The Pac-12 originally chose to be patient with expansion. It figured it could wait and find the perfect fit or hold steady. In the wake of USC and UCLA’s departure to the Big Ten, the conference has lost that luxury.
The Pac-12 Board of Directors met Friday morning and authorized the conference to explore expansion. The future of the conference is at stake. Said a former conference administrator to The Athletic“I don’t know if they recover from this.”
The obvious hurdle: The Pac-12’s expansion options are not great. Despite its lack of football success and substandard media payouts, the conference always has offered some level of stability. That is no longer the case. USC and UCLA’s exits have cracked the foundation.
Commissioner George Kliavkoff’s first task is to keep Washington and Oregon in place. Without the Trojans and Bruins, the Pacific Northwest schools are holding the conference together. This won’t be easy. The second is to find the right schools that not only fit the Pac-12’s profile but also help the conference in its upcoming media rights negotiations. Let’s take a look.
The first calls
San Diego State: The Athletic asked a couple of industry sources about Pac-12 expansion candidates, and each one started here. The Pac-12 has never seemed to take San Diego State seriously, mostly because it operates in the California State University system, but it’s time to give the Mountain West school a strong look. San Diego has the 28th largest television market, which is not ideal, but adding the Aztecs would give the Pac-12 a presence in some part of Southern California. This cannot be ignored. Athletically, San Diego State has recently outperformed many Pac-12 schools in football and men’s basketball, so that’s not an issue. The football program has posted five seasons of 10-plus wins over the past seven years. The men’s basketball team has made the NCAA Tournament nine times since the 2009-10 season. Most important, the Aztecs have showed a commitment to taking the next step. This fall, they are scheduled to open $310 million Snapdragon Stadium as their next football home. There’s some momentum here.
Boise State: Another Mountain West program, Boise State has always been a popular expansion candidate simply because of its football success. It’s a nice starting point. The Broncos would compete in the Pac-12. In addition, the men’s basketball team just won the Mountain West title and played in the NCAA Tournament. Geographically, Boise also fits with the Pac-12 footprint. (Not that geography matters anymore.) The biggest drawbacks: The Boise market doesn’t add much media value.
Houston and TCU: Nine months ago, with the sport still in shock after Texas and Oklahoma announced their SEC intentions, the Pac-12 considered expansion. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Houston and TCU were the conference’s top targets. Ultimately, the Pac-12 stuck with 12, Houston settled into the Big 12 and everything looked fine. Until Thursday. Location-wise, this works. Dallas-Fort Worth is the nation’s fifth-largest media market. Houston is eighth. This would also put the Pac-12 into the heart of talent-rich Texas, which would help with recruiting.
Houston makes sense. TCU brings one issue in that the Pac-12 typically has had little interest in schools with religious affiliations. But over the past several years, TCU has distanced itself from those ties. The Pac-12 is also in no position to be picky.
Texas Tech: When it comes to the Big 12 schools — and you can add Baylor and Oklahoma State here as well — it ultimately comes down to this: With the Big 12 fairly stable, how much interest do they have in rescuing a staggered Pac-12? Per industry sources, Texas Tech long has fancied a move west, but that might recently have changed. Like Houston and TCU, this would get the Pac-12 into Texas, but that’s probably the biggest upside.
Worth checking out
SMU: If the Big 12 schools are not an option, SMU is worth a look. The American Athletic Conference school lacks the football punch that San Diego State and Boise State could provide, but SMU brings media value in Dallas. Like Houston and TCU, adding the Mustangs also would help with recruiting.
UNLV: Another Mountain West school, UNLV would offer little to enhance the Pac-12 in terms of competitive balance, but the Las Vegas market is attractive. In addition, the conference already has a presence in Sin City, holding its football championship and postseason basketball tournaments there.
— Max Olson, Christian Caple and Chris Vannini contributed reporting.
(Photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today)