Arizona State is in a precarious spot with the departures of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten announced this week.
The departure of two large California schools from the Pac-12 looks to be the start of another massive shift in college conference alignment.
In 2021, Texas and Oklahoma announced their intention to leave the Big 12 for the SEC jumpstarting a period of conference realignment that had consequences for a variety of conferences both big and small.
After losing the Longhorns and Sooners, the Big 12 went after the AAC and poached three schools; Cincinnati, Houston, and the University of Central Florida. They also added independent BYU to bring their team total back to 12.
These moves at the Power 5 level had implications all the way through the mid and low-major conferences as well, and across the college landscape, 22 out of 32 Division I conferences have pending membership changes in the next few years.
Why did the Big Ten poach USC and UCLA?
Taking their cue from the SEC, the Big Ten is clearly targeting major media markets by going after USC and UCLA. Los Angeles is generally considered the second-largest sports media market in the country and it seems clear that poaching two southern California schools is a move to increase media revenue for the conference.
In recent years, neither USC nor UCLA have been top teams in either football or basketball, but their market size is enviable and clearly worth the logistical nightmare of adding two West Coast teams to a conference largely built in the Midwest.
Arizona State and conference realignment
Reverting back to the old Pac-10, in reality even if not in name, will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the teams left in the conference. Down to ten teams, the Pac-12 can most likely not survive the departure of another school.
There are some major players still left such as Oregon, Washington, and Stanford that could be enticing to multiple conferences. If the Big Ten decides to continue expanding, Oregon and Washington would probably be at the top of their list to grow an even larger presence on the West Coast that could lead to an eventual East-West division within the conference.
If the Big Ten continues to expand, that could spell danger for the Big 12 with schools like Kansas potentially leaving for a new mega-conference. It is likely that the Big 12 will be aggressive in their desire to add more schools and keep pace with their traditional foes in the Big Ten and SEC.
The most likely targets in that scenario are teams remaining in the Pac-12, included among those is, of course, Arizona State.
Brett McMurphy of the Action Network believes that the Big 12 will go after four schools in the Pac-12: Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, and Colorado.
This move would get the Big 12 up to sixteen schools which would match the new looks of both the Big Ten and the SEC. It would also give the conference the ability to create their own East-West divisions that might look something like this:
- Kansas St.
- Oklahoma St.
- Iowa St.
- Texas Tech
- Arizona State
Would a move to the Big 12 make sense for ASU?
Does jumping out of a sinking ship generally make sense?
The Pac-12 is undoubtedly in a lot of trouble from losing USC and UCLA. Moves will happen one way or another, whether that is the Pac-12 looking to add schools from the mid-major ranks to stay alive or the slow and painful death of a 10-team conference.
ASU needs to be on the lookout for potential skin-saving moves and the Big 12, if an offer is advanced, could be that life raft.
So this is the question; is the Big 12 a better situation for ASU? The answer currently sounds like a resounding yes.
Sure, a lot has been made over the “Conference of Champions” moniker attached to the Pac-12, but the Big 12 has had their fair share of success in the past two decades as well.
The Pac-12 has the slight edge in football simply due to two national championships from USC in 2003 and 2004, but the Big 12 greatly overshadows them in the world of college basketball. Kansas and Baylor have combined for three national titles since 2008.
On the whole, it would be hard to argue that one conference is inherently “better” than the other. Which makes this choice pretty clear.
Losing two of your top media market teams in one fell swoop is devastating. ASU owes no loyalty to the Pac-12 and should absolutely be looking at the move most conducive to self-preservation.
The Big 12 would offer a conference capable of competing in the upcoming age of college mega-conferences and still provide very high levels of football and basketball competition. A move that brought ASU’s in-state rival, Arizona, and fellow Pac-12 South competitors Utah and Colorado also provides a level of comfort that would quickly acclimate both ASU athletics and ASU fans to the new conference.
The winds are shifting and a new era of college athletics is coming soon. Arizona State MUST be aggressive and intentional over the next few months in order to be left standing when the dust has settled. The future success and relevancy of Sun Devil athletics could well be decided in a matter of weeks.