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Arizona to join Big 12 Conference in 2024, ending 45-year membership in Pac-12

ASU, Utah tagging along

arizona-wildcats-big12-conference-pac12-realignment-utah-asu-colorado-2024 Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The average length of a marriage in the United States is less than 20 years. Arizona and the Pac-12 made it 45 before the actions (or inactions) of the latter caused the former to look elsewhere.

The University of Arizona formally announced Friday it was leaving the Pac-12 and joining the Big 12 Conference beginning with the 2024-25 academic year. It will be the school’s first league move since departing the Western Athletic for the Pacific-10 in 1978.

Also moving from the Pac-12 and Big 12 are ASU and Utah, as well as Colorado, who got the realignment ball rolling again last week.

The Big 12, which added BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF for 2023-24 and loses Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC after this year, will have 16 members for 2024-25. The Pac-12, meanwhile, is down to four schools (Cal, Oregon State, Stanford and Washington State) with the Big 12 departures as well as Oregon and Washington leaving for the Big Ten.

The move by the UA comes a little more than a week after Colorado announced a move back to the Big 12, and 13 months since UCLA and USC began the domino effect by jumping to the Big Ten, also in 2024.

Like almost all conference realignment in the past decade or so, these moves have all been instigated by TV money. The Big Ten lured UCLA and USC away by giving them a piece of a massive 7-year, $7 billion multimedia rights deal with CBS, Fox and NBC, while Colorado is getting an equal share of the Big 12’s 6-year, $2.28 billion media contract.

Arizona is expected to receive a full share of the Big 12’s TV money, though no official figures have been released.

The Pac-12, meanwhile, never got around to inking a new deal to replace the one with ESPN and Fox that’s set to end next year. The closest it got was a recent offer from Apple that reportedly was far below the figures of the other power conferences (and would be almost exclusively streaming).

Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff said his conference wouldn’t add teams to its roster until after a media deal was secured. Schools such as San Diego State, SMU, UNLV and Tulane had been discussed as possible additions, but what seems more likely is the conference itself will dissolve and those still under the Pac-12 banner will join another league (most likely the Mountain West).

In joining the Big 12, Arizona’s athletic teams will be facing a whole new set of opponents, though some are more familiar than others. The UA football team has played 11 of the other 13 schools in the Big 12, having never faced UCF or West Virginia, and UCF is the only school the Wildcats haven’t played in men’s basketball.

“These kids are going to play some teams maybe they haven’t played before,” UA football coach Jedd Fisch said after Friday’s practice, hinting at the Big 12 move. “They’re gonna see some things they maybe haven’t seen before.”

The Big 12 will span four time zones (at least for the part of the year that Arizona is on Pacific time) and have teams spread over 10 states. Not including ASU, the closest opponent is Texas Tech, located 637 miles from Tucson in Lubbock.

It will also mean the end of a lot of longstanding series between Arizona and other Pac-12 schools. The Wildcats were already set to stop playing UCLA and USC for the first time since the 1970s, and barring nonconference matchups in the future the UA football team is done facing Cal and Oregon since they aren’t on the 2023 slate.

Unless it adds a nonconference game in the Golden State, 2024 will mark the first time the Wildcats don’t play football in California since 1988.