I hear the groans already. Even I’m groaning.
Yes, I’m writing about conference expansion during the season. Even worse, it comes after a week where the Big 12 finished 7-2 with some major victories over Power Five Conference foes.
Hear me out. If the Big 12 ever does choose to expand, it should go after Arizona and Arizona State.
The Pac-12 is a disaster right now. The conference has failed to produce a Final Four team or a College Football Playoff team in each of the past two seasons. In baseball, they failed to produce a College World Series team despite having the No.1 overall seed in UCLA. The Pac-12 Network is also a disaster. Hardly anyone has it. Additionally, Washington State head coach Mike Leach just made some valid points about California’s proposed law which would allow student-athletes to profit off the use of their image. Arizona and Arizona State should want to leave the Pac-12 Conference.
But why would the Big 12 Conference want Arizona and Arizona State? Right away, it’s a disliked opinion because that is two more schools cutting into the revenue pie. However, if the Big 12 has a down year at the wrong time just before the next round of conference realignment, it could be fatal. With the two Arizona schools in the Big 12, it strengthens the conference and places the foot to throat on the Pac-12.
As for Arizona and Arizona State specifically, why? First off, they aren’t from California. No one has to worry about the state prohibiting taxpayer funds for a cross country team to run in Iowa. Secondly, Arizona had a rivalry with Texas Tech before Texas and Texas A&M were Tech’s rivals. It dates back to the Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association, more well known as The Border Conference. Texas Tech owned the Border Conference and Arizona. The Red Raiders won seven championships in their final 10 seasons as a member. While that doesn’t boost Arizona’s profile, it does show some tradition and a connection to the Big 12. Additionally, Tech has played Arizona State three times in three different locations since 2013. Not to mention, Texas and the two Oklahoma schools seem to enjoy going out west. Both Oklahoma schools visited Pac-12 schools this year. Texas recently played a home-and-home against USC, UCLA and California. For a third reason, both schools have had success in the three major sports: football, men’s basketball and baseball. Arizona won the 1997 NCAA Tournament for men’s hoops. They went back to the finals in 2001 and are a notable program historically. Both teams have played in either the Fiesta Bowl or the Rose Bowl since the inception of the BCS. Additionally, The two schools have combined for nine National Championships in baseball and nine more appearances in the College World Series finals.
Both schools are fun to travel to. Tucson is a wonderful college town, which I recently visited. Tempe has hosted Super Bowls in the past and is known for a good time. Adding these two schools would also be the ultimate smack in the face for the Colorado Buffaloes, who helped place the Big 12 Conference in jeopardy to begin with. Not to mention, it would completely derail any reason to argue over which team from The American would best suit the Big 12. Just let the Pac-12 weaken its own conference by adding Boise State and Hawaii.
Per this article, conference realignment could be swirling again between 2023-25. That’s when the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 have their contracts expire. The ACC and SEC seem to be set for decades. Despite its misery, Missouri doesn’t want to leave a stable SEC. Most of the Big 12 and Texas A&M have a mutual agreement that parting ways is best for their side. Although, having the Aggies is a good deal for the Big 12 and Texas A&M will never win the SEC West. As for Nebraska, that’s an institution who actually cares more about its academics than its athletics. The results of their departure have shown that as they are completely irrelevant athletically since leaving the Big 12. Colorado has noted that they have more alums in California than the do in the Big 12 states. There’s no reason for to court these schools. Why not go after someone who realizes they have a reason to leave? That would be the Arizona schools. They’re not floating around with the idea right now, but they certainly will be if the Pac-12 continues on its path of becoming a sinking ship. The survival instincts kick in and they will do what’s best for their school: leaving the Pac-12.
It’s still years down the road, but it’s something every school is keeping a watchful eye on. Who is going to take that first shot? Which conference is going to shake the foundation? For now, the Big 12 is fine the way it is. Play the round robin. Have the conference title game. Ensure there is one true champion. However, in five years, there is one guarantee: the landscape is going to change. Last time, it was the Big East that died. Which conference will it be this time? Adapt or die.
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