Traditions and rivalries don’t mean much for college football anymore
Published 2:13 pm Wednesday, August 9, 2023
That’s about the easiest way for me to sum up my thoughts on the most recent happenings in the world of major college athletics, specifically that of college football.
If you haven’t been paying attention, the Pac-12 Conference, the one you might have grown up calling the Pacific-8 (1968-1978) or the Pacific-10 (1978-2011) is about to go the way of the dinosaurs as it nears extinction following the defections of all but four schools.
Those remaining Pac-4 schools as they have been called are Cal, Stanford, Oregon State and Washington State.
Just over a year ago, conference stalwarts USC and UCLA announced an impending departure from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten Conference.
Back then I wrote a column calling it “the latest dumb domino to fall” in the world of college football.
It took a year, but another set of idiotic moves, driven by the need for more and more shares of television and streaming revenues, turned into a tidal wave of shifting allegiances that spelled doom for the Pac-12.
Look, I don’t blame the University of Colorado for kicking off this round of reshuffling by announcing in July that they planned to move back to the Big 12 for the 2024-2025 season.
The Buffaloes should have never left in the first place, though, as their departure a decade ago from the Big 12 was part of a wave of similar moves at that time.
It looked like the Big 12 was on the ropes 10 years ago, though it was not as badly bruised as the Pac-12 is now. Colorado thought that Texas might be jumping to the Pac-12 and when they got an invite to join the league, the CU Buffaloes stampeded into a new conference.
And now they’re heading back to the Big 12 after reading the tea leaves and realizing that the Pac-12 was no longer the right fit.
Going back to your old conference sounds like a great idea to me.
Let’s get Nebraska back in the Big 12 and let’s squash this idiomatic move by UCLA and USC to the Big 10 before it even starts, the Pac-12 needs you boys to come home ASAP.
Heck, go ahead and move Vanderbilt from the Southeastern Conference to the Southern Conference while you’re at it. I know the Commodores haven’t been a member of the SoCon since 1932, but surely, they’d enjoy playing Samford and Furman again rather than continuing to get pounded by the likes of Alabama and Georgia.
Alas, UCLA and USC won’t be coming back to the Pac-12. After Colorado made the first move, it was followed by Oregon and Washington announcing they’re also joining the Big Ten for next season.
Arizona, Arizona State and Utah followed were the next three Pac-12 members to flee as they announced a jump to the Pac-12.
Allow me to make a quickly specific and totally local analogy for this scenario.
As a 20-something-year-old in Southwest Mississippi, the night before Thanksgiving was all about heading to one place for a good time, the upstairs bar at the old Mallard restaurant on Lake Dixie Springs.
All your friends would be there to catch up on life. DJ A-Ron would be playing a song featuring the Ying Yang Twins on his laptop as the dance floor filled up. College wasn’t over yet, and everyone was getting loose and having fun.
When it was time to go back home though, the parking lot would empty out in a hurry.
I was once with a group that saw a friend looking around for a ride back to Brookhaven. He jumped in the back and thanked us over and over for stopping to pick him up.
It turns out that a year before, he’d been left behind in the Mallard parking lot as the party broke up. With no cell phone to call someone with, he just started walking towards Brookhaven on Hwy. 51 until someone stopped to give him a ride.
After Arizona, Arizona State and Utah hightailed it last week for the Big 12, the folks at Cal, Stanford, Oregon State and Washington State feel like they’ve been left in the Mallard parking lot with no ride in sight.
The Mountain West Conference would love to add those four remaining Pac-12 schools as it’s the move that makes the most sense geographically. Those four joining a league with San Diego State, Fresno State and San Jose State is more logical than USC and UCLA flying to Rutgers or Iowa for a Big 10 game.
This is college football in 2023 though, and common sense is in short supply. What isn’t in short supply is money. And that’s the driving force behind all this conference jumping. Everyone wants to be where they can reap the greatest rewards.
That’s why Cal, Stanford, Oregon State and Washington State are facing a scary future if the Pac-12 ultimately falls apart. With huge athletic budgets, schools like them rely on the shared revenue generated from media rights deals to prop up sports programs more numerable than just football and basketball.
A move to a lesser conference like the Mountain West would mean some serious belt tightening is in store for those schools when it comes to budgeting in the overall athletic department.
And what about the Rose Bowl, the grandaddy of them all that’s long been played between the best of the Pac-12 and the Big Ten?
The shifting and shuffling of schools isn’t over yet.
Florida State isn’t happy with the cut that it’s been getting from the ACC and is letting potential suitors know while also having lawyers studying how to minimize the financial penalties the school will incur if it bolts the league.
Let’s rip the band-aid off and sign Florida State and Clemson up for the SEC to make the league an even stouter 18-team mega conference.
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham has built a solidly respected program during his time in Salt Lake City.
A week ago, just before the Pac-12 implosion, Whittingham mentioned a scenario to the media that appears more and more likely, super conferences that grab up as many teams as possible.
“The timetable (for super conferences), who knows? Three years, five years, seven years,” said Whittingham to the press. “But I believe that is the direction things are headed.”
I can see it.
I can see super conferences that will negotiate their own media deals in the future with ESPN and FOX and CBS for sums of money that will be absurdly high.
Super conferences that will one day decide that they don’t need the NCAA to govern them anymore.
Super conferences that may someday play for a national championship that’s set apart from their smaller, less wealthy brethren at the lower rungs of Division I football.
It just feels so dumbly wasteful.
USC, UCLA, Washington and Oregon are going to be sending their softball and baseball teams all the way across this vast nation to play Big Ten three-game conference series at places like Penn State and Maryland.
Sorry kids, I know you came to school here expecting to play Oregon State and Cal and Stanford, but that network money talks and schools continue to walk wherever needed to get a bigger piece of the pie.
Neither I nor anyone else has a solution. In fact, I’m part of the problem.
Fast forward three years down the line and it’ll be another Saturday of college football viewership for yours truly.
A true fan knows those early Big 10 matchups are always a nice warmup to start your day of watching ball.
Instead of getting Illinois and Minnesota though, I’ll flick on the television to find Washington playing Northwestern in a Big 10 conference matchup.
Dude, I’ll think to myself, this is so stupid.
Stupid enough to not watch it?
No, I’ll still watch, stupid or not, I love college football.
Cliff Furr is the Sports Editor at The Daily Leader. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.