Today the University of Oregon and University of Washington announced that they were leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten conference, which now will have 18 teams.
With the departure of Oregon, Washington, USC, UCLA, Colorado, and apparently also Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah to either the Big Ten or Big 12 conferences, this leaves Oregon State, Washington State, California, and Stanford in a pitiful Pac-4 conference after the upcoming academic year.
While UO leaders celebrated its move, Oregon State athletic director Scott Barnes decried it.
“The great history and tradition of this conference has been severely damaged,” Barnes said. “The best interest of the student-athlete hasn’t been served. Traveling to the Eastern seaboard multiple times a year is not in the best interest of student-athletes. I’m furious because it puts this university in harm’s way and our student-athletes in harm’s way. There’s some damage done that we’re going to have to mitigate.”
This is a shocking end to the Pac-12. It happened really rapidly.
Just a few days ago ace sports columnist John Canzano, who used to work for the Oregonian and now has a substack publication that I subscribe to, wrote about how the Pac-12 powers-that-be were expected to approve a media deal with Apple TV.
Except, they didn't, because the deal wasn't going to provide some of the schools with as much money as they wanted. So that led to the Big Ten inviting Oregon and Washington to jump the Pac-12 ship, which the university presidents bought off on today.
Without consulting their fans. Without consulting their students. Without consulting their athletes. So far as I know. This is the power of money in sports these days. It is all-powerful, tradition be damned.
Bill Oram of the Oregonian has written a great piece, "Oregon Ducks survived this round of realignment roulette. But what did it really cost them?"
Couldn't agree more with what Oram says:
Expect rain on Nov. 24.
The football gods will need to pour one out over Autzen Stadium when the Oregon State Beavers and Oregon Ducks play for the final time as conference rivals.
Let it pour.
To hide our tears and wash away our sins.
Greed, that evil temptress. She gets us every time.
Oregon is on its way to the Big Ten, pulled from boiling seas to the safety of a cornfield.
The Ducks survived this round of realignment roulette.
But in order to do so they had to sacrifice their rivals and kill their conference. A soulless, boardroom form of Squid Game. Play or get played.
The Pac-12 is dead. Oregon State is reeling.
But Oregon is safe and the university’s only responsibility was to itself.
It was spectacularly inept conference leadership that left the Ducks with little choice, and no choice for the other universities that jumped to safety.
Someday there will be excitement from this corner on what a new life in the Big Ten means for the University of Oregon and its teams. Football games at Camp Randall, the Big House and the Horseshoe. Hoops in Assembly Hall and Tom Izzo in Eugene.
Never could have imagined it.
But at the moment that is inadequate salve for what has been lost.
A once-proud conference, cocksure about its survival just days ago, has been scattered near and far, like dandelion fluff caught in the wind, done in by the influence of television dollars and executives who have moved universities around like pieces on a game board.
Risk? More like Reward.
The Pac-12 sold itself off for parts.
When it was founded with the stroke of a pen in a downtown Portland hotel 108 years ago, it was called the Pacific Coast Conference and then the Athletic Association of Western Universities. Later it morphed from the Pac-8 to the Pac-10 to the Pac-12.
It’s time to go home.
Commissioner George Kliavkoff is but one of many to be blamed, but the conference died at his feet. His legacy in this job is complete.
Kliavkoff was the one who could not negotiate a palatable media deal or control the conference’s narrative. Who could not reel schools back in as they started to riggle away.
He seemed oblivious to the threats around him and was immune to backstabbing.
He got burned by the so-called alliance with Big Ten and ACC, blindsided by USC and UCLA’s escape acts and bamboozled by Colorado.
And he still seemed confident that he could hold the Conference of Champions together with a firm handshake and a twinkle in his eye.
What good is a mistake if you can’t learn from it?
Oregon and Washington were pushed to the Big Ten.
If there were a conference worth staying for, they would have remained in the Pac-12. The clearer path to the College Football Playoff would have been too enticing to pass up for schools that now enter a prestige conference as freshmen.
But as potential emergency hatches go, this was a great one. The Ducks were fearful of getting left behind when the L.A. schools left a year ago, and Kliavkoff’s failures ended up opening doors for the Ducks that would have likely remained closed.
If all that matters is the result, then the Ducks are doing cartwheels.
But it’s not that simple. This is a bitter pill for many and not just Beaver fans. Oregon now joins a host of schools around the country that have abandoned many of the ideals of intercollegiate athletics for security and financial bounty.
The move will be seen through the lens of football, and indeed, that is what drives decisions and makes network executives salivate. But beyond big-stage Saturdays when Oregon plays at Michigan, or Ohio State comes to Autzen, athletes in all of Oregon’s 20 Division I sports will travel as far as Rutgers and the University of Maryland for conference matchups.
Hasn’t the beach volleyball team suffered enough?
It’s a move that shatters much of our established identity as Oregonians.
Rob Mullens, the Oregon AD, said Friday that he hopes the Ducks can still schedule Oregon State in all sports. And he should be applauded for wanting to continue the rivalry.
He also knows he would have been defenestrated if he said anything else.
So good job on the Day 1 PR. Let’s see what happens.
Even if Oregon and Oregon State continue their home and home football rivalry, the highlight of the state’s sports calendar, it won’t be the same. There won’t be the same stakes. Once Oregon reaps the benefits of Big Ten recruiting and funding, its hard to imagine it can ever be a fair fight.
No, it will never be the same.
It was only the dreamers and fools who ever believed it could be.
Let it pour.