In 1931, the Arizona Wildcats joined the Border Conference. A conference that once consisted of New Mexico State, New Mexico, Arizona, Arizona State, Texas Tech, Northern Arizona, UTEP, West Texas A&M, and Hardin-Simmons.
Arizona left the Border Conference after the 1960 season (the conference as a whole folded in 1961), and after a year of being an "independent", Arizona joined the Western Athletic Conference in 1962.
Arizona would stay in the WAC for 16 years (1962-1977) and the football team went 88-82-2 in that span, including two 9-2 seasons in 1974 and 1975. Arizona was also co-champions of the conference twice. Once in 1964, and once in 1973.
Then in 1978, Arizona (along with Arizona State) joined the Pac-8 Conference. Of course, the current members were Stanford, Cal, Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, and USC.
It seemed like an odd fit at first. Most notably, the Arizona schools are not located on the Pacific coast. There were also concerns from Pac-8 members that Arizona and Arizona State were not on the same level academically as the other schools.
The Pac-8 expansion to the Pac-10 required unanimous approval by the conference's members, and despite some concerns from some of the schools, the expansion was approved.
Arizona's first Pac-10 football game took place on September 16th, 1978 against the Oregon State Beavers in Arizona Stadium in front of 49,000 fans. There was some controversy before the game. Javier Morales of AllSportsTucson.com describes it:
Arizona’s first Pac-10 game against Oregon State included controversy off the field, fueled perhaps by former UA coach Tony Mason in a surreptitious way.
According to former Tucson Citizen columnist Corky Simpson, a mysterious classified ad placed in the Los Angeles Times earlier in the week inspired the victory over Oregon State.
The classified ad was clipped out of the Times and tacked on the bulletin board in the Arizona locker room. It read:
"We welcome the Arizona schools to the Pac-10. Now we no longer have to be on the bottom."
It was signed, "Oregon State boosters."
The Wildcat players used this trash talk from "Oregon State boosters" as motivation, and Arizona would go on to win 21-17 in their inaugural Pac-10 game. It was a historical win.
"It was an exciting time," Arizona QB Jim Krohn told the Tucson Citizen. "There was a lot of buzz on campus and talk around town about us moving into the ‘big time.’ As players, we felt going in that we were probably in the middle of the Pac-10 competitively, but to go out there and show it, in your first game in the league, was something special".
But why would Oregon State fans want to motivate Arizona players, while also making fun of their school for usually being at the bottom of the conference? It turns out, Arizona's coach, Tony Mason, placed the ad in the paper to fire up his team. More from Javier Morales:
After the Wildcats defeated the Beavers, one of the players hoisted a placard bearing the words of the Times advertisement. UA linebacker Corky Ingraham told reporters, "That clipping was the difference. It got us up more than anything."
Simpson writes that nobody knew where the ad came from or who paid for it, "but everybody suspected the loquacious UA head coach."
He asked Mason before the former coach passed away in 1994 if he had paid for the mysterious classified ad. "Me?" Mason told Simpson with a wink.
It's not crazy if it works.
Joining the Pac-10 (now the Pac-12) has obviously been a great move for the University of Arizona. It has placed the school in association with schools that are renowned for their academic prestige, like Stanford and Cal, while also putting them in the same conversation as some traditional athletic powerhouses like USC and UCLA.
I think it's fair to say that without the leap from the WAC to Pac-10, Arizona would not be nearly the school it is today.