Pac-12 Logo
The logo of the Pac-12 Conference, soon to be either defunct or renamed

It’s a momen­tous day in col­lege sports and the sports world writ large, with the news that the Pac-12 as we’ve known it for decades is dis­solv­ing. The Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ore­gon have accept­ed invi­ta­tions to join the Big 10, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of USC and UCLA. Mean­while, Ari­zona, Ari­zona State, and Utah are fol­low­ing Col­orado to the Big 12 Con­fer­ence, leav­ing just Cal, Stan­ford, Wash­ing­ton State, and Ore­gon State in the Pac-12 (or make that Pac‑4).

ESP­N’s Adam Rit­ten­berg reports that the Big Ten, which start­ed the demise of the Pac-12 last year by poach­ing USC and UCLA, was con­sid­er­ing invit­ing Cal and Stan­ford in addi­tion to Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton, but ulti­mate­ly decid­ed to focus only on the North­west schools at this junc­ture in time.

The Pac-12 traces its ori­gins back to 1915, when the Pacif­ic Coast Con­fer­ence (PCC) was formed. The PCC orig­i­nal­ly includ­ed the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley (now known as Cal), the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ore­gon, and Ore­gon Agri­cul­tur­al Col­lege (now Ore­gon State University).

With­in a few years, Wash­ing­ton State and Stan­ford joined.

The PCC last­ed until 1959. It was ulti­mate­ly replaced by the Ath­let­ic Asso­ci­a­tion of West­ern Uni­ver­si­ties (AAWU), fol­low­ing pay for play scan­dals. The AAWU renamed itself the Pac‑8 in 1968 and became the Pac-10 in 1978 when Ari­zona and Ari­zona State were wel­comed into the fold. In 2011, it became the Pac-12 with the addi­tion of Col­orado and Utah. Includ­ing the PCC era, that’s over a hun­dred years of tra­di­tion and com­pe­ti­tion between Left Coast schools.

Now, that’s com­ing to an end.

As Jon Wilner wrote in his col­umn The Hot­line:

Many details of the col­lapse have yet to be made pub­lic, but this much is cer­tain: The upcom­ing col­lege sports sea­son will be unlike any expe­ri­enced by the Pac-12, or any major con­fer­ence, in the mod­ern his­to­ry of col­lege athletics.

All 12 schools will com­pete for league titles and post­sea­son appear­ances, just as they do every year, know­ing this is the end of the con­fer­ence in a rec­og­niz­able form.

The Pac-12 was cre­at­ed in 1915 as the Pacif­ic Coast Con­fer­ence, took its mod­ern shape in 1964 as the Pac‑8 and grew into a 10-team league in 1978 with the arrival of the Ari­zona schools. In 2011, Col­orado and Utah made it an even dozen.

But abysmal lead­er­ship by the uni­ver­si­ty pres­i­dents and strate­gic mis­steps by the com­mis­sion­ers, Kli­avkoff and his pre­de­ces­sor, Lar­ry Scott, sent the con­fer­ence on a path of self-destruction.

“This has been a slow-mov­ing train wreck,” an indus­try source said.

Wilner cit­ed four par­tic­u­lar blun­ders that led to today’s events — two dur­ing the Scott era and two dur­ing the Kli­avkoff era:

  1. Scott’s deci­sion to cre­ate the Pac-12 Networks
  2. Scott’s rejec­tion of an offer from ESPN, in 2018, to take over con­trol of the strug­gling Pac-12 Net­works and sign the 12 schools to a long-term media contract
  3. The conference’s refusal to expand in the sum­mer of 2021, short­ly after Kli­avkoff took charge, when the Big 12 was vul­ner­a­ble to poach­ing after the announced depar­tures of Texas and Okla­homa to the SEC
  4. Kliavkoff’s lack of urgency in secur­ing a media rights agree­ment last fall and winter

We don’t write much about sports here on The Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate — our pri­ma­ry focus is pol­i­tics, pub­lic pol­i­cy, and elec­tions. But this is a big deal and we’d like to take an oppor­tu­ni­ty to point our read­ers to some of the columns and com­men­taries we think are worth read­ing in the after­math of these events.

#1: Future WSU options aren’t glamorous, but a little Cougar pride can minimize today’s reality

Dave Bol­ing offered his take on the impend­ing breakup of the Pac-12 in a col­umn for The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, fea­tur­ing retired coach Jim Walden.

“Col­lege foot­ball has turned into a mon­ey grab,” for­mer WSU foot­ball coach Jim Walden (1978–86) said. “It’s kind of depress­ing that there’s no loy­al­ty, no appre­ci­a­tion for fight­ing togeth­er; you’d like to see them do the things they ask of their play­ers, stick­ing togeth­er and believ­ing in them­selves. That’s all gone.”

Where does that leave fans?

“I don’t want Cougar Nation feel­ing any less of them­selves,” Walden said. “They have noth­ing to be ashamed of. If the rest of the teams want to sell their souls for a few bucks, that’s their prob­lem, not ours.”

Read the col­umn here.

#2: Stop the madness! Save the Oregon-Oregon State rivalry before that is gone forever, too

Bill Oram wrote a pas­sion­ate col­umn for The Ore­gon­ian lament­ing the report­ed news of Ore­gon’s depar­ture for the Big 10 and how it will affect OSU.

Save me the lec­tures about there being more impor­tant things in the world than sports. Of course there are. This is about what is innate to us as Ore­go­ni­ans, some­thing primal.

Being a Duck doesn’t mean as much with­out hav­ing the Beavers as a pesky counterweight.

We should not so eas­i­ly sac­ri­fice the tis­sue that holds us togeth­er as a state. That gives us a bond with our neighbors.

The exis­tence of our two flag­ship state schools and what their ath­let­ic pro­grams rep­re­sent is part of the back­bone of this state.

Sell that down the riv­er for a few mil­lion? Sure, why not.

Read the col­umn here.

#3: George Kliavkoff did not have a good job interview with the Pac-12 CEO Group

Matt Zemek of Tro­jans Wire offered a deep dive into the events that led to schools begin­ning to bolt the Pac-12, start­ing with USC and UCLA last year. He concludes:

Is it Kli­avkoff or the Pac-12 CEOs who are most to blame? They are both huge­ly and cen­tral­ly respon­si­ble, but if you real­ly had to choose, which side bears more blame for this catastrophe?

If we’re being fair and accu­rate, it real­ly is a sit­u­a­tion in which both sides bear equal blame: The CEOs for not empow­er­ing their com­mis­sion­er enough, and Kli­avkoff for not under­stand­ing how impor­tant it was and is to be a deci­sive pres­ence who val­ued action over board meet­ings and results over process.

This was about sur­vival, not norms or pro­ce­dures. This was about get­ting stuff done, not about using the right method. No one in the Pac-12 seems to have under­stood that. The con­se­quences have been felt through­out the con­fer­ence and col­lege football.

Read the col­umn here.

#4: Sad day for my fellow Beavs and Cougar brethren

A Red­dit user offered a lengthy com­men­tary on the breakup of the Pac-12 and what it means for Ore­gon State Uni­ver­si­ty and Wash­ing­ton State University.

For me though, the sin­gle great­est tragedy is see­ing the tra­di­tion I grew up with dying and know­ing I want be to able to share it with my kids like my grand­pa shared it with me. I know many will say, “where were you when it hap­pened to ________”. You’re right, I wasn’t there, I didn’t get it but now I do. It sucks the way TV mon­ey is tear­ing up every­thing that made us fall in love with col­lege football.

It cer­tain­ly feels like those is us get­ting cut our are the canary in the coal mine. I think two things are cer­tain in the future. Fox/ESPN will con­tin­ue to shave teams off until they’ve got their top 32. In the short term those teams will ben­e­fit great­ly finan­cial­ly. The oth­er truth that I’m pre­dict­ing is that once that comes to fruition and 90+ pro­grams have been cut out you’ll end up with an NFL Lite that many peo­ple won’t care about or watch.

Read the com­men­tary here.

#5: Enjoy Pac-12 football in what might be its last season, save anger for later

The San Fran­cis­co Chron­i­cle’s Bruce Jenk­ins sug­gest­ed focus­ing on the short term rather than what will hap­pen around this time next year.

Out of the awful crum­bling mess comes a reprieve. It’s a fleet­ing brand of the­ater, bare­ly trust­wor­thy, but the upcom­ing Pac-12 foot­ball sea­son is worth your time. Enjoy it while you can, before the mem­o­ries of glo­ri­ous West Coast foot­ball go com­plete­ly dark.

If you enjoy dwelling upon mis­ery before the fact, go ahead and ignore the sea­son — but I’ll throw out a dare right now: You won’t last. Not if you love the sport. Per­haps you’ll be in the Chee­rios crowd, grum­bling bit­ter­ly over break­fast but sur­ren­der­ing to the lure by Sat­ur­day afternoon.

Are we deal­ing with cat­a­stroph­ic devel­op­ments as the con­fer­ence falls apart? There are too many to count. Tra­di­tion, famil­iar­i­ty, the con­ve­nience of region­al trav­el and a great num­ber of long-stand­ing rival­ries are about to van­ish. There’s a sense of dread about women’s sports and Olympic-sports pro­grams get­ting crushed by the despi­ca­ble mar­riage of foot­ball and media rights.

Read the col­umn here.

#6: Don’t cry for the Pac-12. Just go on cheering for Utah or BYU, for your favored school.

Gor­don Mond­son, writ­ing for The Salt Lake Tri­bune, point­ed out this isn’t the first time that a con­fer­ence has bro­ken up, or that schools have moved around.

Don’t for­get that this has been going on for some time now. The Big 12 has had mem­bers tak­en away by the Big Ten and the SEC and the Pac in recent years, at one point threat­en­ing the Big 12′s sur­vival. The Pac‑8 took Ari­zona and Ari­zona State away from the old WAC more than 40 years ago. What­ev­er hap­pened to some of the schools in the old South­west Con­fer­ence? Did any­one mourn for the Moun­tain West when Utah and TCU were tak­en away?

It’s always been a world of eat or be eat­en. In col­lege sports, somebody’s or a group of some­bod­ies’ pock­ets have always been filled, been opened up to be filled at some­body else’s expense.

This is not the end, then, rather the con­tin­u­a­tion of what has hap­pened for decades now. Cer­tain schools, cer­tain asso­ci­a­tions of schools, look­ing to put them­selves in posi­tions of advan­tage against oth­er schools and oth­er asso­ci­a­tions. It’s gone on from the begin­ning, and it will con­tin­ue to do so in the form of super con­fer­ences. Every­one should have seen it com­ing. Some did.

Read the col­umn here.

#7: Don’t expect CU’s Deion Sanders to shed tear at Pac-12’s funeral. “Everybody’s chasing a bag,” he says.

Mark Kis­zla wrote a com­men­tary mix­ing his reac­tion to the news of the Pac-12 breakup with that of new Col­orado coach Deion Sanders, who is nonchalant.

The roots of the Pac-12 go deep, all the way back to 1915, when it began as the Pacif­ic Coast Con­fer­ence. The league’s sto­ried his­to­ry includ­ed tales of trail­blaz­ers as var­ied as base­ball pio­neer Jack­ie Robin­son and Olympic icon Dick Fos­bury, which has caused us all to hear hip­py-dip­py Bill Wal­ton to roar its prais­es as the Con­fer­ence of Cham­pi­ons until our ears bled.

Well, who’s going to speak the eulo­gy for the Pac-12? The bloom is off decades of tra­di­tion at the Rose Bowl, because every­body is chas­ing a pay­day. The math and the mon­ey no longer com­pute for a league that has lost five mem­bers since last year — and like­ly even more to fol­low. This ain’t your granddaddy’s idea of col­lege sports, when a quar­ter­back yet to throw a touch­down pass for the Buffs can dri­ve a $200,000 May­bach through the streets of Boulder.

Read the col­umn here.

#8: Arizona State’s Michael Crow must humble himself, fight for Pac-12 exit

Jere­my Cluff of the Ari­zona Repub­lic filed a piece look­ing at Ari­zona State’s future and exam­in­ing why Lar­ry Scott was put in charge for as long as he was.

In 2019, Crow made head­lines (which have resur­faced recent­ly amid fur­ther col­lege con­fer­ence expan­sion and realign­ment chat­ter) when he said this about the Pac-12 under for­mer Pac-12 Com­mis­sion­er Lar­ry Scott, of whom he was an ardent supporter:

“By my stan­dard, we’re on track, we’re doing well, we’re mak­ing progress and we’re posi­tion­ing our­selves for great­ness going for­ward,” Crow told The Ari­zona Repub­lic’s Jeff Met­calfe in an inter­view. “What some­body will be writ­ing about three years from now or four years will be, ‘How did the Pac-12 get ahead of us.’ ”

Oops. Talk about a freez­ing cold take.

Read the arti­cle here.

#9: Pac-12’s demise is story of 12 years of hubris, apathy, astounding mismanagement

Stew­art Man­del was inspired to write a lengthy piece for The Ath­let­ic that help­ful­ly traced the events of today back to the deci­sions made by Crow and the oth­er Pac-12 uni­ver­si­ty pres­i­dents in the 2000s and 2010s.

By all accounts, Kli­avkoff gen­uine­ly was blind­sided that Col­orado chose to leave when it did, days before he was set to present net­works’ final offers. He also gen­uine­ly believed he would go into the room Tues­day, present a unique offer from Apple — by which the mem­bers would make far more than their Big 12 coun­ter­parts if they met cer­tain sub­scrip­tion thresh­olds — and every­one would rush to sign a new grant of rights.

This was his sales pitch to a room full of schools that a dozen years ear­li­er let Kliavkoff’s pre­de­ces­sor sell them on over­ly opti­mistic Pac-12 Net­work sub­scriber tar­gets. It’s no won­der that with­in days, five of the remain­ing nine had accept­ed invites to con­fer­ences that could tell them exact­ly how much they’ll make.

Read the arti­cle here.

#10: Tired of nonstop realignment? UCLA’s Chip Kelly may have the common-sense solution

Ben Bolch of the Los Ange­les Times wrote an arti­cle that relayed Chip Kel­ly’s thoughts on putting an end to the mon­ey-dri­ven con­fer­ence hopping.

Chip Kel­ly has a solu­tion for all the crazy cross-coun­try trav­el, not to men­tion the century’s worth of rival­ries and tra­di­tion torn asun­der by cease­less realign­ment in col­lege football.

Are you ready for a dose of com­mon sense?

One con­fer­ence. Every team. Divi­sions are aligned by geography.

“Do it like the NFL, where there’s NFC West, NFC North, NFC South where it’s the same thing and then we all get togeth­er,” Kel­ly, who coached for four sea­sons in the NFL before com­ing to UCLA, said Fri­day morn­ing. “But I think there should be one con­fer­ence in all of col­lege foot­ball and just break it up like they do in the pro­fes­sion­al ranks. … That makes the most sense. There’s your trav­el ques­tion, there’s all those oth­er questions.”

Read the arti­cle here.

The future of the Apple Cup and the Platypus Trophy

UW empha­sized in a state­ment that it val­ues its rival­ry with WSU.

“We are proud of our rich his­to­ry with the Pac-12 and for more than a year have worked hard to find a viable path that would keep it togeth­er,” UW’s Ana Marie Cauce said in a state­ment. “I have tremen­dous admi­ra­tion and respect for my Pac-12 col­leagues. Ulti­mate­ly, how­ev­er, the oppor­tu­ni­ties and sta­bil­i­ty offered by the Big Ten are unmatched… Even with this move, we remain com­mit­ted to the Apple Cup and to com­pet­ing with WSU across all of our sports.”

The Uni­ver­si­ty of Ore­gon said some­thing very sim­i­lar about its rival­ry with Ore­gon State — that it would “pri­or­i­tize the long-held tra­di­tions, includ­ing com­pe­ti­tion across all sports with Ore­gon State University.”

“Our goal would be to sched­ule Ore­gon State in every sport that’s pos­si­ble,” said Ore­gon’s Rob Mul­lens. “Foot­ball sched­ul­ing can be com­pli­cat­ed because of how far out it is and the dif­fi­cul­ty of play­ing non-con­fer­ence games lat­er in the year. But our goal would be absolute­ly to con­tin­ue to play Ore­gon State.”

Those state­ments prob­a­bly don’t count for much in Cor­val­lis or Pull­man right now.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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