Within the span of hours, the rumor that USC and UCLA would be leaving the Pacific conference that their brands helped establish to join the BIG 10 was confirmed with the t’s all crossed and the i’s sufficiently dotted. The dramatic move wasn’t too dissimilar from the one we saw last year when the BIG XII’s flagship programs announced their sudden plan to join their former foes in Missouri and Texas A&M by joining the almighty SEC. The difference is, college football’s landscape is drastically different now than it was just 12 months ago. There are no more “free agents” like BYU that can feasibly be scooped up and given a home in a Power Five (feasibly being the key word here, as Notre Dame certainly isn’t going to entertain an offer to join the ranks of Colorado and Oregon State when the BIG 10 is sitting right there in all its glory, just waiting to give them an invitation). Sure, there are a handful of Mountain West teams that could be brought in to plug the Los Angeles-sized hole, but Boise and San Diego hardly put a dent in recouping the loss of the second-largest TV market in the United States and two of the most storied programs in college sports.
This level of corporate backstabbing is usually reserved for HBO dramas. Rarely does one of America’s greatest past-times get et tu Brute?’d on such a seismic level that a bastion of sports, one known simply as “The Conference of Champions” with a history that is interwoven with that of college athletics itself, is left bleeding and on life support. Needless to say, it’s fair to assume Utah is undoubtedly going to be impacted, and it’s time to unpack what comes next for Ute athletics.
As of now, the PAC-12, and the University for that matter, has been relatively mum outside of the boilerplate press releases that outlined the shock and disappointment we’re all feeling, but the general consensus is that the conference is on shaky grounds. This is an incredibly fluid situation with conflicting reports coming left and right, but as of this writing, credible reports suggest the BIG 10 has informed Oregon and Washington, the next two most valuable programs on the west coast, that their considerations are on hold until Notre Dame makes their intentions more clear. Once the Notre Dame domino falls, the future likely becomes a bit more clear.
The reality is Salt Lake is a top 30 television market (and growing) and one of the few markets nationally that bring in over 1,000,000 viewers. The University of Utah is AAU accredited with world-class research centers, and the athletic department boasts top-of-the-line facilities and profit-turning programs in football and gymnastics, along with a historically sound basketball program that is currently working through what could be a successful rebuild. Whether or not any of that is sufficient enough to warrant a lucrative invite to the Big 10 is debatable, but that doesn’t exactly mean Utah gets left out. We know now that 20+ team super conferences are the inevitable future, and the BIG 10 and SEC are already in the driver's seat. Utah isn’t Notre Dame, and therefore cannot control their own destiny. They’re valuable, but not valuable enough. Getting aggressive here won’t make a difference. Ute fans need to accept a “wait and see” approach because ultimately one of two scenarios are more than likely to play out at this point: Utah, along with other PAC-12 schools, gain membership to the BIG 10 and live happily ever after. Alternatively, the SEC and BIG 10 decimate the ACC, picking over the most profitable of programs, leaving the second-tier teams with no option but to form a new conference alongside the remnants of the PAC-12, and ultimately merge with the rebuilt Big 12 to form a third super conference to compete against the BIG 10 and SEC.
This may take days, weeks, months, or even a year to sort out, so buckle up and do what you can to enjoy the ride. We’ll let you know the final destination once we get there.