By Ron Johnson
A few weeks ago, we mentioned the Death of the Pac-12 Conference as eight teams chose to pack it up and pack it in. This mass exodus of the conference started a trend with other conferences as the ACC is also looking to expand its vast library of teams in the form of Stanford and Cal, who remain with the Pac-12 to this day.
Following a meeting this past Tuesday with league presidents, executives of the ACC were bouncing around the idea of adding not just the Cardinal and the Golden Bears but also the SMU Mustangs. The Mustangs have been a massive tribute as they have been volunteering their services to several of the power leagues (Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC among others) in the hopes of joining one of the power conferences. It also helps that SMU happens to be located in one of the most exciting football cities and states in the country aka Dallas.
Officials with SMU have been eyeing the ACC and are ready to get a deal done with money to be earned and burned. “Employing a rich donor base and a healthy desire to advance to the Power Four level, the university is open to forgoing conference distribution pay for ‘at least their first five years’ in the ACC.” (Dellenger, 2023) One of the perks of the ESPN contract that the ACC currently has is something called ‘pro-rata,’ meaning the network will be required to increase its base distribution to the conference in an effort to pay each new member the same annual as others in the conference.
But it does have its drawbacks in the expansion, however. In order to offset the travel costs of bringing at least two of the teams, if not all three, either current conference members will have to acquire more revenue from the network, or Stanford and Cal would have to agree on a partial share in order to enter the conference. This is nothing new in college football as several irrelevant schools have become relevant recently. Even the ACC has been spending the past year trying to counter the thunderstruck expansions of the Big Ten and the SEC.
But the ACC should send a gift basket to ‘Primetime’ Deion Sanders and the Buffaloes.
Thanks to Colorado’s decision to leave the Pac-12 for the Big 12 once again, the conversations of expansion returned to the forefront of everyone’s minds. The ACC started exploring adding five of the Pac-12 schools (Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, Cal and Stanford) before three of those chose to join the Big 12 with Colorado. Now while the expansion talks may have loudly ended, they have still continued to linger over the past week.
But these guys are not the only conference looking to expand.
As reported by Yahoo Sports on Monday, the Mountain West Conference is looking to expand as well and are looking towards two of last remaining holdouts of the Pac-12 Conference in Oregon State and Washington State. A secondary option that is being thrown around is having the Pac-12 (or Pac-4 in this case) merge with the Mountain West, which would bring two massive perks to both conferences. The first would be the Pac-12’s autonomous legislative authority, and the other would be Pac-12’s potential nod into the College Football Playoff, which would ensure that the Mountain West would have a legitimate chance of being in the CFP.
The Playoff seems to be the biggest issue with the thoughts of expansion. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey was the originator of the format of the 12-Team College Football Playoff format and cited a necessity of the sport thriving out West, which in fairness is Pac-12 Country. However, George Kliavkoff, formerly the head guy of the Pac-12 joined forces with Big Ten Commissioner to attempt to torpedo the new format as a spit in the face of Oklahoma and Texas leaving the Big 12 for the SEC.
To say the least, expect huge changes to the 12-team format prior to its launch in 2024.
The current model calls for a field of the six highest-rated conference champions to complement six at-large berths. The power five conferences look to possibly secure five of the six conference champion berths with the final conference champion berths going to either the American, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Mid-American or Conference USA Conferences. Without a Pac-12 Conference, the mid-majors would have the same opportunity to make the playoff as everyone else as the conference-champ berths would be reduced to five, and the at-large pool would be raised to seven.
But it was the tantrums of two individuals that led to the CFP Expansion in the first place.
As stated earlier, Kliavkoff and former Big Ten top guy Kevin Warren were feeling less Ucey and more Salty about the Sooners and Longhorns moving to the SEC, even though neither team were in their respective conferences. Despite many in the Big Ten wanting to expand the CFP to 12 teams, Warren and Kliavkoff threw tantrum after tantrum and tried to kill Sankey’s format before it even began. Because of his actions during the talks, Warren was cut loose and now finds himself dealing with his own dysfunctional cluster in the form of the Chicago Bears.
While raising the number of at-large berths would benefit the SEC and Big Ten the most, it would also help the ACC and Big 12 respectively. This would explain why there are a plethora of teams wanting to join the Power Conferences so much, just not the Pac-12. In order for the Pac-12 to even survive their recent mass exodus, they would need to at least consider the options from the Mountain West to merge the two conferences. While it would eliminate the six automatic berth formula, it would at least keep the conference alive heading into the new year and the new season.
Even though the SEC has been mum on more expansion talks, it has not stopped Florida State from ruffling a few feathers. The Seminoles have made it clear that they are not happy with the ACC and are considering a shift to a new conference. And with the SEC being at 16 schools by next summer with the addition of Oklahoma and Texas, they are not considering bringing in the Noles…allegedly.
College Football is always intense on the field, but it seems that the boardroom is starting to add some fireworks of its own. Is the Pac-12 officially dead? Some would say yes, including me. But if they make this shift and merge with the Mountain West, at least the legacy of the century-old conference will remain alive for years to come. Either way, the shifts will continue, but the focus should be on the upcoming football season at least.