With the Pac-12 in shambles, what just happened to college sports?

August 5, 2023

Yeah it’s a train wreck.

But, re-structuring and realignment takes places all the time in sports.

When the Milwaukee Brewers of Major League Baseball shifted from the American League to the National League in 1997, no doubt team owner and commissioner Bud Selig didn’t make the move without financial considerations. And no doubt the Brewers have been very successful and profitable since then. But no one outside of Milwaukee really cared. There were no great rivalries and traditions at least I am aware of that were shattered. Movement, realignment.

College Sports Athletic conferences have come and gone. SWC, WAC to name a few. The list is actually quite extensive, see Wikipedia.

But this is different.

This is purely about $ now. There’s nothing more to it.

It’s not just the 200 or so million dollars that a school like Alabama rakes in per year. It’s about the $7 Billion contract a conference like the Big Ten signed for its media rights deal.

So we’re in the realm of $7 Billion dollars per conference.

And if you think you can run a $7 Billon enterprise like they ran the Big Ten or the Pac-10 in the 90s, you just can’t. So naturally these conferences will come and go like corporations.

Restructuring and mergers happen all the time in corporate America. That’s how money is made and businesses are sustained.

I liked this headline by Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated, TV just killed the Pac-12?

Eamonn Brennan on Substack explains that conference realignment is not just bad, it’s counterproductive. 

I couldn’t agree more.

The Big Ten was overjoyed to poach Oregon and Washington this week… just pleased they could have been….great athletically great academically…oh and great tv numbers to come….

If you are old enough to remember Penn State joining the Big 10 in the 90’s don’t be ashamed if you were like me and wondering how they were going to travel all the way to Pennsylvania to play basketball on Wednesday night. Well no one really cares about geography anymore. We thought even less in 2011 when Nebraska joined the Big Ten and destroyed any rivalries back home in the Great Plains.

So now the Oregon and Oregon State rivalry will not be the same, it can’t be. The USC-UCLA rivalry can’t be the same as members of the Big Ten. The Washington-Washington State rivalry will never be the same, but it doesn’t seem to matter because people will tune in on Saturday by the millions. People will still attend the games on Saturday and talk about it all week long.

Rivalries can go away, but there is an instability. It would seem like at some point there would be consequences to that.

I remember in the early part of the last decade the Knight Commission put out a study indicating that college sports had better focus less on business and money and growth and more on the student athletes and on academics. No one really listened or cared at the time. The current mood of university boards and conference admins, and athletic directors really is to eat or be eaten. It’s really hard to be an outlier against the current growth of the super conferences with TV money-or you will lose out on that money.

So the Pac-12 has bit the dust. There are four schools left. Maybe we see something with the WAC or Mountain West forming a new alliance.

What if people stopped watching and caring about college football and more—-would there be a return to the values implied by the scholastic athlete?  Doubtful. Name image and likeness won’t go away either.

When this all started to happen around 2010 or after there were predictions there would just be one or two super leagues in college sports. Well this week it got close to that. The Power-5 became the Power-4.

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