Image Credit: Oregon Athletics
The Pac-12 Struggles
The Pac-12 has struggled both on and off the field in recent years. The conference is seen as one of the weaker Power 5 conferences in the nation. The conference has also had some financial difficulties. Not only is their revenue much lower than the SEC, but they also don’t spend as much to improve their on-field product – and it’s not close. Most fans think that showing Larry Scott the door could fix this issue, but that doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon.
So what are Oregon and Southern Cal – the conference’s top two programs – to do?
USC Leaving the Pac-12
Despite their lack of success over the last decade, Southern Cal is still one of the biggest brands in college football. Because of that brand, USC could get its own TV deal and much more if it decided to leave the Pac-12 to go independent. That’s not their only option, though. Geographically, it would make sense to join the Big 12 and keep their rivalries. USC has the financial backing as well as the marketing abilities with the city of Los Angeles for them to thrive no matter which path they choose. If the Pac-12 continues their struggles and no other alternate methods appear, I could easily see them going their own way.
Oregon Leaving the Pac-12
Oregon is the reigning Champion of the Pac-12 and had almost all of the highest viewed games in the conference. They’re arguably the best team and are currently the biggest brand. Does Oregon have the financial resources to go independent? With the backing of Phil Knight and Nike, Oregon has the financial wherewithal to do what they want. Oregon’s brand is big enough to get them their own TV deals, similar to Texas’ “Longhorn Network”. Just like USC, though, going independent isn’t their only choice.
Oregon would make sense to fit in the Big 10. It does make sense geographically, but it makes more sense when you look at TV ratings. A lot of Oregon’s highest-rated games in the last decade have come against Big-10 teams, such as games against Ohio State and Michigan State. That’s not even including the 2007 game when Oregon came into the Big House and stole a win from Michigan. Just as well, the Ducks’ former Offensive Coordinator now the coaches the Nebraska Cornhuskers. There would be plenty of storylines and marketing points for them to use. They’d likely use the Washington rivalry and maybe the Oregon State “rivalry” as some of their OOC games. The Big 10 arguably makes more sense than being in the Pac-12.
Effects on the Pac-12 Conference
Losing one or both of Oregon and USC would be a major blow to the Pac-12. The conference’s best bet would be to attempt to somehow entice Notre Dame to join the conference, but without the financial backing, I don’t see how they’d do it. I do think, however, that they would add more than just two teams to replace what they lost. If I had to guess, they would look to add four teams: Boise St, BYU, Fresno St, and possibly NDSU from the FCS. How much would that help is still uncertain, but it would keep them from getting passed by the Mountain West Conference as the best West Coast conference.
I think that the only way for the Pac-12 to realize and fix its issues would be a blow like this. I would imagine that the conference, for its own sake, is very sensitive to this and would be willing to change if serious moves to leave were made. Without that, however, I hope that, given the trend of the Pac-12, that both Oregon and USC leave. To not do so puts their own programs – and west coast college football – at risk of becoming insignificant.