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Ana Maria Cornea / Gavel Media

Conference Realignment and the End of the Pac-12

Michigan vs. USC, Ohio State vs. Oregon, Kansas vs. Arizona. These are games that college sports fans would LOVE to see. Well, guess what? Starting next year, they’ll get their wish. 

Some college sports biggest brands are leaving their conferences to join bigger ones with the hopes of advancing their programs and, quite frankly, making a lot more money.

Now, the idea of conference realignment is not new. It’s happened in the past, and it happened very recently with Cincinnati, UCF, Houston (from the AAC), and BYU (independent) joining the Big 12. This current season is their first in their new power conference.

The thing we haven’t seen, however, is a mass exodus from a Power 5 conference. Every Pac-12 team (with the exception of Oregon State and Washington State, as of right now) is leaving the conference at the end of this academic year. Oregon, USC, UCLA, and Washington will join the Big Ten, Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah will join the Big 12, and Stanford and California will join the ACC, effectively destroying the Pac-12 as we know it.

For fans of collegiate sports, this is heaven. Instead of these programs playing at the beginning of the season, during non-conference play, still ironing out the fine details ahead of a long season, these teams will play meaningful games in the heat of a difficult conference schedule. So, thank you for the conference realignment, right? Not so fast. 

There are two major problems with realignment. The first is the abandonment of the regional rivalries that meant so much for the schools involved. For example, although Washington has recently been better than Washington State, that rivalry meant so much not only to both schools but to the entire state. 

Supporters of realignment will say that teams can make new rivalries. But is a rivalry between UCLA and Penn State, for example, really the same? They are thousands of miles apart. Will fans of those teams really travel all that way to watch their team play? 

We can see a similar example with what happened with the failed European soccer “Super League” a few years ago. All the biggest and richest clubs decided to join a league so that the best teams could all play against each other and abandon the domestic schedule. Just one problem: the fans of these clubs despised the thought. Sure, you get to watch better players play against one another, but talent isn’t the only thing that makes sports great. The atmosphere and history behind each game matter. That’s what the supporters of the European clubs would have lost, and it’s what collegiate sports realignment destroys.

The second and far more important downside is the complete disregard for student-athletes. Make no mistake, these decisions were made with the consideration of only two things: football and money. As a result, other athletes are going to have to balance a school-sport lifestyle while traveling much farther than usual. Obviously, no one knows the schedule yet, but it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where a baseball or softball player who goes to UCLA has to travel all the way to Rutgers. How is that fair? If they play a three-game series, like they do in conference play, that basically takes up two days for travel and three days for the game. That’s five days out of their week! For one series! How can they be expected to effectively balance their sport with school when they have to travel so much? We hope that this is not the case, but we can’t ignore the possibility. 

Ultimately, these schools made a decision with absolutely no consideration for the people who would be most affected. They prioritized making money over protecting their student-athletes. And sadly, it’s not new. It’s just another way for schools to take advantage of student-athletes for their own monetary benefit.    

All in all, we should add realignment to a long list of controversial changes in collegiate sports. Will it be good? Bad? Who knows. But one thing is for certain: it’s not going away anytime soon.