I take little joy in writing this. One of my favorite memories living in the San Fernando Valley town of Burbank, California in the 1990s was going to Ribs USA Thanksgiving weekend to watch the annual Trojans-Bruins rivalry game. Los Angeles studio towns empty out during the holidays, with transplants heading to all parts of the US to celebrate Turkey Day with family and friends. This made for a surreal experience in Burbank, where those of us that stayed felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. As a long-suffering Rutgers fan, I quickly embraced USC football and UCLA basketball and was even disappointed when my niece chose the surfing enclave of UC Santa Barbara over staying local and attending UCLA. There went my cheap tickets!
For me, Pac-10 football was a fun product to watch Saturday evenings long after the Eastern schools had completed their prime-time games. Defense was often optional as the Cals, Stanfords, Arizona, Oregon, and Washington schools marched up and down the field at will, leading to frantic finishes and weekly upsets.
The elite conference was formed in 1959, with its monikers changing as it grew. Big Five, Big Six, Pacific-8, Pacific-10, and finally in 2011, the Pac-12 when Colorado and Utah joined. Nicknamed “The Conference of Champions”, the Pac-12 has won more national championships across team sports than any other conference in history. According to their website, the current tally is 553. Anyone who enjoys listening to the eccentric Bill Walton while watching Pac-12 basketball is reminded of this fact multiple times during the broadcast.
If one can pull themselves out of a football-basketball-centric mindset, which in the B1G Conference is a challenge with our midwestern conglomerates, the success in the Pac-12 across non-revenue sports such as softball, baseball, volleyball, track and field, rowing, gymnastics, soccer, golf, water polo, etc, etc... is astounding. Unfortunately, all that success does not guarantee a massive media rights deal when you are considered an outlier in football. The fall of the largest and most successful Western conference appears to be a real possibility with Colorado announcing a return to the Big 12 on July 28th, followed by Arizona, who will join the Buffaloes pending a board of regents vote approving the Wildcats’ move.
What does this mean for the B1G? I wrote a story back in May about the B1G vetting Oregon and Washington as members #15 and #16. Various outlets reported this week that a group of Big Ten presidents has authorized Commissioner Tony Petitti to explore adding Oregon and Washington to the conference. In classic midwestern values fashion, it has also been reported that the Big Ten would only officially add the Ducks and Huskies if the Pac-12 crumbles, as they do not want to be seen as the ones who dealt the death blow. I’ll leave additional descriptors to readers. BREAKING: Oregon to join Big Ten in 2024, Washington to follow. AP story here.
The Associated Press is also reporting today that it is believed Oregon and Washington would not receive full revenue shares from the Big Ten to change conferences — the programs were offered $30 million to $35 million annually — only half of the current league members. Rutgers and Maryland faced similar hurdles but were not in a position to negotiate themselves out of a Big Ten invite. I imagine Oregon and Washington will also look at what the Big 12 can offer, as well as a last-ditch offer by the Pac 12 to stay put and save the conference for the time being.
The Pac 12 is currently evaluating a new streaming rights deal from Apple TV with incentives for subscriptions and it’s been reported that schools could be looking at 20 million annually. While that is comparable to the Big 12 and ACC, it is nowhere near the 60 million for Big Ten members. When looked at in a vacuum, it’s a no-brainer financially for Oregon and Washington to join the Big Ten, even with partial revenue of 30-35 million annually to start. The ten million estimated in travel costs basically brings their revenue in line with the Pac-12 Apple TV deal at present but long-term, Oregon and Washington are likely to at least double their annual revenue by joining the Big Ten. Another strong factor is the comfort of knowing old friends at UCLA and USC will join the B1G in 2024. Add Cal and Stanford and that’s a pretty solid group of six in the western U.S. to help offset some of the cross-country travel.
From a Rutgers POV, with over half a million living alumni across all fifty states, future B1G west-coast expansion opens up more opportunities to stay connected with our Scarlet Knights across multiple sports. We, fortunately, find ourselves in a position of strength for a change as the current conference landscape continues to alter. I do find it interesting that future generations will be accustomed to games in the Rose Bowl and other west coast venues as if it’s just another Saturday conference opponent. Rutgers may indeed find themselves on some wild “after dark” games against the likes of UCLA, SC, Oregon, and UW. Chew on that for a bit.