Conference realignment is (still) here.
Conference realignment is here, and for the Mountain West, it’s getting closer to home. It first reared is ugly head in the fall of 2021. Now just as things started to settle down, it has stuck again. PAC-12 powerhouses, UCLA and USC have announced their intentions to leave the PAC-12 for the Big 10.
The Mountain West got out of the last round of realignment unscathed. Texas and Oklahoma left the Big 12 for the SEC. They were replaced by BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF. The American Athletic Conference, losing three of its top teams, added UAB, FAU, UNC Charlotte, North Texas, Rice, and UTSA and the effects were all downstream from there, getting further and further away from the Mountain West. Now, another monumental shift in the college athletics landscape is here and it’s happening right in the Mountain West’s backyard.
Lot of folks wishcasting about Mountain West schools who might be on the move, but just keep in mind it's probably not about splitting the financial pie any more than is absolutely necessary. The reactionary moves will probably revolve around consolidating among the "haves".— Mountain West Wire (@MWCwire) June 30, 2022
The Pac-12 famously survived with 10 teams for a long time. Other than the Ivy League, the Pac-10 at the time, had the longest-tenured lineup of schools. But it’s clear the Pac-12 will move to replace UCLA and USC, and it’s even possible that the conference will take this opportunity to try to get to 14 or even 16 members. So where will those teams come from? Some Mountain West fans are getting their hopes up that the Mountain West could provide some of those teams. Boise State and San Diego State, in particular, have generated a fair amount of meaningless online chatter.
The first thing to understand is that any Mountain West school will be a downgrade in athletics and/or academics and/or revue. If the PAC-12 wants to expand and is willing to significantly lower its admission standards, the Mountain West might not be a bad place to start. It would be a goldmine of overly eager schools willing to join the PAC-12 and never look back. It’s not likely to happen, though.
The Pac-12 has very high standards for admission. For starters, those schools are, without much exception, generally public schools. Private non-religious institutions can fit in, although one of only two private schools in the conference is on the way out, leaving Stanford University the sole private institution. Furthermore, all PAC-12 schools are, by requirement, classified as R1 institutions by the Carnegie Classifications of Institutions of Higher Education, and nine of the 12 current schools are members of the Association of American Universities.
Pac-12 schools play all major sports. This, of course, includes the “revenue sports” such as football and basketball, but extends to baseball and golf. Colorado is the only team in the conference without a baseball team. The conference itself sponsors 24 sports and the average team in the conference fields about 8 men’s sports and 11 women’s sports.
Pac-12 schools are also very deep-pocketed. The only school in the PAC-12 with an endowment under a billion dollars is Oregon State. The Beavers’ meager $819 million endowments would be the largest in the Mountain West by far. The average endowment is about $5.5 billion. The athletic programs in the Pac-12 are consistently among the nation’s top earners.
Other than reverting back to the PAC-10, the PAC-12 has two options. It can change its standards for admission or it can get very creative. That won’t be easy. Any candidate that is well-suited in one respect, is often equally ill-suited in others. Kansas, Iowa State, and West Virginia seem to fit in on the athletic and research categories but are far from the well-established California/Pacific Northwest/Four Corners regions the PAC-12 currently operates in. San Diego State and Fresno would be the perfect geographic replacement for the Pac-12 maintaining a southern California footprint while keeping the balance of four California teams, but both schools are unqualified in terms of research, academics, revenue, and most likely athletics too. Colorado State and Utah State, both from the four corners region, match the geographic and research requirements but are not up to par with the impressive Pac-12 athletic departments.