has shown us anything, it is that the winners tend to be those who act. For Arizona, failure to do so when given an opportunity could mean getting buried with the Pac-12 when it finally, mercifully, kicks the bucket.