With California Governor Gavin Newsom, and the University of California Board of Regents backing down and letting UCLA move to the Big 10 without Cal, the future is nothing but cloudy for Arizona Athletics and the remainder of the Pac-12.
It was the least shocking news of the day that the California Board of Regents allowed the UCLA Bruins to bolt from the Pac-12 to the Big 10, despite bitter public comments from the Governor.
With little more than a small kickback to Cal, UCLA is officially out the door, and Pac-12 leadership has continued to neglect to protect its future as a Power Five conference if there even remains one.
Now, more than 24 hours after the news became official, we have not heard nor seen any urgency from Conference Commissioner George Kliavkoff and Pac-12 leaders for now stabilizing the direction of the conference, which was ultimately known months ago.
While there have been rumors of expansion through the media, there has been no movement there to secure top mid-majors to the conference. And the position of strength you could have expected by being the first one to the negotiating table for media rights has wilted away, and it almost feels like the conference is incredibly comfortable in its position despite publicly appearing rudderless.
It’s time that the conference leadership gets honest with itself, there’s no knight in shining armor media streaming company about to race to scoop up the remnants of the Pac-12. If a company like Apple or Amazon were truly interested in offering a significant sum for the conference that allows for it to stand apart at maybe a level between the SEC and Big 10, there’d already be a deal by now, and the LA schools might very well of been regretting their decision.
Where does this leave Arizona Athletics?
Well, that’s a bit of a tough question to answer at this point. With a football team trending up, two nationally ranked basketball teams, and perennial contender’s in baseball and softball, the Arizona portfolio appears to be a solid addition to any of the bigger conferences. The downside with the University of Arizona; however, is the market size, which will not move the needle to enhance any media rights partnerships, which ultimately drive these moves.
One thing is for sure, despite the vitriol that President Robert Robbins and Athletic Director Dave Heeke faced over the past few years, they have led Wildcat Athletics to a strong position, to have options when things come to a head.
With their present status as an entire department, they are regularly lumped in with Utah, which for as strong as the Utes are in Football, the Wildcats are their contemporary in basketball (we won’t talk about the game a few weeks ago).
This likely makes it possible that if any future moves were to happen, I would imagine that Arizona would be likely tied with Utah if any moves were to happen (along with Arizona State), as with most of the big movers in the college football world settled, eyes could turn to basketball and a more all-around strengthening approach.
Does staying in Pac-12 benefit Arizona
Most importantly remaining where they are in the Pac-12 will bring stability in maintaining solid access to California, as with Cal and Stanford at the very least with no expansion, it provides the state as a solid recruiting ground. It will also likely provide the opportunity for the Wildcats to enhance and continue key rivalries be it Utah in football, Oregon in basketball, or Stanford in baseball.
Now yes, looking at those calling Utah a rival in football is somewhat laughable right now because they are far and away stronger; however, with visions of building a team similar to Utah, this could become one of the cornerstone rivalries of a new Pac-12.
Does leaving the Pac-12 make sense for Arizona
At this point, it’s hard to tell without a media rights deal. On the surface, the lack of movement seems a bit concerning, as it feels like the absolute ceiling for a media rights deal is near the deal the Big 12 received.
Leaving the conference they have been a long-time member of could be very risky, as it would likely involve losing opponent ties with California, as it feels more likely that an SDSU would join the new age Pac-12 than say a Big 12 due to logistical planning.
On the other hand, a move would likely open the state of Texas up wide for Arizona to recruit, as well as branch more into the Midwest and Southeast United States. A move would also provide Arizona with a conference with leadership be it the Big 12, or otherwise, that would likely present a more stable and clear picture of their future.
Arizona continues to be brought up in discussions for other conference expansions with ASU and the Mountain schools; however, we don’t see any real clarity until a new deal is struck. If Kliavkoff presents a media deal that is not a step up or equal to the Big 12, I’d venture to guess the Wildcats bounce, as it’s been seen that Oregon and Washington amongst others up north already tried to bolt to the Big 10 before being rebuffed.
I’d have to say at this point, it’s a coin flip in what Heeke and Robbins choose as the next steps for the Wildcats, but one thing is for sure, they have earned faith and trust, as we have learned with the hirings of Jedd Fisch, Tommy Lloyd, Adia Barnes, and Caitlin Lowe. They seem to make the right decision for the University even if it isn’t a flashy decision but also aren’t afraid to make a splash.
I believe that Arizona leadership will give the Pac-12 every opportunity to keep them in the fold, but if the media proposal comes in under expectations they are as good as gone. There’s been just too much smoke about a potential move to say that it’s a lock they stay in the Pac-12. If the Wildcats are offered a solid option elsewhere I believe they look to move.
Don’t forget the Big 12 New Year’s Six tie-in is the Fiesta Bowl, so there is an obvious potential fit there even if those ties become non-existent in the CFP expansion.