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What’s next in conference realignment?

Pac-4 searches for solutions, conferences weight options

By RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Football Writer
Published: August 11, 2023, 5:35pm

The Pac-4 schools are in limbo. The Mountain West is open for additions. The American Athletic Conference is interested in growing and on-guard for being poached.

The Atlantic Coast Conference can’t reach a consensus on expansion, and the Big Ten seems to be done adding West Coast schools — but we have heard that before.

While there appears to be a break in the action, here’s what could be next in major college football conference realignment.

PAC-4

While talking with the ACC, Stanford and Cal were still exhausting options to convince the Big Ten to add two more West Coast schools to go along with Southern California, UCLA, Oregon and Washington.

The Bay Area rivals have been unsuccessful so far. Could minds be changed? Never underestimate the power and influence of Stanford graduates, but for now it appears unlikely.

Stanford and Cal’s inability to land in a Power Five conference keeps alive hopes that they, along with Oregon State and Washington State, could rebuild the Pac-whatever by luring a few of the top Group of Five schools into a smaller league that conceivably would be more valuable going forward than the ones they are currently in.

“We continue to believe that preserving the Pac-12 is in the best interests of OSU student-athletes and the remaining universities, and so we are doing everything in our control to stabilize and rebuild the conference,” Oregon State President Jayathi Murth said in a statement Friday.

There are myriad obstacles, starting with multimillion dollar exit fees in the Mountain West and AAC and the lack of a media rights deal for the Pac-12.

“They’re not going to have a war chest to rebuild with,” Tom Burman, athletic director at Mountain West school Wyoming, said in an interview with Pokescast.

Football independence and an Olympic sport agreement with a Western conference — maybe the West Coast Conference and its strong basketball? — could be an option for Stanford and Cal.

Probably more so for Stanford, which doesn’t have Cal’s athletic budget issues.

As for Oregon State and Washington State, the choices seem to be figure something out with Stanford and Cal or join the Mountain West or AAC.

“We’re going to be OK,” Washington State athletic director Pat Chun said this week. “The reality is, realignment is not done.”

ACC

The conference thought hard about rescuing Stanford and California from the sinking Pac-12. Notre Dame, which doesn’t compete in ACC football, was leading the push to add the Northern California schools, but the 12 votes necessary to approve the expansion were not quite there.

Everything in the ACC is about revenue and how it’s divvied up these days. Expansion appears to be another leverage point. A Stanford/Cal addition, and maybe SMU, wouldn’t produce a windfall, but there is some money to be made.

That’s why westward expansion is still not a dead issue in the ACC. The majority of schools liked the idea and believe it could be part of a long-term strategy that provides more security. But do they like it enough to sweeten the pot for Florida State, Clemson and North Carolina to agree to it?

Right now, no. Eventually? To be determined.

Big Ten

The Big Ten switched gears on adding Oregon and Washington when it became a buy-low opportunity.

Could it do the same with Stanford and Cal? There are no indications of that.

Former Commissioner Kevin Warren had already made the case to Big Ten presidents to add Oregon and Washington last year when the conference grabbed USC and UCLA.

Stanford and Cal were not as appealing, unless it was as a package to lure Notre Dame.

Next up on the Big Ten’s list of value adds are North Carolina and Virginia. The ACC schools are contractually locked up for now, but if the Big Ten is going to try to figure out how to run a 20-team (or more) conference, it would prefer it comes with more financial upside.

Big 12

The Big 12 has pushed the limits of how much ESPN and Fox want to pay for more inventory so it appears Commissioner Brett Yormark’s conference is done targeting Power Five schools.

A Pacific Northwest addition for the Big 12 is more likely to be Gonzaga and its powerhouse basketball program than more Pac-12 schools.

Mountain West

The logical landing spot for Oregon State and Washington State based on geography, but logic and geography don’t have the pull they used to in conference alignment.

As always, TV money is a consideration.

How much is Fox and CBS willing to pay the Mountain West for two more schools? The current deals pay about $4 million annually per school.

AAC

The American has interest in Oregon State and Washington State, and a more lucrative TV deal with ESPN (about $9 million per school), but adding them would increase travel costs for existing members.

So is it really worth it?

Retention might be the AAC’s larger priority right now, considering SMU’s wandering eyes.

SEC

Commissioner Greg Sankey can comfortably sit atop his kingdom, claim the moral high ground and wait to see how things shake out in the ACC.

___

Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com

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