Assessing each remaining program’s panic meter

After proclaiming to the world at Pac-12 media days that the Big 12 wasn’t a threat, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff and his conference might officially be in a world of hurt.

Less than a week later, the Colorado Buffaloes formalized a move to the Big 12 conference beginning in 2024. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Colorado is the first Power Five team that has left and then subsequently returned to a conference of its own volition.

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With this latest domino defecting from the Pac-12, it could signal the beginning of the end for the conference. Right now, the league feels like a serious house of cards.

Maybe all of this was inevitable after the Big 12 beat the Pac-12 to the punch in media rights negotiations. Following Oklahoma and Texas‘ announced moves to the SEC, the Big 12 did something it had failed to do much of over the previous decade: It got proactive in a hurry.

Under the direction of then-Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, the leagues presidents and chancellors voted to accept BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF as new members into the conference. Then, current Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark finalized a six-year, $2.28 billion media rights agreement with ESPN and Fox Sports.

Now, Kliavkoff’s inability to present a potential media rights agreement that the Pac-12 membership finds satisfactory might lead to the dissipation of the conference altogether.

While talks of more conference realignment rev up among both Big 12 and Big Ten circles, where does all of this leave the remaining nine members in the Pac-12?

What’s every school’s panic meter? Is there any legitimate fear of winding up in a Group of Five situation where per-year payouts

Using the following scale, let’s break down where each Pac-12 program fits into the panic equation as the next puzzle pieces unfold out west:

  • 3: Add members now! Keep this band together or else.
  • 2: It’s time to explore the jump while there’s still slots.
  • 1: Chances are, we’ll land on our feet.
  • 0: No need to panic. There’s always a spot for us.

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Panic Meter: 0

No need to panic here. If necessary, Puddles the Duck will be crowd surfing into another league regardless of what happens next in the Pac-12. Sure, there’s better outcomes than others.

Obviously, the Big Ten landing spot would be ideal for the Oregon Ducks. Given that option right now, Oregon jumps immediately at the chance to earn the Big Ten’s annual media rights payout and to return to regular competition against rivals USC and UCLA.

The Flex Protect Plus scheduling model worked out great for the Hawkeyes and for the entirety of the Big Ten. Personally, I like the league staying put at 16 members just for scheduling purposes. But, if things fall apart out west and Oregon is up for grabs, it makes sense why the Big Ten would want to scoop that brand up.

If not the Big Ten, then the Big 12 is doing everything in its power to add Oregon asap. Don’t let Heather Dinich’s ESPN report that the league only has one spot up for grabs fool you. That’s just a ploy to get another Pac-12 program to act quickly on a jump to the Big 12.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Panic Meter: 0

Like Oregon, Washington is an AAU member. So, if the Big Ten sees the Pac-12 collapsing with several more members jumping to the Big 12, then does the league just add another west coast travel partner to the Ducks?

Washington has a Heisman hopeful in quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and it always has the Seattle market to sell in any expansion conversation. Whether it’s the Big Ten or the Big 12, Washington isn’t getting left out if the musical chairs keep shuffling.

Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

Panic Meter: 1

Because Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark has tipped his hand publicly, we know that Yormark fancies the idea of just going all in on fortifying the conference’s status as the nation’s premier basketball league.

This means that Arizona is in great shape. Thanks to what former Iowa head men’s basketball coach Lute Olson built in the desert, the Wildcats have a proud basketball tradition. The addition of Arizona would only add to what the Big 12 already does great.

Plus, if the Big Ten decides to really keep adding schools, then Arizona is a sneaky candidate there, too. In addition to the basketball, Arizona can point to the Phoenix market as an attractive chess piece.

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Panic Meter: 2

I wanted to give Stanford the benefit of the doubt, but I just can’t. Under the scenario that the Big Ten magically gets its white whale in Notre Dame, bringing in Stanford along with the Fighting Irish would make a ton of sense. Both Notre Dame and USC have storied histories against Stanford. Plus, like Cal, the Cardinal are one of the most revered academic institutions nationally.

Let’s be real, though. Notre Dame doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to budge. Stanford as a duo with Cal makes sense for the Big Ten, but I’m not sure it’s the league’s first choice. With that in mind, there’s legitimate concern here if Stanford doesn’t act quickly on a move to the Big 12.

Stanford would bring added academic prestige to the Big 12 and get the league into the state of California, but it just doesn’t feel like a natural fit, does it?

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Panic Meter: 2

Like Stanford, Cal fits into the academic prestige of the Big Ten. Unfortunately, the whole athletics thing isn’t going particularly well at the moment for the Golden Bears.

Cal just finished up a 4-8 football season, a 3-29 men’s basketball season and a 13-17 women’s basketball season. It’s the kind of consistent bad that makes your eyes burn if you’re a Golden Bear alum.

Outside of being a natural travel partner with Stanford and getting a league like the Big 12 into the state of California, what does Cal provide right now? Not much.

Check out being an independent if you’d like, but that Big 12 paycheck shouldn’t sound too shabby if you’re Cal. Nobody else is going to be knocking down your door.

Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Panic Meter: 2

It’s just location and the lack of a blue-blood, big-brand history working against Utah and applying pressure here. Salt Lake City simply isn’t Seattle, Phoenix, or Los Angeles.

But, Utah is a really good football program right now under head coach Kyle Whittingham. The Utes just won the Pac-12 and will be right back as one of the favorites to do so again with quarterback Cameron Rising returning.

Good football programs are worth adding, especially for a league like the Big 12 that’s looking to solidify its longterm future. As has been discussed ad nauseam, Utah makes perfect sense alongside Colorado or the entirety of the four corner schools.

Plus, BYU-Utah on an annual basis would be a ton of fun.

Joe Rondone/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Panic Meter: 2

Arizona State needs to jump at the opportunity to join the Big 12. If Arizona wants to bring the Sun Devils along, then that could help Arizona State’s Big 12 case.

Or, if the Big 12 is only taking one, then don’t wait Sun Devils. Yes, Arizona State brings new TV markets, but the Sun Devils don’t have the established basketball tradition that their rivals enjoy. Plus, did you watch this team last season? That was a rough 3-9.

Jump and jump immediately.

Ben Lonergan/The Register-Guard / USA TODAY NETWORK

Panic Meter: 3

It’s unfortunate, really. This is the frustrating part of college realignment. Because of USC and UCLA’s decisions, it put the chain of events into motion that might lead to the death of the Pac-12.

Meanwhile, Oregon State is finally on an uptick. Head coach Jonathan Smith guided the Beavers to just their third 10-win season all-time in 2022 and there’s now legitimate excitement moving forward.

Because the history has been largely underwhelming, there’s just not a lot of buzz here as a realignment candidate. The Big Ten doesn’t have any interest and it feels like Oregon State is down the pecking order for the Big 12, too. The timing just stinks here.

If the Pac-12 falls apart, it might send Oregon State scrambling for the Mountain West.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Panic Meter: 3

Like their friends in Corvallis, Ore., it’s not good for Washington State if the Pac-12 dissolves entirely. For similar reasons, Wazzu just isn’t at the top of either the Big 12’s expansion list.

The idea of Oregon State and Washington State on the outside looking in just doesn’t feel right. So, time to rally the masses and push for the additions of San Diego State, UNLV and SMU to the Pac-12 immediately.

Save this thing before it’s too late.

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